§ Mr. Croker rose and said, it was his intention to move an amendment to the motion of the noble Lord. He hoped, however, that eventually this proceeding would be found not to occasion any very great delay. He might have yesterday availed himself of his noble friend's request to the hon. member for Oakhampton (Sir R. Vyvyan) to postpone his motion, and have brought the matter forward, but this might have appeared ungracious; and even now he would consent to postpone his amendment to the same period with the hon. member for Oakhampton's motion, if he did not feel, that under all the circumstances, in justice to the character of his Majesty's Ministers—in justice to the 1271 country, and to its reputation in Europe, he could not avoid entering upon the subject on the very first opportunity. He confessed he should owe some apology to the House for offering to address it on a subject, concerning which more than one notice had been given, and which had been postponed for reasons in which he fully acquiesced. But the object he had in view, he was convinced even his noble friend (Viscount Palmerston) would agree with him, was attended with no risk to the public interests. He was not about to expatiate upon matters of general policy, nor to press for any disclosure which might be injurious to negotiations then pending. He rose to call for an answer to a thing which ought to be forthwith examined and explained. Under other circumstances, he should be happy to postpone his Motion, and he should be the more ready, and the more anxious to do so, because he was aware of the unavoidable absence, of his right hon. friend, the member for Tamworth (Sir R. Peel), an absence always to be regretted when any great public interest was in discussion, and which would not have occurred on this occasion, if the necessity for the immediate explanation which he (Mr. Croker) was about to call for could have been foreseen. The observations he was going to make, applied simply to the conduct of his Majesty's Ministers in the execution of their public duties in that House. He was not going to enter on the large question of the affairs of Belgium with Holland, or of France with Belgium. He was going to put right, if he could, a wide-spread, and wide-spreading, misunderstanding. In proceeding with this view, he felt, that to his noble friend (Viscount Palmerston) with whom he had lived on terms of such long and affectionate intercourse, it was quite unnecessary—although to other hon. Members it might not be—to say that the high respect he entertained for his good qualities, and the intimate and long knowledge he had of him, which had matured those originally high opinions into the greatest respect and esteem, would prevent him (Mr. Croker) from making any motion to offend his noble friend. That such might not be supposed to be his intention in the least degree, he begged it to be distinctly understood, that his Motion applied to the Government in general. If, then, his noble friend's name were men- 1272 tioned in this affair, let it be always supposed to be referred to in common with the other Ministers, and to be more specially introduced, because the matter in question related to the department over which his noble friend specially presided. In whatever he said, nothing, he hoped, would be considered as disrespectful to his noble friend; and if anything wearing such a semblance should happen to escape from him, it was to be considered as addressed, not to his noble friend's personal character, but addressed to him abstractedly there, as the Representative of his Majesty's Government. Before proceeding further, he must recall to the recollection of the House, the circumstances which lately occurred with regard to the questions—let him rather say, than the discussions—which had taken place in that House on the Belgic negotiations. The House would recollect, that on Friday the 5th of August—but first, he must beg to ask for that reply to the question, which his noble friend could not give yesterday—namely, on what day the communication to him, and the noble Earl at the head of the Government, relative to the recommencement of hostilities had been made by the Dutch Ambassador?
§ Mr. Croker
resumed. On Friday, the 5th of August, the country was surprised by the announcement that his Majesty the king of the Netherlands had entered the newly-created kingdom of Belgium with an armed force. His hon. friend, the member for Oakhampton (Sir R. Vyvyan), on the meeting of the House on that day, as was natural, inquired of the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who happened to be in his place, his noble friend (Viscount Palmerston) not being in his, whether it was true that the Dutch troops had thus hostilely entered the new kingdom of Belgium? The noble Lord (Lord Althorp) in reply, answered to the following effect.—He (Mr. Croker) would not, in matters of such delicacy, trust too much to his own recollection, but would read the noble Lord's reply, as it had gone forth to the world in the daily reports of their debates: "His Majesty's Government had received from Sir Charles Bagot, official information of the intention of the king of Holland to put an end to the armistice between Holland and Belgium."* The pointed statement*See ante, p. 829.1273 of the noble Lord, that the information concerning the breaking of the armistice was received from Sir Charles Bagot, excited his attention, because it seemed passing strange, that a great measure of this kind should have been left to be communicated at second-hand, as it were, to the great mediating Powers, by the king of the Netherlands. Common justice, natural humanity, the courtesy due among nations, forbade the belief, that the king of Holland should decide upon recommencing hostilities, and act upon that decision, without directly announcing it to them. He therefore took the liberty of stating to the noble Lord, that the emphatic mention of Sir Charles Bagot's name induced him (Mr. Croker) to inquire, whether the Dutch government had forwarded any communication upon the subject to his Majesty's Government? The noble Lord gave him an answer, which, he would do him the justice to say, was, like all his answers, full of propriety and prudence. The noble Lord said, "a reply to this question might lead him into further details than he should be justified in entering upon at that time; but that certainly the first information received was from Sir Charles Bagot." But then the noble Lord, upon sitting down, received a communication from the only other Minister in the House, and it was not too much to assume, that the communication related to this subject; for the noble Lord then rose a second time, and said he would give him (Mr. Croker) a more explicit answer, and this answer was: "It was with the greatest surprise that his Majesty's Government learned from Sir Charles Bagot, that it was the intention of the king of Holland to put an end to the armistice; for at that moment a Minister was sent to the British Court by the king of Holland, with orders to enter into a negotiation on the matters pending between Holland and Belgium. That Minister had an interview with my noble friend, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in which interview he did not mention a word of the probability that the armistice would be broken; and it was not until the evening, and after a question had been put on the subject in Parliament by a noble Lord, that my noble friend received despatches from Sir Charles Bagot, informing him that it was the intention of the king of Holland to terminate the armistice between Holland and Belgium."*See ante, p. 830.1274 There was nobody who heard this answer, who was not deeply surprised at the conduct of the king of Holland; the noble Lord (Lord Althorp) having positively denied, that any communication had been made, and having added a strong insinuation of perfidy on the part of the king of Holland, when he stated that that Sovereign had determined on commencing hostilities without giving any notice to our Government, at the very moment when a Minister had been sent by him to this country, in order to enter into negotiations. He had now stated the prima-facie facts of this stage of the case; but he believed it could be proved, that the real facts did not bear out the impression which naturally might be created by the statements and the insinuations of the noble Lord. But the matter did not rest there; for the hon. member for Oakhampton (Sir R. Vyvyan) gave notice, that he would bring the subject forward next day (Saturday), and on that day he had the advantage, and a great advantage it must be considered, of the presence of his noble friend (Viscount Palmerston), who then went through a kind of political catechism with exceeding good humour. He himself, however, did not think of embarrassing his noble friend with any question, for he was convinced, by what had fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the previous day, that the Ministers had received no information; convinced, but not satisfied; and he felt greatly surprised that our ancient and esteemed ally, the king of Holland, had been guilty of such perfidy. He was silenced, however, by the statement of the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Others, however, did put questions to his noble friend (Viscount Palmerston), who repeated the statement in general terms, that there was no doubt the king of Holland had broken the armistice, and without giving notice. He remembered then stretching across the Table to his noble friend, when he used the words "broken the armistice," and suggested to him the propriety of saying "denounced the armistice." But his noble friend disregarded this suggestion, and even rose and repeated in a more solemn way, that the Dutch had violated the armistice. The right hon. member for Tamworth (Sir R. Peel) then stated to his noble friend (Viscount Palmerston) "that he (Viscount Palmerston) had used, perhaps through inadvertence, the terms 1275 "violated the armistice," and "broken the armistice," which implied bad faith on the part of the Dutch government, and therefore, he (Sir Robert Peel) was desirous of asking him, whether he really did mean to say, that the king of the Netherlands had broken the armistice, for that his (Sir Robert Peel's) view of the case was different?" His noble friend (Lord Palmerston) expressly replied, that he believed his right hon. friend was in error, and observed, there were two armistices, one of which was local, and formed between the Dutch commander at Antwerp, and the Belgian commander at Antwerp, and which might be terminated by a notice of three days; the other