HC Deb 24 May 1830 vol 24 cc1017-29

The Chancellor of the Exchequer moved the Order of the Day for the House to resolve itself into a Committee of Supply.

Sir Robert Wilson

rose to call the attention of the right hon. Baronet to the important subject on which a Petition was presented to the House on Thursday, and which concerned the credit, the interest, and the prosperity of the country. He was then glad to hear from the right hon. Baronet, that it was the determination of his Majesty's Government not to infringe that system of neutrality it had always acted on towards Spain and the new States of South America. The right hon. Gentleman had then stated, that if it ever were proved to him that Great Britain had interfered to restrain those new states in the exercise of their belligerent rights, he should feel himself bound to give them protection against any operations directed against them from the points we had prevented them, from attacking. The right hon. Gentleman had then stated, however, the reasons why he did not believe that this country had ever laid any interdict, or intended to lay any interdict, on the warlike operations of those States. The reasons assigned by the right hon. Baronet were rather inferences than facts, and they were all derived from the circumstance that there was no correspondence between Mr. Canning and the South American ministers on this subject in the Foreign Office. This might, perhaps, be accounted for by the fact that the agents of the South American government were not recognized till 1826. The first official document of the Mexican and Colombian ministers was dated July 19, 1826. The right hon. Gentleman had the other evening read the copy of a despatch from Mr. Canning to Mr. Dawkins, our minister, who was on his way to the Congress at Panama. This despatch, which was signed by Mr. Canning, he appeared to consider as quite conclusive of the question. For his own part he had never denied that Mr. Canning had expressed himself to Mr. Dawkins in the terms specified. The belligerent rights of the South Americans Mr. Canning had never questioned: all his argument was,—all that he attempted to prove was,—that actuated by the very best motives as a man and as a statesman, Mr. Canning had so interfered as to produce the impression on the part of the Mexican and Colombian States, that their meditated attack would give displeasure to the British Government. Circumstanced as they were, with no friend but England, it was scarcely possible that such interference could have failed of its effect. He could now produce documents which in his opinion would sufficiently demonstrate, that the kind of interdict he described had been actually imposed. In fact they proved that the kind of interference which had taken place would warrant the South American States in claiming the support that they required, and which the right hon. Gentleman had said he would be willing to give, if a case could be made out that would justify the concession. In quoting the official memoranda in question he begged leave to say that he had no ambition whatever to fire shot for shot, but merely desired to assist in ascertaining the best course for the prosperity and honour of the country, which they were both influenced by an equal anxiety to promote. The extracts from the official correspondence which he alluded to were taken from the archives of the Chancery of Mexico. The first document he would quote was an extract from the correspondence of General Michelana and Senor Rocafuerte, and it gave this account:—

