§ Mr. Thomas Duncombe
, in rising to invite the House to concur in an address to the Throne, having for its object, to beseech his Majesty to use his good offices with his ally, the King of the French, for the liberation of Prince Polignac, and other imprisoned ministers of France, said that he was too well aware of the delicacy and the numerous difficulties that surrounded the question not to feel sensible how greatly he stood in need of the indulgence of the House while he stated as briefly as he was able the grounds upon which he thought England might offer her mediation with out offence, and France accept that mediation without compromising either her dignity or her independence. When the House looked back to the political career and the past lives of these misguided men, he hoped that, in advocating their release, he should stand acquitted of being actuated by any party motives, or biassed by any political prejudices in their favour. He stood there to recommend their release on higher grounds—he would ask for it in the name of even-handed justice and humanity, and in order that, if their sufferings were only to terminate with their lives, it might not be said hereafter that England, by her silence, acquiesced in their captivity, or that no attempt was ever made to relieve and mitigate their afflictions. He might be asked (admitting this view of the question to be correct) what right did we possess to interfere with the domestic policy or the internal arrangements of another country? Or what precedents there were that could be adduced in support of his proposition? These were the difficulties he knew he had to contend with—these were the obstacles that he should be expected to overcome. With regard to the right that we might have to interfere with the internal policy of another country, he must say that he thought such a question came rather too late. It was true non-intervention had been our precept; but how far it had been our practice he might safely leave Spain to answer, France to illustrate, or the house of Bourbon to acknowledge. It was now nearly six years since the British public first heard with admiration and de light of the glories of July, and the triumphs of the barricades—when the citizens of Paris rose almost as one man, and proclaimed that "the will of the people" was the only legitimate title to the throne. The successful struggle made by 1192 the French nation upon that occasion caused an excitement here which he thought those who witnessed it would not easily forget. They had then seen the tri-colour flag, not confined to the walls of Paris, but triumphantly waving in our own streets among the loud acclamations of the people; and while addresses of congratulation were sent over to the Citizen King, public subscriptions were entered into to console and assist the relatives and descend ants of those who had fallen in the struggle. In short, from that day, England seemed to feel that the liberties of France must thenceforth rest upon the same foundation as her own. But when this excitement began to subside, and the trial of the ministers to commence, Englishmen began seriously to reflect upon what description of constitution that was which could make the servants of a monarch deposed, of a power that had ceased to exist, responsible to those who were profiting by the change. They had then to learn in what new charter this double responsibility could be found, whereby a king could be superseded and his ministers impeached! Many then began to suspect that either the advantages of that eventful revolution had been exaggerated, or the punishment of its authors was ungenerous and unjust. However, the trial proceeded, and whether that trial had been a legal or an illegal one, whether the tribunal before which Prince Polignac was arraigned, had or had not been legally constituted, he would not pretend to decide; suffice it to say, that the ministers of Charles the Tenth had been condemned, and were then in the dungeons of Ham, suffering for having only attempted that which their more fortunate successors had been able to accomplish with a severity and a force which he should leave to other and warmer admirers of this Citizen King's reign to palliate and explain. It was notorious that, upon the first public occasion after Louis Philippe had ascended the throne, he declared that "he wished his conduct to be judged by France, Europe, and posterity." If in that declaration he was sincere, it afforded to England a favourable opportunity of communicating to him and to our gallant neighbours the feelings of sympathy and disappointment which pervade this country at the protracted incarceration of those now harmless individuals. For the credit of France, he wished most sincerely that she had listened to the counsel of a noble 1193 Lord upon this subject: he alluded to a speech of Lord Grey, made by him in the other House of Parliament, a short time previous to the trial. That noble Lord had said, "I am far from wishing, by any observations of mine, to interfere unbecomingly in the affairs of a neighbouring country, but I believe I may say that there is not a friend of liberty in Europe, who would not feel gratified if he could see mercy extended to criminals, who may be thought by some least to deserve it; and that the revolution so nobly accomplished might be freed from any proceedings which can have the appearance of being dictated by motives and feelings of vengeance." He would ask any man (let his politics be what they might) to point out, unless vengeance were the object, what was to be gained by this imprisonment? What were the dangers to be apprehended from an immediate and generous remission of the sentence? For, if he had been correctly informed, if liberty were restored to Polignac and his colleagues to-morrow, age, infirmity, and disease, generated by the pestilential climate of their prison, had brought them, so close to the brink of the grave, that all they could hope for, all they desired, was to be permitted to conclude in peace and charity, but in the enjoyment of liberty and of the society of friends, those few remaining days that belong to their ill fated existence. And