was more general, as it extended along the whole frontier line, and was formed under the sanction of the five Powers; and it was of this latter he had spoken when he observed the Dutch had violated the armistice. Here then were the Dutch accused of not only having violated the armistice without giving notice to the Belgians, the party against which hostilities were to commence, but likewise of violating it without notice to the mediating Powers. Moreover, his noble friend added, that up to the moment at which he was speaking, no communication had been made to his Majesty's Government on the subject by the plenipotentiary of the king of the Netherlands. On Tuesday, again his noble friend was put into the confessional, and again the same facts in general were enumerated. Now, such being the statements made, he wanted words to describe his surprise, after all the questioning in that House, and, after long and protracted debate in another place, when he and other Members of that House, in their individual inquiries, and also by the ordinary channels of information, ascertained that the Dutch, not only had not been guilty of the perfidy with which they had been charged, but that they had absolutely done that which he and other Members of this House had understood his noble friend had accused them of not doing. In another place, to which he could not more distinctly allude, that avowal had been made. He knew it, because he had read in the public papers an ingenious treatise on the subject, introduced in the shape of a dialogue, in which his Majesty's Ministers and their opponents in the upper House of Parliament were supposed to bear a part; and in that 1276 treatise it was stated, that his Majesty's Ministers admitted, that on Wednesday morning, the 3rd of August (his narration, it would be remembered, began with Friday evening, the 5th)—that on Wednesday morning the minister of Holland had waited upon his noble friend, and after some conversation, delivered to him a certain letter. It appeared, also, that that letter had remained unopened for above twenty-four hours. The reason that was alleged, in the dialogue to which he had before alluded, for this apparent neglect was, that the letter was not addressed to his noble friend, but to the Conference at large. His noble friend made a difference between letters addressed to the Conference, and to himself, though he must say, that the Conference without his noble friend, would be like the play of Hamlet, with the Prince of Denmark left out. If his noble friend would assure him, that it was not the habit of our Ministers to take notice of papers addressed, not to them individually, but to the Conference, of which they formed a part—if his noble friend would tell him, that it was not the practice to look into the contents of such papers till the whole Conference should be assembled, he should pardon his noble friend for not having opened that letter; but he should at the same time think, that it was a part of his noble friend's duty to have watched the receipt of such communications; and, on the instant, to have taken some steps with respect to them, and not to wait for twenty-four hours, when the greatest interests of the European world, then trembling in the balance, might depend on the letter which had been thus received, and he must add, thus neglected. If, however, such was the form, he had only to regret that such forms should be suffered to operate against what he would call the peaceful interests of mankind. Nothing gave him greater public pain than that a British Minister—and nothing could give him greater private pain, than that his noble friend should, upon a principle of mistaken etiquette, have left this important letter unopened. That letter was most important, especially with reference to the charges which had afterwards been brought forward against the king of Holland. In that letter the king of Holland said, that in compliance with the demand of the five Ministers at the Conference, he had sent new powers to his plenipoten- 1277 tiaries. Now, who would not have believed—nay, more, who did not believe—from the assertions of Ministers when this subject was under consideration on a former occasion, that the king of Holland had voluntarily sent these new powers to his minister as a blind, as a curtain, behind which his military movements were to be made. That was the belief produced in that House, and produced in the country, and which must be produced throughout Europe by the successive statements of his Majesty's Ministers. He did not accuse his noble friend of wishing to create such an impression, but that it had been created by his statements, was undeniable. Now, what was the fact? The king of Holland did not volunteer to send any minister, nor any new powers, nor did he select the particular moment at which the minister was sent. The Conference of London had sent to the Dutch government to desire, that new powers should be sent to its ministers. The renewal of hostilities happened to occur at the same time with this demand of the Conference, and with the consequent journey of the Minister charged with the new powers; but, except that accidental coincidence in time, these two events had nothing to do with each other. This plain fact completely relieved the Dutch monarch from the charge of perfidy, which had been implied against him, by representing the journey of his minister, as a deceitful attempt to conceal from the Conference the march of his army. So directly the reverse were the real motives and conduct of the king of Holland, that in the letter, which was produced and read to our Prime Minister, and our Secretary of State for Foreign affairs, on Thursday, the 4th of August, the Dutch minister stated, that in obedience to the commands of his master, he desired to inform the Conference, that the king of Holland would support the negotiations by his military means. In the dialogue in the other place, to which he had before alluded, it was said, that the words were, "by military measures," and a considerable discussion took place on some fanciful distinction between means and measures. To his plain understanding, however, it seemed much the same thing, whichever of these meanings they might affix to the words, and he should not stop to investigate the difference. It should be observed, however, that the Dutch minister did not say his muster would have recourse to 1278 his military means if negotiation should fail, but that he would support the negotiations as they went on by his military means. Now, his noble friend was in possession of that letter on Wednesday, at noon, though it seems that he did not open it till the following day, and he also had a verbal communication from the Dutch minister in this country to the same effect, before the question had been stirred in Parliament; then how could he assume to charge the Dutch government with having broken the armistice without notice? His noble friend might, be able to explain this—it was a difficult task, but he might do it, and certainly it was requisite to be explained, for in the dialogue supposed to have occurred in another place, no explanation of the matter was given. The letter, after speaking of supporting the negotiations by military means, which, be it remembered, were to be brought into operation simultaneously with the negotiations, went on to state, "as the plan of establishing an armistice has never been realised, there exists at the present moment only a cessation of hostilities." With that letter, of which they were in possession on Wednesday the 3rd, and knew the contents on Thursday the 4th, at noon, how could his Majesty's Ministers come down to Parliament, and on Friday the 5th assert, and on Saturday the 6th reiterate the assertion, that the Dutch government had violated the armistice, and without notice? Why, the Dutch government said, that it was no armistice. How could Ministers say, that the Dutch had violated an armistice, when the Dutch denied that an armistice existed. He knew there were often great differences about words—there had been much dispute about the meaning of the word Protocol, and a treatise had been written on the subject; and there might be an equal dispute about the meaning of the word Armistice; but such cavils, though they might possibly do well enough for diplomacy, would not do in the House of Commons. The imputations against the king of Holland was no light matter, for he trusted the violation of a solemn treaty, and an armistice was a treaty to a certain extent, would never be mentioned in that House without exciting indignation. His noble friend had an opportunity to make a full explanation when his right hon. friend (Sir R. Peel) put his subsequent questions to him, and called his particular attention 1279 to the very point which it now appears was so much misrepresented. His noble friend ought at least to have stated, that though they accused the Dutch government of having broken the armistice, that government asserted, that there was no armistice whatever. His noble friend ought to have said, "I am able to prove that there was an armistice, although the Dutch government denies that there was;" but still he ought to have said, that the denial was made. When he was charging a great, aye, and an honest nation, with such an offence as that of the breach of an armistice, he should have been most cautious in his mode of proceeding; he should have been careful to guard their character as well as his own, and in stating their acts, he should have given those acts the guarantee of their previously expressed opinion. But, instead of that, his noble friend had left the Dutch nation and government, suffering for seven days under an imputation most injurious to their character—for seven days, at a more eventful period of their history than any that had occurred to them since the Duke of Alva was thundering at their gates, they had lain under a charge, made by a British Minister of violating their engagements—a charge which from any mouth ought to be intolerable to a nation as to an individual, and which was only the more intolerable when proceeding from so high and hitherto so friendly an authority. Having said thus much, he thought he had made out something of a prima facie case to justify him in saying, that his noble friend should have been more or less communicative, and that the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, should still have persevered in the prudent silence he had maintained on the first occasion when this subject was mentioned to the House; or that, when he had resolved to deviate from that silence, he should have done justice to the unfortunate Dutch.