"The 13th of October, 1824, General Michelana, in a conference with Mr. Canning, acquainted him that the Mexican government thought it indispensable for the security of the independence of Mexico, (pour arrondir son indépendence,) to wrest Cuba from the Spaniards. Mr. Canning replied, that the question was a very grave one, because it was connected with the almost inevitable probability of a slave insurrection, an event which the British Government could not tolerate, not only from motives of humanity, but as it affected the safety of the British West-India possessions, and all their commercial interests. General Michelana wrote, in consequence, to Mexico; but before he could receive an answer, an advice reached him, that the preparations for the expedition against Cuba, under the orders of General Santa-Anna, were rapidly advancing at Campeachy, he thought it was his duty to provoke (provoquer) a declaration from Mr. Canning, 'of the opinion which would be entertained by the English Government, in case the Island of Cuba should separate herself from Spain.' To obtain this object he had a conference on March 2nd, 1825, with Mr. Planta—the result of which was thus described. "Mr. Canning being ill, and Mr. Planta not being able of his own authority, to give the reply sought for, Mr. Planta advised General Michelana to write a memorandum on this subject, as well as upon the other points in discussion. General Michelana complied with this advice; and on the 4th of March, addressed to Mr. Planta a memorandum which must exist in the British. Foreign Office, and in which the question before mentioned was proposed, accompanied with extensive developements upon the necessity of uniting Cuba with Mexico, &c. &c. No answer was given to this memorandum." By this time the information of Mr. Canning's interview with General Michelana on October 13th, 1824, had reached Mexico, and the government alarmed at the communication, though it had received authority from the Senate to attack Cuba in conjunction with Colombia, thought it necessary to desist. On the 20th of February the government informed the Chamber of Deputies of Mr. Canning's opinion, and the Chamber fearing, as it said, serious inconveniences, set aside the authority given by the Senate to the executive government. Orders were sent to General Santa-Anna, who was preparing to attack Cuba by a coup de main; having embarked part of his force, and prepared a proclamation inviting the people of colour in Cuba to join his standard, and offering liberty to such of them as did. The General immediately abandoned the expedition. A copy of the proclamation which had been printed, fell into the hands of Mr. Canning, who expressed considerable displeasure at it, which induced General Michelana to write immediately to General Vittoria, the president, earnestly entreating him to avoid all further ground of complaint, by not prosecuting the expedition; and that letter, he had reason to believe, was shown to the first British representative who was accredited to Mexico. The account of General Michelana's conduct then added "General Michelana, being recalled to Mexico, took leave of Mr. Canning, on the 17th of June, 1825, and in this conference, Mr. Canning told him, amongst other things, 'That the British Government would openly oppose itself to Cuba becoming a possession of the United States or France; and would not see without displeasure, any attack on it from Mexico or Colombia, in the hypothesis that the expedition would be accompanied with a black insurrection, which, from the nature of things, appeared inevitable, and which the proclamation of General Santa-Anna had further encouraged.'" In his opinion that amounted to a prohibition of an attack on Cuba, for the very nature of its population would always make such an objection tantamount to a prohibition. The population of Cuba consisted of 500,000, of whom 150,000 were black slaves. How was it possible, he would ask, for a General to land in Cuba, and prevent an insurrection in a society so constituted? What had been contemplated by the Mexican General was perfectly allowable, and could not be considered otherwise than lawful as a mode of warfare. Our own Government, when we invaded North America, had on the same principle called upon the blacks to take up arms, and 500 who joined us were formed into a regiment. Spain also had acted in a similar manner without scruple. In its late attack on Mexico, it had invited the people of colour to join the Spanish Standard. He did not mean to contend that it was not right in us to prevent the Mexicans from attacking Cuba, but the same motives which influenced our conduct towards them then ought to induce us to declare them exempt from the danger of an attack now from any point of Cuba or Porto Rico To show that such a mode of warfare was not unknown to the Spaniards he would read an extract from a despatch of the Mexican minister for Foreign Affairs: It said "the Captain-general of Puerto Rico has undertaken against us a war of banditti, which has already caused many misfortunes to the department of Maturin, and is occasioning more to Venezuela. Cisneros, Centeno, Arixabala, the Castilles, have been protected by him, and by the instructions which Arixabala has given up to the government, it appears that he offered them aid, and ordered them to devastate the country which they might occupy. The Castilles engage to insurge the people of colour. Will it be just if the British Government does not put an end to so many calamities, and which will destroy the commercial relations of the country, if there should be a war of colour? The Duke of Wellington surely will not be indifferent to the injury done to British commerce by permitting Spanish obstinacy to perpetuate this state of things." At the time when the British Government interposed to prevent the attempt on Cuba and Porto Rico, there was not a ship of war in the possession of the Spaniards in that neighbourhood to protect them, and there were but 1,400 regular troops for their defence, while Mexico and Colombia were well appointed in military equipments, and could command several ships of war on the seas abandoned by the enemy. He contended, therefore, that nothing but the apprehension of incurring the displeasure of Great Britain had put an end to the contemplated attack, and this was confirmed by the documents already quoted. He would, however, read another extract: The conviction was so strong on the Mexican government of the attack on Cuba being interdicted under pain of incurring the displeasure of the British Government, that in the year 1828, when the Mexican government was anxious to get rid of such a dangerous neighbour, Mr. Roccafuerte, the Mexican minister, was ordered, as a preliminary measure "to make the British Government acquainted with the necessity imposed on the Mexican government, of carrying the war into Cuba as a measure of safety, if the expedition from Cuba, then preparing, was not stopped or relinquished." M. Roccafuerte had a conference with Lord Dudley on the 23rd of February, and Lord Dudley avoided the answer, or, as it is in the original Spanish, "eludio la requesta." He thought that if there had been no expressed wish on the part of our Government to prohibit the attack, the Earl of Dudley would immediately have said, you may make the attack if you like. Why did not the