here he would wish to take the opportunity of stating, that when he alluded to the subject on a former evening, he did so without any communication, direct or indirect, with the prisoners themselves; and the only communication that had since been made to him was by a letter which he received shortly afterwards from the Princess Polignac, expressive of the gratitude of the prisoners at the kind manner in which the mention of their misfortunes had been received by the enlightened assembly which he ad dressed. With the permission of the House, he would read the letter.Ham, March 4.Dear Sir—Those alone who have experienced severe affliction, can understand how more than consolatory, how gratifying it is to learn, that friends still remain who are not indifferent to our appalling misfortunes. It was under these impressions that I perused your generous speech in favour of the prisoners at Ham, and learnt the flattering attention with which it was listened, to by an enlight- 1194 ened assembly. Receive, Sir, on this occasion' my best acknowledgments; they will, however, be inefficient, when compared with the secret satisfaction your own conscience must afford you, for having made a courageous effort in behalf of those who linger in confinement. It is, doubtless, to the remembrance of having in days of prosperity contributed, on various occasions, to many philanthropic acts, both in behalf of his own countrymen and of foreigners, that Prince Polignac owes that serenity of mind which has contributed to support him in adversity, and with which he now waits the further decrees of Providence.Allow me to subscribe myself,Dear Sir, your's truly,LA PSSE. DE POLIGNAC.To T. Duncombe, Esq., M.P.This letter was written by the Princess, Prince Polignac being sentenced to civil death has not been allowed to communicate by letter with any one. The House was, no doubt, well aware that the fortress of Ham was situated in the most un healthy part of France, in the midst of marshes and morasses; but to remain at large within the fortress seemed to have been thought too lenient a punishment; for within the fortress a small prison had been built, where these unfortunate men were confined almost in secret, without any means of exercise, excepting upon an elevated terrace, about thirty paces in length, and surrounded by stagnant water. At certain hours of the day a few persons are allowed to see them, but at five o'clock they are committed to their dungeons, where they dine alone, and after that hour, under no circumstances of domestic affliction or of sickness, is any friend or relation allowed to visit them to interrupt the cheerless solitude of their cells. He would ask if persecution like this could be necessary to the ends of national justice? Did it not savour rather of revenge? If so, surely the same right and the same feelings that prompted us to congratulate and address our ally in 1830, entitle us to plead for mercy in 1836, and to tell the French nation that we much fear that in the eyes of posterity the lustre of their far-famed revolution will be tarnished by such needless cruelty as this. Before he sat down, the hon. Member begged to observe that there were precedents for this motion. Similar addresses had been moved in that House in 1794 and 1796 by Mr. Fitzpatrick, for the liberation of General Lafayette, and other Frenchmen confined in the prisons of our ally the King of Prussia, He had adopted 1195 the form of that motion—a motion, too, which had been warmly supported by all the leading Whigs of that day (as he hoped his would be by those of the pre sent time); that motion had been sup ported by the present Earl Grey, by Mr. Whitbread, Mr. Wilberforce, Mr. Sheridan, and Mr. Fox; and Mr. Fox, when speaking in support of it, said, "The customs of civilized nations presented no obstacle to our interposition. In the case of Sir Charles Asgill, application was made by this country to a court with which we were then at war. The good offices of the Queen of France were solicited, granted, and proved effectual, and America, the ally of France, yielded to an interposition in behalf of humanity. What, therefore, is to prevent his Majesty from using his good offices with his ally in the cause of humanity also?" True it was, that the motion of General Fitzpatrick was not carried; but why did it fail? It failed in consequence of the disturbed aspect that public affairs were then assuming throughout Europe. War was kindling in every quarter, and the principles of Lafayette were not then quite so popular as they are at the present day, and, therefore, an opportunity was gladly seized to control their influence by the detention of his person. Now peace pervaded the Continent, and were it not for the dungeons of Ham, little would be left to call to recollection the confusion that is past. His motion also might fail; but he trusted its failure would not, at ail events, take place on this side of the Channel, and that, let what might become of Polignac and his ill fated companions, England might never be reproached with having beheld with indifference a persecution which neither justice, enlightened policy, nor humanity, could approve. The hon. Gentleman, in conclusion, then moved the following Address:—"Humbly to submit to his Majesty the propriety of his Majesty using his good offices with his ally the King of the French, for the liberation of the Prince de Polignac and Messrs. de Peyronnet, Chantelauze, and Guernon de Ranville."
§ Mr. Grantley Berkeley
seconded the motion. He could not understand on what ground any person, possessed of the common feelings of humanity, could op pose the motion.
§ Mr. Philip Howard
trusted, that the motion would receive the sympathy of 1196 men of all parties in that House. He was quite aware it was a very delicate question to interfere with anything which regarded the domestic policy of a foreign state, but he believed the French people had, on many occasions, received our mediation in good part, and believed that the liberation of these unfortunate prisoners from this gloomy fortress, in Picardy, would be as acceptable to their feeling, as it would reflect honour on their magnanimity.
