HC Deb 23 July 1822 vol 7 cc1731-6
Mr. Lennard

said, that as it was desirable that parliament, in its Consideration of this question, should be aided by the knowledge of what was passing immediately with respect to it, he should move for the production of all correspondence between his majesty's government and the agents of Columbia. He did this in order that the House might be informed as to what demands of recognition might have been made by Columbia, and as to the manner in which those demands had been treated by England. He could not see that the success of such a motion could interfere in the negotia- tions existing between Spain and this country: still less could he anticipate any objection to his proposal upon the ground that, in the present state of the affair, it would be irregular for parliament to interfere. In coming, however, to the question of Columbian independence, he would not enter into any details as to the course of the South American contest. The result of the struggle, every one knew, was this:—Spain, late the tyrant of twenty-five millions of men in that country, was now completely expelled from the scene of her oppressions. One fortress in Columbia still remained unsubdued; but the free government had the means of reducing it at pleasure, and were only waiting an inevitable capitulation, in order to spare the unnecessary effusion of blood. Columbia was the first of the free states, let it be remembered, which had established a liberal and an independent constitution. The abolition of slavery, the freedom of the press, universal toleration, and a representative system of government—these were the leading features of the constitution of Columbia. And were they not such as to entitle her to the approbation of fellow nations? In cases similar to the present, difficulties might have been found; but in the present question, there could be no difficulty whatever. This was no acknowledgment of a struggle for independence—no recognition a the rights of a people who might be subdued and thrown again into bondage to-morrow—no question of assisting colonies who were in rebellion against their parent state. The Columbians had already established their independence; there was not the slightest prospect that Spain would ever be able again to disturb it. The government of Columbia was already independent de facto; and by delaying to acknowledge her title to independence, we injured her interests, and sullied our own reputation. The right of one country to recognize independence acquired by revolution in another, stood beyond all dispute. England herself had exercised the right not long ago, by acknowledging the revolutionary government of France. In fact, we had virtually acknowledged the independence of Columbia. We had acknowledged it by the commerce which we had carried on with her; and it would not be very creditable to the character of England, to have it said that she did justice in the case, only where she was interested in doing it. America had already acknowledged the independence of Columbia. He regretted that in so honourable a course, America should have been allowed to take the lead of us. There were other circumstances which gave the South American colonies a peculiar claim upon England for the recognition of their rights. This country, in point of fact, had urged on the colonies to the attainment of the rights and liberties which they now possessed. In 1797, the governors of our West India possessions had been instructed to excite the South American states to throw off the yoke of Spain; and those states had only now adopted that advice which they were too weak to adopt at the precise time when it was first urged to them. Nor would he confine himself to the mere question of justice. England was, in truth, interested in the decision of the present question. Columbia had published a proclamation, declaring that no country should share her commerce which refused to admit her independence. Those who had attended the late meeting at the London Tavern must have seen what the feelings of the mercantile interest were upon the subject. Both for the sake of this country and of Columbia, government was bound to come to a speedy decision; and he therefore should sit down by moving, "That there be laid before this House, copies of all Correspondence which may have taken place between Mr. Zen, or any Agent of Columbia, and his Majesty's Ambassador at Paris, and his Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, respecting the right the Columbian Government to be recognized."

The Marquis of Londonderry

was somewhat surprised at the latitude to which some of the observations of the hon. mover had proceeded. It was not the custom to lay before the House proceedings which had not arrived at any result; and parliament would be placing itself in a, rather embarrassing situation, if it interfered with arrangements in the stage of those in question, and took upon itself a responsibility which regularly belonged to government. His majesty's ministers had never refused to entertain any agents of what was called the Columbian government, although such person had not been received officially; and the representations of such agents had been discussed by government, and made the subject of communication with Spain. He (the noble marquis) did not mean to assert that our treaties with Spain bound us in every possible new situation which might arise in the world; but so, on the other hand, he must distinctly protest against England's being biassed by the example of any other country. For the documents moved for, they were already public; but it would be impossible for him (lord Londonderry) to make the general subject intelligible to the House at the present moment. He, for his own part, would never regulate the conduct of England towards Spain now, by what had been the conduct of Spain towards England under a similar emergency. He would make Spain feel her misconduct, if she had misconducted herself, by measures of liberality, and not by measures of retaliation. There had been every desire upon the part of government to cultivate good understanding and friendly intercourse with the provinces of South America. Every right of real value, as regarded their ships and their commerce especially, had been conceded to them; and upon measures of that character Spain could have no right to interfere with this country. As long as South America continued de facto a government, so long was England entitled to cultivate, de facto, a friendly feeling and communication with her.—Whether it would be advisable at the present moment to establish formal diplomatic arrangements with that country, became another question; and he doubted whether the facts of the case were sufficiently within the possession of the hon. mover, to enable him to arrive at a just conclusion upon the point. It would be better, he submitted, for the House not to call for information until it was prepared to adopt some course upon that information when received.