Ministry state explicitly that they would not interfere, if interference was not intended? As it was, no express release had been obtained until two months since. The Mexicans were then, for the first time told, as was the English public by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, that they might attack Cuba if they saw fit, without any interference on the part of England. But times and circumstances were now no longer the same as at the former period; and now neither the Mexicans nor the Colombians had the means of attack. He was of opinion that these documents were sufficient to prove, that Mexico considered herself interdicted by England from attacking Cuba. That the United States had interfered to prevent the attack was proved by the minute of a conversation held between Count Nesselrode and Mr. Middleton, the American minister at St. Petersburg, in August 1825. In that minute the interference was distinctly stated and the reason assigned for it was the necessity of preventing any other power than Spain from obtaining possession of Cuba, in order to prevent the equilibrium in the West-Indies from being destroyed. As a corroboration of what he had advanced he would advert to what had occurred between the Colombian minister and Mr. Canning. The documents to which he should refer had all been taken from the archives at Bogota. The first extract he would read was from the correspondence of Señor Hurtado the Colombian minister at our Court. "In 1825 the government of Colombia and Mexico, having in concert projected an invasion of Cuba, the Colombian minister consulted the British Government to know whether the invasion would be permitted. Mr. Canning signified his displeasure on November 24; he asked Señor Hurtado, if it were true that Colombia and Mexico were preparing to invade Cuba, and after receiving for answer, that he thought it not probable, Mr. Canning expatiated on the inconveniences which would result from it to England. On the 24th of December, 1825, Señor Hurtado informed the British Government, "that the government of Colombia could not continue to see with indiffer- ence the enemy retain a possession at which it might continually collect armaments, and thence direct expeditions against Colombia and her allies; and that, for her own security, and the protection of her own commerce, intercepted by the frequent cruizes and captures made by the privateers of the Islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico, it found itself obliged, in concert with the government of Mexico, to assume the offensive, and procure the necessary means and forces to make themselves masters of these colonies." Mr. Canning replied to the Colombian minister, "That he did not doubt the said States, as belligerents, had a right to attack their enemies, and capture their possessions;" but he added, "at the same time, they ought to remember, that this warfare might be very prejudicial to England, by causing an insurrection of the blacks, and by the pretext it affords other nations to interfere in the affairs of Cuba, and perhaps forcibly occupy the Island." The Colombian minister, in a despatch which he held in his hand, stated, that "the government of Colombia, in consequence of the unfavourable information it thus received from its minister, felt with keen regret, that it could not proceed with a project which, at that season, was so advantageous, from the good spirit which then reigned in the Island of Cuba, in favour of independence, as well as from the circumstance that Colombia was prepared with all the necessary means for its accomplishment." 'This shewed that Colombia and Mexico were entitled to the protection they now claimed at our hands. But he would shew from documents that Colombia considered the measure as necessary to her happiness and her safety. Colombia and Mexico did not seek protection against the arms of Spain, but against that harassing warfare which was a continued demonstration of attack. The next document he should quote was a note from the Colombian minister for Foreign Affairs, dated Bogota, September 14, 1829, and addressed to the envoy of that Republic at the British Court; M. Joze F. Madrid. It said, "the government of Colombia," in the year 1825, was making preparation in concert with the government of Mexico, to invade the island of Cuba; and it is indisputable that having, as they then had, means and resources, and sustained by the opinion which prevailed in that colony (Cuba) in favour of its independence, they might have executed the project, if not to have obtained at the instant complete success, at least to have occasioned powerful commotions in various parts of the Island, which would have ultimately put in peril the Spanish power established in it, as had occurred in various other parts of America: but it sufficed that Mr. Canning had intimated to the government of Colombia, "the desire of Great Britain, that the invasion should not be persevered in, for the government to desist immediately from its further progress." That desire was sufficient, for the person who expressed it was Mr. Canning, the only European statesman who was favourably inclined towards them. But the note proceeded, "In the year 1827, the Liberator being at Caraccas with ships and disposeable forces, had also projected to invade the Island of Puerto Rico, then entirely defenceless, and from whence they (the people) had asked for, and expected our assistance; but his Excellency being informed by the minister, Mr. Cockburn, that this attempt would not be agreeable to the British Minister, the project was abandoned. In deference, therefore to the desires of this power (Great Britain), Colombia has thus seen frustrated the plans of her government for plucking from Spain her remaining possessions in America, and for securing at once the tranquillity of the country." The English envoy also declared, that the expedition he saw preparing would be disagreeable to England, and on this subject he had an authority in the assertion of a General officer who wrote at the Caraccas, February 21,1827, and who said, "The expedition is given up; Mr. Cockburn has induced General Bolivar to relinquish it, as it would not be agreeable to England. General Bolivar is much annoyed, but not displeased with Mr. Cockburn, who has made the representation in the most friendly manner." Mr. Cockburn indeed, he could assert on the best authority, had always conducted himself so as to enjoy the esteem of the Colombian government. In conclusion, the gallant General contended, that the conduct and language adopted by British statesmen had actually amounted to an interdict against attacking Cuba. That imposed, he further contended, a moral obligation on Great Britain to protect Mexico and Colombia from being attacked by Spain from that island. Having afforded protection to Spain against these States, we had acquired a right to interpose in their behalf with Spain, and to inform that power that we could not suffer the present state of things to be continued. He was sure that such a course would redound not more to the honour than the profit of England. He apologized to the House for having taken up so much time, but having the information he had laid before it in his possession, he was bound, he thought, not to allow the subject to remain at the unsatisfactory point at which it had closed on Thursday evening.