He came now to the second scene of this—he hoped not tragedy—but most extraordinary drama. If the neglect of the first letter, dated August 1st, afforded ground for complaint, what must the House think of the absolute oblivion of the second letter into which Ministers seem to have fallen? He felt himself personally called upon to ask his noble friend for some explanation on this letter, though he readily acquitted his noble friend of intentional deception. It 1280 would be recollected, that when he (Mr. Croker) had in his place, made some inquiries respecting that letter, his noble friend professed to know nothing about it. (They had hitherto been talking of the letter of August 1st; he was now speaking of a letter of August 2nd.) He had asked his noble friend about that letter, but his noble friend at first only remembered the letter of the 1st of August. He called his noble friend's attention in a particular manner to this second letter, and then his noble friend, with that courtesy of manner which so much distinguished him, got up, and expressed a wish that his right hon. friend (for so his noble friend called him, and so he trusted his noble friend would still call him) would explain a little more precisely what letter he meant. It was clear, that his noble friend had either wholly forgotten that letter to which he (Mr. Croker) at that moment referred, or else had confounded it with the first letter, which had remained twenty-four hours unopened. His noble friend, like other diplomatists on this occasion, endeavoured to conceal his incapacity, to reply to the question by an ambiguous answer. His answer, in effect, was, "Oh, before I tell you what I know about that letter, I should wish to know what you know about it." But his noble friend need not have exercised so much caution with regard to that letter, for it was impossible but that all the world must know something about it, as it had been published in a well-informed and influential Journal, The Times of that very morning. His noble friend thus reminded, at last said, that "he recollected the letter, but that it had been read by the Dutch minister to himself, and his noble friend at the head of affairs, in a very hurried manner." What! a Dutchman in a hurry—great changes had of late taken place in national characters, but he never expected to hear as an excuse for a diplomatic error, that the Dutch negotiator was in a hurry! But if the Dutchman was in a hurry, that was no reason for the Englishman being in a hurry. The phenomenon of a Dutchman in a hurry ought to have awakened the attention of his noble friend. He should have said, there must be something in the wind—something strange in this matter, thus to awaken the sensibility of a Dutchman—to arouse the vivacity of a Netherlander. Had it done so? No such thing. His noble friend had been in a hurry too— 1281 he remembered nothing of the contents of the letter, and concluded by saying, that, he forgot whether the letter was received; on Friday or on Saturday! Here was a doubt of forty-eight hours, when there ought not to have been a delay of one; and the hurry or the inattention which occasioned these doubts and delays, were the more to be regretted, as it did not appear, that France had lost an hour, or even hesitated for the fourth of that time, to take her active and decided part. When the French minister was applied to by the Belgian ambassador, he at once granted an aid of 50,000 men; he did not forget the application, nor doubt on what day it was made; he attended to it at the moment, and the application having been made at one o'clock in the day, the hour of two had not struck by the clock of Notre Dame when the telegraph at Paris replied to the invitation, by an immediate assent, and, for aught he knew, the garrison of Lisle was within an hour afterwards not merely under arms, but upon the march. It was not for the men to whom the destinies of the world were committed, to say, that they had received papers, but did not know what the contents of those papers were. It was difficult for him to conceive how the British Minister to whose care such important interests were intrusted, could have stated, that he did not know on what day he had received a particular paper, which, he would fearlessly assert, was the key-stone of the whole business, the real explanation of all the diplomacy that had taken place. Let not the noble Lord tell them, as if it would be any excuse, that the letter was read in a hurry. So far from being an excuse, it only seemed to make the matter worse. Were communications of such vast importance to be slurr'd over in a hurry? Was a matter to be left to verbal intercourse between two Ministers, which was to decide the fate of nations and the peace of the world? Was it credible that such interviews should have taken place, and that such documents should have been read at them without any official copy or note or memorandum of them being retained? They were told, that both Ministers were in a hurry, and the one hardly recollected what the other said. He was surprised beyond measure that his noble friend should have listened to a document like that to which he referred, and not have demanded instantly a copy of it. 1282 The communication was said to have been made at five o'clock on the Friday evening. Would Gentlemen recollect how they had come down to that House, on that evening, in great numbers, expecting to hear something most momentous, and would they recollect the great anxiety of London and Westminster at that moment? He would assert, that he never recollected to have seen the public mind more agitated by any public event than upon the subject of the information then believed to have been received from Belgium; and yet even then, when public expectation was upon the tiptoe—when the noble Lord himself was in wonder at having received no communication from the Dutch Government—at that moment was it not to be expected that when the Dutch minister did at length come to make his statement, he, would have been received with anxiety—he would have been heard with attention, and his statement would have been sifted with the closest accuracy? At that important moment he came with an important document—with a despatch from his government; yet instead of his noble friend saying, "thank God, here is the Dutch minister to put an end to this suspense," he listened to the Minister with such nonchalance, and the document was read in such a hurried manner, that his noble friend not only did not know the contents of it, but did not even recollect that such a transaction had ever occurred; and when at last it was forced upon his recollection, it appeared that the thing was considered so trivial, that his noble friend did not know whether the occurrence had taken place on a Friday or a Saturday. This was a fit prologue to what followed. The second letter, which went in at one ear and out at the other, was more formal than the first; it was an appeal by Holland to the whole of Europe, in defence of her conduct—it repeated some of the same expressions—it was addressed not merely to the Dutch Ambassador here, to be laid before the Conference, but it was directed to the Governments themselves. It would travel to St. Petersburg—it would be sent to Vienna—it would be despatched to Berlin—it would be conveyed to Paris, and it was therefore drawn up with greater care, and with more formality, than the letter of the 1st of August; it ought, therefore, to have attracted the attention of the noble Lord. But besides these claims to 1283 notice, it explained the meaning of the first letter—it said, "The King is determined to support his negotiations by military means." Why, this was the same expression which it seems had puzzled our Cabinet and the Conference in the first letter. He, therefore, the more wondered at the inarticulate hurry of the Dutch minister, and the impatient haste of his noble friend. "Military means" was a catch-word that should have struck the ear of his noble friend—for his colleagues of the Cabinet and himself had been for twenty-four hours debating what moyens militaries meant, and they had resolved that it meant—nothing at all. It was a misfortune that they did not understand it better; for at the Conference there was a person who had the reputation of understanding pretty well the meaning of words, and especially of French words; but unfortunately that person, among his other great qualifications, was not a proficient in the English language, and it was probably through that circumstance that he induced the Conference to believe that the words moyens militaries meant nothing at all. He was bound in justice to his noble friend's character to believe, that he had not spoken with this indifference of the letter with any intention to deceive; but that what he had said, really arose from an ignorance of the contents of the letter. But surely the words "moyens militaries" ought to have awakened his attention; they should have been talismanic words. He should have felt that they haunted him; he should have said, "Let us ask this Dutchman what those words mean?" Perhaps the noble Lord disdained the assistance of a Dutch interpreter; but if he would not ask the Dutchman the meaning of the words, he should, at least, have listened with attention to the rest of the letter. But he had not done so. This letter, about the meaning of some words in which there was so much doubt, had now appeared before the public in good English, done by the hand of that ingenious person—the editor of The Times—and whether originally written in good French or good Dutch was now of no consequence. In that letter the king of Holland said, he was sorry he was obliged to have recourse to coercive measures, but that he had been compelled to do so, and that this was "the more indispensable, because the existing crisis could not be prolonged without at once endangering our 1284 public spirit, our finances, our army, and our political existence." He would not enter into the question, whether the king of Holland was right in the view he thus took of the matter. It was sufficient to show that such was his view, and that he had fully and frankly explained it to the Governments of the five Powers. The letter then went on to show that Holland was under no obligation not to proceed in its own course, by commencing hostilities if it pleased; the letter entered into a vindication, in detail, of the conduct of the Dutch government in doing that which it was now accused of doing without notice. It then stated this conclusion—"Thence unquestionably the king's resolution to move his army simultaneously with the negotiations carrying on in London, ought not to inspire disquietude—and was, in fact, indispensable to the safety and honour of his country." And yet, notwithstanding this letter, this full and distinct notice previously communicated both in writing and verbally to his Majesty's Ministers, Parliament had been told by those very Ministers, both on Friday and Saturday, that the attack upon Belgium was a surprise, that Ministers were taken wholly unawares, and that no notice had been given of the attack, though the letter just quoted had been read to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and in that the king of Holland stated his determination to assist his negotiations with his sword. Even on the subsequent day it was stated, in another place, that moyens militaries did not imply an immediate hostile operation, but meant merely a demonstration. He must confess, that his understanding was in despair before such contradictions, and that he could not comprehend them. His noble friend, and the rest of his Majesty's Ministers, were too high-minded men to wish to practise a delusion; but he must candidly say, that he could not understand their conduct in the whole of this affair. He was well aware what diplomacy generally signified; translated into plain English, it meant double-dealing, and he knew it had been held that double-dealing was justifiable in diplomacy. He admitted, that a Minister, in the performance of his duty, might refuse to answer questions propounded to him in either House of Parliament, if he thought the answer might prejudice the public service; but if he did answer in the Home of Lords—if 1285 he did condescend to reply in the House of Commons—there should be no diplomacy, no double-dealing, in his statements in either of those places; with discretion, prudence, and reserve on the part of British Ministers no one could find fault, but when they did speak it should be with perfect candor and generous sincerity. Such was the history of this extraordinary affair—such was the history of "the three great days" of the noble Lord, in which he had defeated the Dutch Minister—had exposed on the gibbet of infamy the Dutch character—and for his triumph he had to exhibit the occupation of the fortresses in Flanders, won with English blood, and built with English money, by the tri-coloured flag of France. That tri-coloured flag had not triumphed more in the three days of July last year at Paris, than in the three days of August this year in London. At times like the