Sir J. Mackintosh

thought it very fair to make a motion like the present, in order to give the House an opportunity of expressing its feeling upon the particular subject; and such motions had been attended with highly beneficial results. The questions for consideration were simply these:—Would it be convenient for England to recognize the independence of Spanish South America? and would such a recognition by England be any violation of the rights of Spain? Surely, neither of these questions could be connected with any secrets of state. There was a wide distinction between recognizing independence in colonies which had been our own, and admitting it in states over which we had no control. There was nothing new in what was now proposed He would instance the case of the celebrated revolution of Portugal, when the duke of Braganza was declared king of that country. This took place in December 1640. In January 1641, the Cortes declared the duke king, and issued orders that the declaration should be communicated to foreign nations. Now, what was the conduct of England on that occasion? In January 1642, a treaty, not merely of recognition, but of amity, was signed between Charles 1st and king John 4th, and this without a rupture of the friendly relations between England and Spain. He would now proceed to the remarkable revolt of the United Provinces of the Netherlands from the authority of Spain in 1566. They had revolted against the bigotted dominion of the Spanish government, and in their declaration, published soon after, they stated that Spain had, by her system of misrule, forfeited all title to the government of the provinces. What was the conduct of England on that occasion? While the treaty of peace was in agitation between James 1st, and Philip 3rd, a communication was made from the English government to that of the United Provinces, intimating that nothing would be done by her against their interests. It further appeared, from sir Ralph. Win-wood's papers, that the minister of Spain, in the communications respecting the treaty, always styled the United Provinces as rebels against Spain. Notwithstanding this, the treaty was concluded; yet it never interrupted the amity between the government of Spain and this country. These instances completely showed that according to the practice of nations one government might continue in relations of strict amity with another, and at the same time recognize the government of provinces which had revolted from it. The case of Portugal and the United Provinces of the Netherlands were unanswerable in this respect. But the recognition of the independent provinces of South America was not sought for, to support any one of them against the power of the mother country. It was sought for, in order to support the interests of the subjects of this country. All that was asked was a treaty of amity, by which the persons and commercial interests of the subjects of England might be assured of equal protection in those provinces, which would be accorded to the subjects of states in amity with them. What was there to prevent our recognizing the States of South America. It was now three year since Spain had been able to send out a ship or a man to support her authority in those provinces. How long must our great commercial interests be put to inconvenience and risk before this recognition was admitted? He might be asked, what inconvenience could result to our commercial interests, if we did not now take the step which he conceived so just? He would leave it to men more conversant with commerce to enter into this part of the question; but he could not avoid saying, that by the establishment of friendly relations with the independent governments of America we should effectually prevent the inconvenience complained of by the merchants of Liverpool. If we had agents in those states, our commerce would be effectually protected; because those governments would have an interest nearly in preventing such piratical attacks upon our property. They had, in fact, offered to assist us in this object; and for what were we to refuse this? To wait until the fashion which had been adopted on other occasions allowed her to recognize the independence of South America. She had taken 67 years to consider before she recognized the independence of the United Provinces of the Netherlands; and were we to wait for a similar length of time, subjecting our commerce in the interim to such ruinous inconvenience, until Spain, who had not a ship nor a man to support her claim, should finally give it up? For these reasons, he thought his hon. friend entitled to the thanks of the country for having brought this subject forward.

Sir R. Wilson

wished to ask whether the question of South American independence was clearly a British question, or fettered in any way by the treaties at Aix-la-Chapelle?

The Marquis of Londonderry

said, the whole was purely a British question, uninfluenced by foreign powers, and resting only upon the law of nations, and the character of generosity and prudence which he trusted this country would ever maintain.

After a short conversation, the House divided: Ayes, 18. Noes, 53.