Mr. Planta

could assure the hon. and gallant Member, that he had no recollection whatever—and he was in the Foreign-office at the time of the projected attack on Cuba—of any language, written or oral, of Mr. Canning, which warranted the inferences of the Mexican and Colombian ministers. He recollected, indeed, a conversation which he had with M. Michelana on the subject; but he thought it right to request of that gentleman to put his statement in writing, in order that it might be laid before Mr. Canning; and from that day he had never heard another word on the matter from Mr. Michelana.

Sir Robert Peel

was sorry that his hon. friend had renewed the discussion on this subject, and he was confident that the hon. Member and the representatives of the States of Mexico and Colombia were not consulting the true interests of those countries, by wishing to fasten on England an engagement to enter into a defensive alliance with them against Spain; an alliance which no Minister of this country ever contemplated, and which, he repeated, it was injurious to the interests of those States for their representatives to insist on, through any construction put on the correspondence of Mr. Canning. There never, indeed, was anything clearer than that Mr. Canning had not, by any language in any public document, interdicted Mexico and Colombia from the fair aggression of belligerents against Spain, and that he had not entered into any obligation, either formal or moral, to assist those States against Spain in consequence of their refraining from their contemplated attack on Cuba. What, however, had his hon. friend done? He had produced no authenticated document from the Foreign-office—no paper bearing the signature of Mr. Canning; but he had read to the House the memoranda of a series of conversations which the Mexican and Colombian ministers are said to have had with Mr. Canning; but memoranda of conversations which that minister never saw, and which he had not, by his signature, acknowledged to be genuine. The hon. Member, however, said, that the reason why these documents were not to be found in the Foreign-office arose from the circumstance of the ministers of the new States not being at that time formally received in this country, or acknowledged by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs. Whether, however, they were ministers or agents, there could not be the slightest doubt, that if any such admission as that attributed to Mr. Canning had been made in these conferences, some notice of it would have been found in the Foreign-office, and had any such document been found, its validity would have been acknowledged, though the ministers of those States were not at the time recognized. In the discussion on a former evening, he had stated distinctly, that although Mr. Canning declared an invasion of Cuba, in the manner and under the circumstances of that contemplated by Mexico, would be displeasing to Great Britain, still no interdict of any kind whatever had been laid on either Mexico or Colombia from prosecuting the war, if they thought proper. When General Santa Anna had assembled about 700 men in the province of Yucatan and issued his proclamation, this country and the United States of America did protest, as they had a right to do, against the attempt to conquer Cuba through an insurrection of the slaves; but they did not attempt to restrain the fair use of the Mexicans' rights as belligerents, when exercised according to the acknowledged rules of war, against Spain. His hon. friend said, however, that Mr. Canning advised the Mexicans not to invade Cuba. Why, at that time the New States of America were not recognised by this country; but even if they had been, he expressly denied that Mr. Canning adopted any other course than that of expressing the dislike of this country to that mode of warfare which the States seemed disposed to adopt. It was with great reluctance that he referred to any unpublished official documents, but he had already, on a former occasion for the special reasons be had then stated, referred to the letter of Mr. Canning to Mr. Dawkins, to which no answer had been or could be given. Mr. Canning is supposed to have promulgated the interdict in 1824; yet when writing to Mr. Dawkins shortly afterwards, (and he would quote the passage at length to set the question at rest, as far as that could be done by Mr. Canning's authority). Mr. Canning said, "You will see how earnestly it is desired by the United States, by France, and by this country, that Cuba should remain a colony of Spain. The British Government, indeed, so far from denying the right of the New States of America to make a hostile attack upon Cuba, whether considered as the possession of a power with whom they are at war, or as an arsenal from which expeditions are fitted out against them, that we have uniformly refused to join with the United States in remonstrating with Mexico and Colombia against the supposed intention, or in intimating that we should feel displeasure at the execution of it." Then followed the passage which he quoted the other night "We should indeed regret it, but we arrogate to ourselves no right to control the military operations of one belligerent against another." This was the clear and express language of Mr. Canning at the very time when the hon. Member supposed he was interdicting the invasion. He would state, also, one other fact, which was convincing on the subject. In the year 1826 Mexico and Colombia, so far from thinking themselves interdicted, actually determined on fitting out an expedition to blockade the Havannah, and it was announced at the same time, that the President of Mexico meditated the collection of a body of troops, to be inarched from various places, in order to co-operate with the blockading squadron for the reduction of Cuba. At that time Mr. Canning was informed of the expedition, and the British minister wrote to him, communicating the nature of the expedition, and asking for instructions. In answer to the demand for instructions on those points which were likely to arise with reference to the interests of England, Mr. Canning replied, that it was necessary for the writer to make a division somewhat more distinct than he had made, before he could answer his questions; but not one word was to be found of surprise at the communication, as there naturally would have been had any interdict existed as to the invasion of Cuba. That fact could not, at such a moment, have been passed over in the instructions for the conduct of the British agent, if such an interdict had been ever put forth by Mr. Canning.