present, when the dependence of Government on public opinion was one of the prevailing dogmas, it was most necessary, that national character should stand high, and charges ought not hastily, nor carelessly, or without the strongest reasons, to be made against a nation. At a moment when public principle was so much esteemed, and when the government of France was said to be entirely founded upon it—at such a time, he repeated, the Dutch ought not gratuitously and unjustly to have been censured and maligned. That the Dutch government had been unjustly and injuriously lowered in public opinion by errors and misstatements of his Majesty's Ministers, he would now prove. He would appeal to one of the organs of public opinion; he thought he might do so without offence; for, however he might differ from it as to the extent to which it was an organ of public opinion, or as to its right to take upon itself the expression of public opinion, he might venture to appeal to the hon. Gentlemen opposite, that, at least, he did not select his evidence with any undue partiality. He would read the successive opinions of the able and influential newspaper to which he had already referred, in order to show what was the state of public opinion on this subject. The right hon. Gentleman smiled, and he might smile, if he (Mr. Croker) were to quote The Times as an authority on general questions of politics; but he was not looking at it in that light, he quoted it as authority ad hoc as being the organ 1286 of public opinion the most favourable to the politics of his Majesty's Ministers; and, therefore, the best evidence of the effect their statements were calculated to produce, and although, therefore, he might not be inclined to consider it the best authority in morals or politics, he thought he could hardly select a better guide for the news or a better criterion of the public feeling of the day. Well, then, let them hear what The Times said, when this atrocity of Holland first burst out with such a sombre and suspicious appearance. "The whole conduct of 'our ancient ally' for the last twelve months, seems better to accord with the unfortunate condition of moon-stricken madness, than with the character of a prince whom we had been accustomed to treat with respect and confidence, for the previous fifteen years." Madness, however, was pitiable and excuseable; but the same could not be said for "falsehood," with which the same Paper, on the same day, went on to charge the king of Holland:—"His Dutch Majesty, in his obstinate adherence to his old prejudices, or his eagerness to gratify his personal spleen, has entered upon a dishonest course, and is playing a very dangerous game. His conduct displays such strong symptoms of duplicity and falsehood, that it must forfeit the support and favour of England, which has hitherto been his chief protection." As to the "duplicity and falsehood," he had shown there was no ground for such a charge, beyond the noble Lord's neglect of the letter of the 1st of August, and his forgetting the letter of the 2nd of August; and the threat founded on this misunderstanding thus denounced against Holland, that her king, by his conduct, must forfeit the favour and protection of England was a most important and alarming menace. Louis 14th at the gates of Utrecht, Buonaparte in possession of the city of Amsterdam—could be scarcely more fatal to Dutch interests and infinitely less injurious to Dutch character than this authoritative assertion, that "the falsehood and duplicity" of their king must forfeit for them the favour and protection of England, who, he might almost take the liberty of saying, had been the mother and the nurse of the liberties and prosperity of Holland. So exactly did those sentiments of the editor of The Times seem to accord with the opinions of Ministers, that it might almost be supposed they had condescended 1287 to pen the paragraph—and no great condescension neither, for those articles were written with more consistency and logic, and, as it afterwards appeared, with more candour and judgment, than had been displayed by Ministers in their speeches on the same subject. The article to which he was alluding, further said, "At the very time that the Governor at Antwerp is declaring the armistice at an end, and threatening a bombardment of the city, in which some of his countrymen would be the chief sufferers, he (the king) has sent an extra Ambassador (M. Zuylen von Nyevelt) to London, to re-open the negotiations with the Conference. This Special Ambassador, ostensibly sent to negociate in order to secure the peace of Europe, suppresses, of course, all mention of his master's hostile intentions and preparations. What useless perfidy!" The Times, it seems, knew, that a Special Ambassador had been sent, and for what purpose. "This Special Ambassador, ostensibly sent to negociate, in order to secure the peace of Europe, suppresses, of course, all mention of his master's hostile intentions and preparations:" almost the identical words repeated by the noble Lords opposite, twice, thrice, and even four times over on different evenings; and it terminates the tirade with the exclamation, "What useless perfidy!" All the collected venom was reserved for this last shaft—the confident and slanderous assertion, that the king of Holland had been guilty of "useless perfidy." The same able Paper went on on Monday (and no wonder it should go on, considering what had passed in Parliament on Saturday), in the following strain. [Some symptoms of impatience were here expressed.] He was not surprised at this interruption, for he knew how unpleasant it must be to some Gentlemen to hear the king of Holland defended, and he also knew, that about that hour, (nearly seven) hon. Gentlemen were wont to indulge in a different and more palatable species of entertainment; nevertheless, he would read to those who would do him the favour to remain, and please to give him their attention, what The Times said on Monday:—"While (said The Times) the king of Holland was pretending to revive, or continue with the five great Powers the negotiations for a pacific settlement of his disputes with Belgium, he was at the same moment, and without any announcement to those Powers, actually marching 1288 his troops into the Belgic territory, for the purpose of taking by force into his own hands the very questions which he professed to submit to their friendly arbitration." That assertion then was made, though the fact was, that Ministers were in possession of a double announcement of the intentions of the king of Holland. From thence the Paper went on to censure the foul, audacious, and offensive course of the king of Holland, and to reiterate the charges of phrenzy, depravity, and falsehood. It said—"Many presume that the king of Holland, in his perfect knowledge of the spirit by which all France, like a single man is actuated, would not have dared to adopt his violent, audacious, and offensive course, without a full assurance of support from some powerful military quarter. We are not satisfied of the justice of such conjectures. The question lies between utter phrenzy in the head of the House of Orange, and an excess of perfidy and depravity in one or more of the Powers, parties to the Protocols, which we acknowledge seems to us the most incredible of all solutions of the difficulty." Such was the state of public opinion—such the degree of inflammation; and he quoted what he had read as an indication of the way the wind of public sentiment set. Such was the state of affairs when that very able—and to give it due praise—that very diligent Paper, contrived to get possession of one of the letters. He would now advert to what was said in The Times of yesterday [murmurs]. He heard some Gentlemen murmur—no wonder: they knew that he was about to shew that the editor of The Times was better informed of what had passed in Downing-street than their noble leaders, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. He was tracing by the newspaper the course of public opinion—and what did it say yesterday? The Times, then, of yesterday, said—"The king of Holland, it appears by Tuesday's debate, has been charged with something not far short of perfidy, for attacking Belgium without notice of any design." Such was the gloss put upon the business by public opinion. "But (continued The Times) the Duke of Wellington affirmed, that his Dutch Majesty had apprised the Conference, time enough for such an interposition as might have stopped the march of the French troops, that he did intend to support his negotiations by arms. This was denied in the House, 1289 and on high authority;" (let Gentlemen mark what followed)—"it being alleged that none of those who had access to the Dutch King's letter, could agree in giving it such an interpretation. We have now the terms of the despatch before us, and those of our readers who can ferret out mysteries where we, for our part, do not see any, are now at liberty to judge for themselves." After having quoted the letter, with which he should not trouble the House, The Times proceeds to say—"Now, from the above and other passages of this remarkable letter, we are compelled to say, that the king of Holland cannot, with any fairness, be accused of an intention to disguise from the Powers in Conference, the nature of his hostile policy towards Belgium." He had, it should be remembered, been previously charged with treachery and falsehood. "The king (continued The Times) said, that he had resolved on employing arms simultaneously with negotiations, at the very time when he was sending M. de Nyevelt to this country, who, in fact, was the bearer of this very letter. On the point, therefore, of alleged bad faith, he appears to us to be altogether blameless." In selecting these observations from The Times, he could not be supposed to intend any attack on this organ of public information: on the contrary, the moment the letter alluded to was seen, it hastened, with great candour to declare its belief, that on the point of bad faith, the king of Holland appeared to be extremely blameless. But such were the shifting grounds on which public opinion was formed. Now he would ask, whether the keeping in obscurity, for some days, such documents as these, did not occasion the injustice and calumny against the king of Holland, which were so fully refuted when the documents came to be produced? He demanded whether, on reading these documents, every Gentleman's mind was not relieved from a great weight, and whether he did not now more favourably appreciate the character of the trust-worthy and excellent monarch who had been so much misrepresented? What he (Mr. Croker) complained of was, the suspicious silence of Ministers when they might have explained; and their imperfect explanation, when they ought rather to have been silent. They could not have clone any injury to British interests, if they had acted towards the king of Holland with that fairness and candour which they would have extended 1290 to the Gentlemen on that (the Opposition) side of the House, though their political antagonists. They ought not to have let the Dutch monarch lie under so grievous an imputation for several days—they ought not to have left it to a public Journal to be the arbiter of his conduct, and to unsay what had been gravely stated by his Majesty's Ministers. They had done him grievous injustice—by error, by inattention, or by negligence—he would not say which, but the injustice had been done by them, and they ought to have shown a candid readiness to repair it which they had not done: and his object was, to oblige them to do so, or, at least, to put the public in possession of the facts, on which the full and complete justification of the king of Holland was established. He apologized for having troubled the House so long, but he was anxious that this question should be placed on its proper basis. In bringing this question forward, he had alluded to no document which was not to be found in the public Journals—he had not anticipated events—he had spoken only of things that had already been done. He had, he conceived, made out a case, and showed, that injustice—cruel injustice—had been done to the king of Holland. He had, he thought, made out a sufficient case to call on his Majesty's Ministers to explain the share they might, perhaps involuntarily, have had in creating that injustice. It was not his intention to ask for the letter of the 2nd of August, which the noble Lord did not appear to carry in his head, much less should he expect to rind it in his office. He should therefore move as an amendment to the Motion, "That the Order of the Day for the House to resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House, to consider further of the Bill be now, read:"—to leave out all the words after the word "that," in order to add the words "an humble Address be presented to his Majesty, that he will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House, a copy of a letter of 1st of August, from the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the kingdom of the Netherlands, to the Minister of the five Powers."
§ The original question being put,
§ Viscount Palmerston
said: The right hon. Gentleman concluded by saying, that he would not finish his speech with an epigram, but he seems to me to have made something very like a bull: wishing 1291 to prove something by a letter of the second of August, he moves for a copy of a letter of the first. I think the House has seldom heard a more discursive speech, or a more illogical conclusion. I shall not be able to comply with the right hon. Gentleman's wishes, for obvious reasons; for, although the paper may have been printed in the public journals, we cannot pick out this document from the rest, unless we are prepared to submit to Parliament the whole series, displaying the entire course of the negotiation. I am not about to enter into any explanation, much less into any defence, of the numerous and long quotations the right hon. Gentleman made from the newspapers. I can assure him that I, for one, do not write in the newspapers. I am neither editor nor part proprietor of any newspaper, and I do not pretend to be responsible for anything that appears in those channels of information. Another thing: I shall not be led away from the path of my duty by the attacks of the right hon. Gentleman, however they may have been accompanied by the most unreserved declarations of personal friendship. He has certainly taken a very extraordinary (though, possibly, to him, satisfactory) mode of displaying his regard for me. He has indulged himself, if not the House, with a speech of at least an hour and a half; two-thirds of that time having been occupied very agreeably to him, and certainly not at all disagreeably to its object, in personal attacks upon me. He has laid to my charge all sorts of misconduct, both as an individual and as a Minister; with carelessness out of office, and negligence in it—with betraying the interests of my country—with injustice to an independent sovereign,—and other trifling offences of the same kind; but they were prefaced by the most flattering demonstrations (as far as declarations can be so considered) of personal esteem and respect, with the evident design of drawing me into a discussion of the whole Belgic question. He did what in him lay, by provocation, accusation, and, by what is worse, exculpation; for I can forgive him anything better than the tender mercies of his exculpation; but were I to advert to many of the points he has touched, I must necessarily enter into the whole of the transactions—a course which, as a Minister of the Crown, I feel myself bound to avoid. I think he might have acted with greater credit to himself, and with 1292 more advantage to his country; but it seems, that in the absence of the principal performers, he has been to-night allowed a whole benefit to himself. He has given us a display, part tragedy, part comedy, and I wish I could encourage him by stating, that he sustained each portion with equal success. Everybody knows, that he is an excellent joker—and while he confines himself to the light and comic strain, he makes himself agreeable to everybody; but he is not equally successful in the tragic strain; and if I may be allowed to do so, I should recommend him in future to stick to farce; but however well he may have performed his part, I apprehend that he would better have performed his duty as a Member of Parliament, if he had acquiesced in the course so judiciously pursued by the hon. Baronet (Sir R. Vyvyan), who postponed the discussion of these transactions at this most important and decisive crisis. I leave him, however, in full possession of whatever advantage he may gain by this forward movement—this resumption of hostilities—this breaking of the armistice; but he shall not drag me into a debate upon the conduct of the king of the Netherlands, or into a defence of our own. If I could prove, that the Dutch King had acted in an unbecoming manner, I should refrain from doing so, because I feel, that he has been unfortunate, and that he is therefore entitled to respect and forbearance. I had, therefore, rather lie under the whole weight of the right hon. Gentleman's imputations—the heavy burthen of his charges—than run the risk of doing that which might be considered unhandsome by the king of the Netherlands. I beg to say, that I never charged his government with perfidy. I stated facts to the House, not opinions; and I again say, that I am not answerable for the extracts which the right hon. Gentleman has employed his leisure in culling from the newspapers. I shall not follow him through the statements he has made; but the fact is, that while the right hon. Gentleman and his friends were in office, previous to the 17th November, an armistice, or a suspension of arms, was agreed upon, which has now been broken by the Dutch government. I will state the fact, and leave it to others to draw the inference. When did the Dutch king renew hostilities? On Tuesday, the 2nd of August; and yet the right hon. Gentleman asks, "Can you pretend that you had no notice 1293 that they would be renewed, when, on the Wednesday following, a letter was read to you, communicating the fact?" This may be the right hon. Gentleman's method of reasoning, but it is a strange application of the ordinary rules of logic, to contend that a notice of an event is to be given a day after the event has happened. I can only say, that if he pursues such a course in this House, and gives his notices of motions the day after he has made them, he may certainly obtain decisive advantages over his adversaries. That advantage the king of Holland expected to obtain; for the fact is, that his notice of intending to break the armistice did not arrive until after it had been broken. What are the words in the letter of the 1st of August, on which so much reliance has been placed? "That the king will support his negotiations by his military means." First, as to the manner in which this supposed notice was given. The right hon. Gentleman expresses his astonishment that any man with two eyes in his head and two hands at the ends of his arms, could keep a letter, directed to another person, in his pocket for twenty four hours without knowing what it contained. I do not know what might be the official habits of the right hon. Gentleman; but this I know, that what he recommends are not mine. If I, as a member of the Conference, receive a letter addressed to the Conference, I do not think myself justified in opening it but in the presence of the other members. "But (says he), how could a Minister of England, at such a perilous moment—when the fate of Europe was hanging not on hours but on minutes—receive a communication, brought by a special messenger, by the Lightning steam-boat, and keep it unopened until the following day?" This was, by the bye, his best piece of pathos, but it wanted the foundation of fact. The Conference had invited the king of the Netherlands to send a Plenipotentiary to negociate a treaty of peace; and if, in reply, his Envoy had said, "My master will not treat, but fight, and here is a letter explaining his motives"—I should have lost no time in summoning the members of the Conference to receive so important a communication. But what did the Dutch minister say in half an hour's conversation?—that he had come to negociate peace, and that his powers were so ample, that he hoped to be able to conclude a treaty, without a reference even for further in- 1294 structions. At that time also, he delivered the letter of August 1st; and although he certainly stated, in some detail, the grievances of his master as regarded Belgium, he parted from me without giving me the slightest reason to suppose that, twenty-four hours before, the Dutch troops had entered Belgium. So far, therefore, I think I have satisfactorily explained why I did not then proceed with Dutch haste to summon the Plenipotentiaries to the Conference. If I had summoned them, what effect could have been produced? We cannot judge by the result, because, on Wednesday evening, an account was received in London from Sir Charles Bagot, that the Dutch army had marched, and therefore that fact was known before the letter of the 1st was opened. But the experiment was tried on the ministers at the Hague; for this letter, which, the right hon. Gentleman says, is such a clear announcement of hostilities, was successively put into the hands of the ministers of the five Powers at the Hague; and, without any thing in the air of that place peculiarly to blunt or obscure the faculties, it did not occur to them that it indicated the march of the Dutch forces. When our Ambassador at the Hague heard, in the afternoon, from a private source, that the troops had crossed the Belgic frontier, he went to the Dutch minister, and, in answer to his demand for explanation, was informed, that hostilities were actually begun. The resumption of hostilities took place, in fact, at the very moment when the Dutch government was sending a minister to negociate. "But," exclaimed the right hon. Gentleman, "what did the French minister do upon this same occasion? The telegraphs were put in motion, and, with the speed of light, the French troops were put in motion too." Give me leave to tell him, that the English minister was not much less active. The news of the march of the Dutch troops was received on Wednesday evening, and on that very night, the First Lord of the Admiralty despatched an express to the Fleet under Sir Edward Codrington, ordering it to the Downs, that it might be ready to act as circumstances required. Did we wait for the reading of the sealed letter of the 1st of August, or for the most un-Dutch reading of that of the 2nd of August by the Dutch ambassador? No; the measures that seemed 1295 indispensable were taken on the instant. What becomes then of the cobweb sophistry of the right hon. Gentleman? Its flimsiness is blown to atoms by a mere breath? He has been as mistaken in his facts, as he has been illogical in his reasoning? The fact of the resumption of hostilities was communicated to the Conference on Thursday, and what was thought necessary was then done. Thus, I hope I have answered, as far as my duty will allow, the very friendly charges of the right hon. Gentleman; but let me remark, that there cannot be a more unfair position for a Minister of State to be placed in, than to be put upon his trial by personal accusations, and to have his lips necessarily sealed against the disclosure of facts most necessary to his vindication. Let me observe, however, that when the letter of the 1st August was read, in Conference on the Thursday with the passage about supporting negotiations by military means, I thought it my duty to ask the Plenipotentiaries, not one, but both, whether they knew the fact that hostilities had begun? They replied, that as individuals, they might know much, but that, as ministers, they had no official information to communicate. I inquired whether they had any explanation to afford as to the meaning of that passage? and their reply was, that they were not instructed to give any explanation. I am not accusing the Plenipotentiaries of any thing like improper concealment; they were sent to negociate, not to announce that hostilities had actually commenced. The right hon. Gentleman has triumphantly said, that if our intellects were so obtuse as not to understand the words "military means" as a renewal of war, there was the Dutch minister, why was he not asked the question? Why, Sir, he was asked, and I have told the House his answer. With respect to the manner in which the letter of the 2nd day was communicated, the facts were as follows: on my way to the House, on Friday, I called upon my noble friend at the head of the Government, and I found with him one of the ministers of the Netherlands; and, after much conversation, and just as we were about to repair to the House of Parliament, the minister took out the letter, which has appeared in the newspapers, and read it hastily. Perhaps it ought to have made a greater impression on my mind; but it was not addressed to the English Government, and the minister had 1296 no intention to deliver a copy of it. Of course, it is not in my possession, and if the right hon. Gentleman had moved for it, I could only have returned nil. I confess that, when the question was put to me last night, that letter was not present to my mind; but, now I remember it, I am at a loss to see in what respect it alters the case. A communication on Friday could not, except by the convenient logic of the right hon. Gentleman, be regarded as a notice of an event that had already taken place on Tuesday. The mode of reasoning of the right hon. Gentleman, would, indeed, have been greatly aided, if the Dutch minister had not read that letter to my noble friend and myself until a week after the march of the army for the Belgic frontiers. Then, indeed, we must have been deprived of all possible defence, and the right hon. Gentleman would have enjoyed a signal triumph of his peculiar logic. As I said in the outset, I will not enter into the general discussion: the time has not yet arrived when we can do so without prejudice to great pending interests; and if this were true some days ago, it must be doubly so now, as all must be aware who read the newspapers—the pleasant, but profitless study of the right hon. Gentleman. Any man who looks at the mighty events now passing in Europe—any man who has even the slightest knowledge of business—not the long official experience of the right hon. Gentleman—who is governed by good sense, and not misguided by passion—must be aware, that an attempt to drag me into debate may afford an opportunity for the gratification of personal vanity, when the appointed leaders and officers of a party are absent, or for the display of personal friendship, but it will not receive the public approbation; and an individual who adopts such a course will not perform good service to his country.