Sir R. Wilson

said, that the blockade was prevented.

Sir R. Peel

—the blockade was prevented by internal dissensions among the States, but not by the interference of England. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by repeating his former declarations, that there was no obligation, either moral, or imposed by treaty, on Great Britain, to protect. Mexico from attacks on the side of Cuba; and he protested against the reception of unauthorised memoranda of conversations in the discussion of a question of this kind, for the purpose of establishing a claim to a defensive alliance, which never was contemplated by any member of the Government of this country.

Sir R. Wilson

intimated an opinion that it was only in March last that Mexico received permission to invade Cuba.

Sir R. Peel

repeated, that the South American States knew they were at liberty to do so throughout the whole period, and that in 1826 they showed a disposition to act on that opinion. Some stress had been laid on the supposition that Mr. Canning advised the Mexicans not to invade Cuba. He denied that Mr. Canning did so; but if he had, he (Sir R. Peel) was prepared to contend, that at the time when Mr. Canning was endeavouring to prevail on Spain to recognise these States, he had a perfect right to advise the Mexicans to abstain from offending Spain by an attack on Cuba.

Mr. Huskisson

saw no inconsistency between the statements of his right hon. friend and the documents produced by the gallant General, although they proved to demonstration that Mexico and Colombia, in deference to the feelings and wishes of Great Britain, had abstained from the course they had previously determined to pursue. He would be one of the last to say, however, that the deference then paid to the wishes of this country bound it to any defensive alliance. God forbid, that he should argue anything of the kind. All he wished to impress on the House and the Government was, that the conduct of Mexico at that time gave her a claim now on our interference to put an end to a state of things prejudicial to the prosperity of Mexico, and of all the States of Europe. By that interference at the present moment we should confer a benefit on commerce, on humanity, and even on Spain herself. But he begged to be distinctly understood as disclaiming the idea of recommending the employment of force to support our interference. He never had thought of recommending that, and if he had been so understood on Thursday evening, by his right hon. friend, he begged leave to correct that misinterpretation of the words he had used. He was also bound to say, that he felt satisfied with the general tenor of his right hon. friend's answers in explanation on this subject, for he was sure that if it were in his right hon. friend's power, he would put an end to a state of things that was so injurious to our commerce.

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