§ Lord Brudenell
expressed his regret that the bias of the minds of Ministers was clearly against the king of Holland, although he saw nothing reprehensible in his conduct. As a Member of the English House of Commons he would say, that the first shot fired by the British forces, on land or water, against our ancient ally, would be an indelible disgrace to the country. He thought it impossible that any Ministers, filling the situations of responsible advisers of the Crown, could, at the present moment, more completely lay 1297 themselves open to the accusation brought by his right hon. friend, than did the noble Lords and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. They had been guilty of the grossest injustice towards our old and faithful allies, the Portuguese in the South and the Dutch in the North—a French fleet occupied the Tagus, and the tricoloured flag was planted in the soil of Holland. He lamented to say, that the conduct of the British Ministry had been inconsistent with itself, and marked by a levity unworthy the executive government of a great country. He thought the House and the country had a right to complain that Great Britain should have lent her sanction to the entrance of the French fleet into the Tagus. Passing from that subject, however, he would put this question to the right hon. Gentlemen opposite—why had they done nothing to assist the Poles? But there it would seem that we should have had to deal with a different sort of enemy. It was one thing to abandon a weak country like Portugal or Holland, and quite another to encounter so formidable a power as that of Russia. The fact was, and he confessed it with humiliation, that the tendency of our foreign policy now was to oppress the weak, and truckle to the strong. It must be full in the recollection of the House, that noble Lords and right hon. Gentlemen were in the habit of quoting Lord Chatham's remarkable words, "that if that House did not reform itself from within, it would be reformed with a vengeance from without." In his apprehension, there was nothing so ill became the present Ministers, as quoting the celebrated Lord Chatham. If that distinguished Statesman lived in the present times, he certainly would never have gone the length of the present Reform Bill, however strong his views might have been on that subject. But be that as it might, the bare mention of Lord Chatham's name was a reproach to the foreign policy of the present Administration. In the days of Lord Chatham England was respected by all the nations of Europe, but in these days she had abandoned all her ancient principles, and ought to blush at the name of Chatham—she had abandoned her old and faithful allies, rushing forward to grapple with the weak, and perfectly ready to truckle to the strong. If this system were continued, the English name would be a by-word for all that was base and dishonourable.
§ Lord Eliot
could assure the House, that he did not rise for the purpose of saying a word about Portugal, or Russia, or the Poles, or parliamentary Reform. Indeed, after the assurance which the noble Viscount (Viscount Palmerston) had given that the explanations sought on that side of the House could not be afforded without injury to the public service, he should not have troubled the House with a single remark, had it not been for the circumstance, that the noble Viscount had himself departed from that reserve which, on a former evening, the noble Viscount told them he could not break through. The only point on which he desired to offer any observation was this—the noble Viscount had fixed upon the king of the Netherlands the stigma of the want of good faith and honour. He did not think this stigma just. It appeared from documents which had been published, that the king of the Netherlands clearly intimated, that he should, under certain circumstances, have recourse to hostilities. It was, therefore, a question of policy merely, and not of right, whether the king of the Netherlands should have recourse to hostilities or not. The king of the Netherlands had put this hypothesis—namely, that if a foreign prince should come as sovereign of Belgium, under certain circumstances, he would have recourse to hostilities against Belgium. But, besides this stigma, which, if he had read the documents rightly, was not justly laid upon the king of Holland, the noble Lord had appeared to him to deal in innuendoes against that prince. The noble Lord had given them to understand that the Dutch Plenipotentiaries, upon being called on to explain what was meant by moyens militaires, had declined to do so. Now his authority might not be very good—anti if it were wrong, perhaps the noble Lord would correct it—but he had it upon authority that one of the plenipotentiaries distinctly stated—"We (meaning the Dutch) are at war with Prince Leopold." He would not detain thè House any longer, and he should not have said thus much if the noble Lord had not departed from that precept, which on a former occasion the noble Lord had prescribed to himself and others.
§ Lord Stormont
would not persevere in the motion of which he had given notice, but he wished to ask his noble friend, whether a communication had not been made on the part of the king of Holland, 1299 so far back as the 23rd of June, the effect of which was, that, if a king were put upon the throne of Belgium without a treaty—the terms of which were defined—being signed—the king of Holland would have recourse to military measures (he was not sure whether the words "military measures" were used—or whether the phrase was "coercive measures," or something to that purpose) in order to support his rights? There was another point to which he wished to call the attention of the House, namely, that on the 1st of August, the noble Lord opposite (the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs) was in possession of a sealed communication of the utmost importance, as it turned out, which he retained unopened for twenty-four hours. Under the circumstances, the noble Lord might well have supposed, that it contained matter of importance; it might, therefore, very naturally be supposed, that the noble Lord would not have lost a moment in calling together the members of the Conference, and ascertaining its contents. It accordingly could be no matter of surprise, that his right hon. friend should express his surprise, that the communication in question should so long have remained unopened. There could be no sort of doubt, that in the whole of these matters, the noble Lord opposite had taken things too easily; and he felt perfectly assured, that the occurrence referred to, ought to be a lesson for the noble Lord, from which, it was to be hoped, that in future he would profit. If another occasion of the same sort occurred, he would venture to predict, that the noble Lord would take special care not to lose a moment in summoning a Conference. It was quite a mistake in the noble Lord to suppose, that his right hon. friend meant to blame him for not opening the seal of the packet. The complaint was, not that the noble Lord was unwilling to break the seal, but that he neglected to call the Conference together, for the purpose of ascertaining the contents of these documents. The noble Lord, and his right hon. friend, were educated in the same official school, and the House must know, that to break sealed communications, was not the practice of that school; and, therefore, he was justified in assuming, that his right hon. friend would be as slow to recommend, as the noble Lord himself could be to adopt, such a practice.
§ Sir George Murray
did not wish to prolong this discussion, but thought, that the subject was one of sufficient importance, to justify him in making a few observations upon it. The noble Viscount (Viscount Palmerston) had complained, that he was put upon his defence, at a time when it was utterly impossible to produce the documents that were essential to that defence. But, had the noble Viscount dealt in the same manner with another party? Had not the noble Viscount acted towards the king of the Netherlands in the very way which he complained of, when that way was pursued with regard to himself? Surely the noble Viscount had so acted, in bringing a direct accusation of bad faith against the king of the Netherlands. On Saturday last, the noble Viscount said, that an "armistice had been broken," and afterwards, that "an armistice had been violated," by the king of Holland. That was certainly a very grave charge against an old ally of the country; and when his right hon. friend, the member for Tamworth (Sir Robert Peel), put it to the noble Viscount, whether those expressions were not too strong, and whether they might not have been used inadvertently, the noble Viscount adhered to them, observing, that there had been two armistices, the latter of which had been broken, and adding, that up to the moment in which he was speaking, no official notice had been received of an intention to break it. On the following Tuesday, the noble Viscount, stated, that no communication had been made by the Dutch minister to the noble Viscount, or to the Conference, either verbally, or in writing, which could give them ground to suppose, that the Dutch troops were to be moved beyond the limits of their own territories. He heard the noble Viscount state this in that House; and in another place, a few minutes afterwards, he heard it stated, that the Dutch king had communicated his intention of using military means. Now the document in which this expression "military means" was used, he could interpret only as a document, which distinctly announced, that the Dutch king intended to employ his army in support of negotiations, on which, during their continuance of nine months, the Dutch king had found, that his interests were invariably made subservient to the interests of Belgium. Under these circumstances, he 1301 could not understand how this Government could say, that no notice had been given of the king of Holland's intention to break the armistice. Let the House also observe what the Dutch minister said to all the Ministers engaged in the Conference. The Dutch minister said, "as the plan of establishing an armistice has never been realized, there exists only a cessation of hostilities." Thus the chief Minister of Holland was at issue with the noble Viscount, and declared, that in fact there existed no armistice, while the noble Viscount declared, that an armistice had been broken. He had also understood the noble Viscount to say, that hostilities, and the letter which had been so much canvassed, were simultaneous, but he confessed, that from all that had been stated, he could not see how there was any ground for this statement. In a word, throughout the whole transaction, he conceived that there was not the shadow of ground for imputing a breach of faith to the king of the Netherlands. He had thought it necessary to say thus much, because the public attention ought to be strongly directed to this matter. For this reason only did he make any remarks, and was so far from having any desire to call for information upon this subject, that he should be very sorry to incur the responsibility of pressing Ministers for documents, the production of which, Ministers declared, would be injurious to the public service. He fully admitted, not only that the Ministers were justified in withholding such information, but that it was their duty to withhold it. Still, however, he did think, as public attention was directed to these things, that it ought to have the means of judging correctly. He thought also, that the public attention ought to be directed to the recent transactions with regard to Portugal—another old ally of this country—because there was an appearance, that our policy in those transactions was subordinate to that of a neighbouring power—he meant France—a power of which he should be the last man to speak with disrespect, especially so far as regarded that part of it which consisted of the profession to which he belonged, the military part of it. It was very possible, that when the proper time arrived, the Ministers might be able to adduce a sufficient ground of justification of their conduct. He had no right to doubt, that the Ministers could adduce 1302 grounds which would justify them; yet, let him tell them, that it would be necessary to adduce very strong grounds indeed, to satisfy the British nation of the propriety of a British fleet performing evolutions in the Channel, when a French fleet was forcing the harbour of an ancient ally of England. With regard to the separation of Holland and Belgium, he had no hesitation in saying, that he felt no objection to the disunion of those places which had been united in 1814 and 1815, if such disunion were expedient, and if the disunited portions of the kingdom of the Netherlands were protected against the encroachments of France. Public rumour had stated, that the British fleet was at the disposal of the Congress. Now he should be glad to know, if the army under General Girard was also at the disposal of the Congress, and if that army would be as easily withdrawn upon an intimation from the Congress, as the British fleet would be upon a similar intimation? It had been boasted in the French King's speech, that Belgium was not to form a part of the Germanic Confederation. He thought, however, that it would have been more satisfactory to this country, as well as more advantageous to Belgium, if Belgium had formed part of the Germanic Confederation, instead of being, as thus announced, wholly dependent for assistance on France. There was another point to which he thought the public attention ought to be directed. The king of Belgium was now exposed to danger, and, if it should unfortunately happen, that that prince should fall, he begged to know, whether any arrangement had been made respecting the appointment of a successor. A French army had now advanced into Belgium, accompanied by that prince who had been the first choice of the Belgians—the prince whom they had originally chosen in preference to king Leopold; and he wished, therefore, to know whether, in the event of such a misfortune as that to which he had alluded, occurring, such steps had been resolved upon, as would secure the independence of Belgium, and prevent that country from falling into the hands of France. In conclusion, he had only to observe, that although the Congress was not responsible to that House, yet, that there was in the Congress a British Minister, who was responsible to the House, and whom the country would expect to do his duty, thereby keeping up the character 1303 of England as the protector of the weak against the strong, and as a vigilant and efficient check upon the ambition of France.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that, after the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had just sat down, he must, however reluctantly, prolong this discussion by one or two observations. The speeches of the hon. and gallant Gentleman were generally remarkable for candour and for fairness, but he must say that, on the present occasion, the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman was remarkable for the absence both of candour and of fairness. For the hon. and gallant Gentleman, knowing and admitting, that circumstances precluded the Ministers from entering, at that time, upon their defence, had thrown out, in the way of caution and suspicion, certain hints and surmises, that the conduct of Ministers had not been consistent with their duty. This, he must say, was most unfair to the Ministers, especially when the hon. and gallant Gentleman had admitted, that the materials of the justification of Ministers ought not to be produced, if the production of them would be disadvantageous to the public service, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman had been told that the production of them would be; and he must further say, that if the public were to be infected with the doubts and surmises of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, which, however, he did not think very likely, the course which the hon. and gallant Gentleman had taken might prove exceedingly injurious to the general interests of the country. He hoped and believed, that the public would suspend their judgment, until they had before them the only certain means of forming a correct opinion upon the whole transactions to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman alluded. Whatever doubts the hon. and gallant Gentleman might entertain, as to the Ministers having acted consistently with the honour and the interests of the country, he trusted, that the country would entertain no such doubts, and that the House and the country would recollect, that these doubts had been stated at a time when the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had stated them, knew and admitted, that the means of refuting them were necessarily withheld. He would not detain the House by adverting to a single topic of the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman; but he had thought it necessary, as well for his 1304 own character, as for that of his colleagues, publicly to protest against those doubts and surmises to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman had thought it so essential that the public attention should be directed.
§ Sir George Murray
thought, that the noble Lord had a little overstated the observations which fell from him. He had stated, that the Ministers might have full means of justification, that he hoped they had, and that he had no right to doubt they had, and would produce them at the proper time.
§ Mr. Praed
expressed the regret he felt that no information had been afforded by the noble Lord, and no explanation given, of the extraordinary course which the Ministers had pursued in the cases of Portugal and Belgium. Three charges were made against the noble Lord by his right hon. friend (Mr. Croker), and these charges, relative to the statements made by the noble Lord, were, that the noble Lord had said, that the armistice was broken—that no notice of breaking it had been given—and that the king of the Netherlands had acted in a treacherous manner. And how were these charges met? He (Mr. Praed) would venture to say, that, in no one of the three cases, had any explanation been given, or had any facts been stated, upon which the noble Lord could rest a satisfactory defence of having made those accusations. After all that had transpired, of the several communications from Holland, and all that had been said by his Majesty's Ministers, it was now clear, as he thought, that due notice had been given to his Majesty's Ministers of the determination to renew hostilities; and yet the impression the former speech of the noble Secretary for Foreign Affairs was calculated to make—and it did produce that impression, was—that Ministers had received no such notice. It was the impression made at the time, as he now thought, most unfairly, in the House, and also throughout the country. He would now ask, whether there was any justification for casting such an imputation as these statements necessarily cast upon the king of the Netherlands? He did not think there was any longer a question, whether a notice had been given or not. That point he looked upon as settled, in the mind of every unprejudiced person; but it was yet a matter of grave consideration, how far Ministers were justifiable in 1305 the censures which they cast upon one of the most ancient of British allies. He hoped, that nothing which transpired, either during the late negotiations, or in the discussions in Parliament, would tend in the least to disturb the friendly relations which had so long existed between this country and Holland; and he hoped that, even now at the thirteenth hour, Ministers would revert to our treaties, and adhere to them, as we were bound, in all negotiations and intercourse with other countries. Of our engagements with these countries, he hoped there would be no breach, and that the good faith and honour of England would be preserved unsullied.
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
said, he hoped that the several Members of the opposite side, who had left the House, had carried with them the conviction that their noble friend had satisfactorily answered all the observations which had been addressed to him; but if they had not thought it necessary to be absent now, and, perhaps, better engaged, conviction in that case might not be so complete. After what had occurred in the preceding part of the Debate, he should not think it necessary to say a word, were it not for a charge made against his right hon. friend, of having alluded, in a tone of asperity, to the noble Lord opposite. Now, he would appeal to the House, whether one word had been said by his right hon. friend, which could, even for a moment, cause an unpleasant sensation, either to the noble Lord, or to any other person. With respect to the main point under discussion, namely, whether due notice had been given by the king of Holland of his intention to resume hostilities, he might be permitted to say a word or two. Having read such of the documents of this negotiation as had been made public; and having listened attentively to all that had been said on behalf of Ministers, he was free to say, that he could not see, upon any principle of the law of nations, or of any code of morality, that in fairness, the king of the Netherlands could be charged with any violation of his engagement, or any breach of armistice. In point of fact, no armistice had existed, and there was no document, no treaty, no paper, nor engagement in existence, by which the king of the Netherlands was bound to give any notice of his intention to recommence hostilities. The charges made against that monarch—unfortunate monarch, as he was called— 1306 was peculiarly cruel when coming from a British Minister. True it was, in one sense, that he was unfortunate, but in what sense could he be considered criminal? It was more criminal, at least it was most insulting, to attempt to trample upon him in his misfortunes. A charge came from the other side of the House, that special pleading had been used by the Opposition. Now, the special pleading was with those who complained of want of notice, when, in point of fact, no notice was required by any existing engagement. It was also special pleading to call a cessation of hostilities an armistice; and he would again confidently assert, that a renewal of hostilities on the part of Holland, was not, in point of honour, or according to the law of nations, a violation of any international duty. If there was any document by which the king of the Netherlands was bound to give notice, the noble Lord might be in possession of it; but he had never heard of any, and under such circumstances, it was most unjust, as well as impolitic, to say, that any breach of agreement was imputable to the king of the Netherlands. He did not wish to enter into any inquiry respecting the sealed letter, which the noble Lord did not seem to think himself justifiable in opening. On that subject, which was one of diplomatic etiquette, the noble Lord was the best judge; but if the noble Lord was on the Opposition side of the House, where, by the bye, he never sat, he might have thought, as he (Sir Charles Wetherell) and some of his friends thought, that a letter addressed to a Conference might have been opened by the head or organ of that Conference; but whether the noble Lord was right or not, or whether the king of Holland had or had not given notice, it would be more becoming the Minister of England to show a feeling of sympathy, rather than of acrimony, towards the acts of that monarch. He admitted that the noble Lord had exercised a prudent discretion in not allowing himself to be drawn into a discussion of the whole of the Belgic negotiations, in the present state of the affairs of that country, but it was not right in the noble Lord, nor in any person, to attack the king of the Netherlands; and to rescue him from such an imputation, was the object, and he thought the successful object, of the Motion then before the House. The situation of that monarch was one of peculiar hardship: he 1307 could not without alarm, witness, the quick march à cheval of the French towards Holland. At a call, 20,000 French cavalry, and 30,000 infantry marched to the frontiers. Thus was the safety of Holland endangered, and, at the same time, be it recollected, there was a French fleet in the Tagus, menacing the independence of Portugal. This was a state of things which he could not witness without alarm; not that he meant to charge his Majesty's Ministers with any participation in such proceedings on the part of the French; but he partook of those British feelings which, he was sure, pervaded the whole country, when he expressed a hope that neither Portugal nor Belgium would be ever under the dominion of France.
§ Amendment negatived without a division.
§ Mr. Croker
said, he was sure that if ever there was a case in which the indulgence of a reply would not be denied to an hon. Member, this was that case. He hoped, therefore, that the House would permit him to say a few words in reply to his noble friend on that occasion. He would address his noble friend opposite in the same spirit, and with the same feelings, with which he had commenced this debate, and he, for one, should greatly lament indeed, if, in discussing the acts of the Minister, they should not be carefully and distinctly separated from the individual character of the man. Without wishing to give offence, he could not help saying, that one expression had fallen from him which appeared to have been mistaken by the noble Lord, and with regard to which he was desirous to make an observation. His noble friend had said, that he (Mr. Croker) had managed this evening, in the absence of his natural and appointed leaders, to take a benefit for himself. Though the noble Lord had read him a lecture upon oratory, he would confess, that he thought the metaphor which the noble Lord ventured in this instance, was, to say the least of it, a bad one. He supposed, however, that he must accept it as a benefit. Now, both in making this motion to-night, and in giving notice of it last night, he had taken care to guard himself against any imputation of vanity, such as the noble Lord would fix upon him. He had stated last 1308 night, that it was his wish to make the motion then, and it was only in consideration of existing circumstances, and out of courtesy to the noble Lord, that he had postponed it. He was anxious to give his noble friend notice of the Motion before he brought it forward, and it was, therefore, not for the purpose of having a benefit to himself that he brought it forward this evening. His noble friend, in the commencement of his speech, had been exceedingly facetious in regard to his (Mr. Croker's) country, and his noble friend would give him leave to say, that such sarcasms, not very becoming in any one, came, with a particular bad grace from his noble friend who to that country owed his ancestry, his property, and his title. His noble friend had said, that he (Mr. Croker) had concluded a speech of blunders with a practical bull, for that he had moved for a copy of a letter of the 1st of August, while in fact, the letter he wanted was that of the 2nd of August. His noble friend, in making that statement, would seem determined to vindicate his own relationship with that country to which he had just before alluded as the parent of blunders, [cries of "oh," from the Ministerial benches.] When he (Mr. Croker) was in office he had always felt it his duty to give a patient hearing to Gentlemen who spoke on the Opposition side of the House. He thought that it was the duty of Gentlemen who were in office to listen with patience to those who spoke from the opposite side of the House, or at least not to interrupt them. Other Gentlemen, independent of Government, might be, perhaps, forgiven a little occasional impatience, but it was not courteous nor decent on the part of members of the Government whose attendance in that House was, he might venture to say salaried, to act in such a manner. He was going to say, when he was thus interrupted, that his noble friend must have fallen into a most singular mistake; for, after telling him, that he had been guilty of a practical bull in not moving for the letter of the 2nd of August, towards the conclusion of his speech his noble friend had said, that if he had moved for that letter, his return to that motion must have been nil. He (Mr. Croker) was well aware of that, better indeed than his noble friend had been when the discussion began; and he therefore had expressly stated in the conclusion of his speech, that he did not move for 1309 the letter of the 2nd of August, because his noble friend had been so inattentive as not to have obtained an official copy of it. He saw, that the letter of the 1st of August was sufficient for the vindication of the king of Holland, and that it was in the official possession of his noble friend, and therefore moved for a copy where as he knew that the letter of the 2nd of August was not in his possession, and that, therefore, there would be no use in moving for a copy of it. He said, in bringing forward this Motion, that that letter ought to be in his noble friend's possession, and that was, in fact, one of the charges which he had brought against his noble friend. If his noble friend would maintain, that there was nothing in the letter of the 1st of August that could be considered as a notice from the king of Holland, why had he laboured to show that it was not a notice, and that moyens militaries did not mean military measures? Why had the noble Earl, (Earl Grey), in another place, endeavoured to show that it was not a proper notice? His argument was, that it was a notice plain in its meaning and in its contents; and that, in fact, it was now universally admitted to be so. His noble friend had said, that he (Lord Palmerston) did not write in newspapers. Such an observation from his noble friend was to him (Mr. Croker) a little surprising, if it meant to imply that, in the moment of relaxation from official business, he would not condescend to employ himself in such an occupation as that; and, indeed, the noble Lord's friends around him, cheered the statement with a vociferation, which appeared to imply that the occupation itself was in some degree a degrading one. Now, what he was about to say, he could assure his noble friend he would say in perfect good humour. He would say, that if that cheer meant to insinuate, that those who wrote for newspapers pursued a degrading occupation—[Lord Palmerston nodded dissent.] His noble friend signified that he did not share that opinion, and he should therefore not say what he was about to utter. He might be allowed, however, to observe, in reference to this topic, that if any person should hereafter collect those fugitive pieces which had been attributed to him (Mr. Croker)—with what justice the House would be presently able to judge,—he repeated, that if such a collection should be made, and that the 1310 merit of those pieces should continue to be attributed to him, he should feel it his duty to do justice to his noble friend, by declaring that some of the best and most remarkable amongst them were his (Lord Palmerston's) own. He remembered well the days which he spent with his noble friend, not certainly in business of the grave importance which now occupied his noble friend's time, but in lighter and more agreeable occupations. He recalled with pleasure those earlier days, in which they pursued and enjoyed, not indeed the "search of deep philosophy," that the poet delighted to remember, but—Wit, eloquence, and poesy;Arts which I lov'd, for they, my friend, were thine.His noble friend said, that he had expected him to break the seal of a letter which was not addressed to him, and his noble friend had asked, in what school of morals had he learned such a doctrine? But he had distinctly said, that as his noble friend was chairman of the Conference, he supposed it was usual for him to open the letters addressed to the Conference, and he had asked, if such were the custom, why had not his noble friend done so in this instance? He hoped that that statement, would remove the erroneous impression which appeared to be made on his noble friend's mind, that he (Mr. Croker) had asked him to break the seal of a letter which was not addressed to him. He could not help complaining that his noble friend had again in his speech used the words "armistice," and "violation of the armistice," when his noble friend should have recollected, that it was now admitted on all hands that a suspension of hostilities had merely taken place, which was a very different sort of thing. In conclusion, he begged to assure his noble friend, that in the display of ability which he had made in his speech that night, he had done nothing but confirm the high opinion which he had always entertained of his talents, and if, in the bringing forward his motion, any thing which he had addressed to the Minister, had been taken as addressed to the man, his noble friend was completely mistaken in such an application of his observations.
§ Lord Palmerston
assured his right hon. friend, that, when they had thrown away their foils, and had concluded this discussion, the reciprocal thrusts which they might have given each other in the debate would not leave a wound behind.