§ Mr. Ward
thought, that if the motion of the hon. Gentleman was carried, it would not only be an interference with the internal affairs of another country, but would also interfere between great public offenders and the justice of a nation. He could not help feeling that the persons who were the object of the motion, had been guilty of crimes of the greatest magnitude. Prince Polignac had played a great game, which, if it had been successful, would have made him the chief minister of a sovereign who would be an absolute despot. They had been tried for their offence and found guilty, and sentenced to the punishment of death. The punishment they were now, and for a series of years had been undergoing, was a commutation of the original sentence on them. When, also, hon. Gentlemen recollected the great loss of life that had resulted from the attempt of those persons, he had no doubt they would hesitate before they sanctioned the proposition submitted to the House. For his own part, he did not think that it was carrying the punishment farther than was necessary, when an offence of such magnitude occurred. Hon. Gentlemen talked of the humanity and desirableness of mediation on the part of this country. No doubt intervention or mediation, for the purpose of preserving peace was most beneficial, and this could often be re sorted to, as this country was interested in preserving friendly relations between other nations; but how could we mediate or intervene for a mitigation of punishment for political offences with which this country had nothing to do? At any rate he felt satisfied that it was a question which should not lightly be dealt with in that House. What, he asked, would be the feelings of that House and of the country, if a foreign power chose to interfere with this nation for a mitigation of punishment for great political crimes. Although his feelings might prompt him 1197 to vote with the hon. Gentleman, he trusted that the motion would be with drawn, or that the House would, on a calm consideration of the subject, feel induced to reject it.
§ Sir Robert Inglis
observed, that when the hon. Member for Finsbury first gave notice of a motion on this subject, he could not help feeling some degree of envy at the generous feelings which actuated the hon. Gentleman. He had, however, mentioned at the time, that he could not support an Address to the Crown on the subject, as it would be an interference with the internal affairs of another nation. He now repeated that opinion; but he was most anxious for the success of the object which the hon. Member had in view. Although the noble Lord, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, might not give such an answer to the hon. Gentle man as he might wish, yet he trusted that the noble Lord would use other means to attain the desired end. This he also thought could be more readily and easily obtained by the means he referred to than by a formal Address to the Sovereign to exercise his influence to further this object. He would not provoke a discussion as to whether or not these persons in the prison of Ham deserved the punishment which had been inflicted on them; and, above all, when he recollected that by doing so he might remove to a greater distance the chance of their release.
§ Viscount Palmerston
said, that from the speeches which had been made on both sides of the House, and from the manifestations of opinion with which those speeches had been received, two things Mere sufficiently clear—first, that the House sympathised with the hon. Member for Finsbury in those feelings of humanity and generosity which had impelled him to bring forward this Motion; and, secondly, that it was not the opinion of the House that the Motion for an application on the part of the British Government to the French Government should be pressed at the present moment. He was speaking for himself, and he believed for his colleagues, when he said, that nothing would give him more sincere pleasure than to hear that the Government of France had thought it expedient to ad vise the King of the French to exercise his prerogative of pardon towards Prince Polignac and his fellow sufferers. He was sure that such an act of mercy on the part 1198 of the French Government would meet with satisfaction and approbation, not only in this country, but also in every quarter of the civilised world. Speaking individually on this matter, he could not conceal from himself, that whatever the political of fences might have been of which Prince Polignac and his colleagues had been found guilty, the punishment inflicted upon them had been severe and long-continued. It would, therefore, be consistent with those generous and chivalrous feelings which distinguished the French nation to show, that when the continuance of punishment ceased to be necessary for the sake of example, anything like vengeance was deemed unnecessary, and that a generous oblivion should fall upon those offences which had been sufficiently marked to prevent their repetition. However becoming it might be in the hon. Member for Finsbury—who was well known to entertain opinions favourable to the liberty of the subject—to stand forward as the advocate of mercy towards those who had acted upon opinions quite the reverse, still he trusted that the House would not forget that it could take no step so inexpedient, and he might even add, so dangerous, as to ask the King of England by address to interfere in matters connected with the domestic concerns of another country. There was no precedent for any such interference on the part of the British House of Commons. The precedent to which the hon. Member for Fins bury had alluded was one totally different in all its fundamental principles. On that occasion General Lafayette, and other officers connected with him, having passed from the French army with the intention of retiring into Holland, fell in with the advanced post of the Austrians, and were held in consequence in confinement, as prisoners of war. The hon. Member had referred to the opinions of Fox, Sheridan, and Whitbread, in favour of the Motion of General Fitzpatrick; but he had forgotten to tell the House, that Mr. Fox expressly stated that he supported the Motion be cause General Lafayette was not a subject either of the King of Prussia or of the Emperor of Austria—because he had not violated any laws which he was bound to obey—because he was a mere prisoner of war—and because we, as allies in war to the power which had captured him, were entitled to intercede in his favour. This case, however, was totally different; for it was the case of subjects of another country tried for offences against the laws of their 1199 country, adjudged to punishment by the legal authorities of that country, and suffering at present under punishment deemed by those authorities appropriate to their offences. Now, if we were to set the ex ample of interference in such a case, it might be inconveniently retorted upon us, and if there was one principle which public men in this country had held more sacred than [another, it was this—that it should not be permitted to any foreign Government to interfere directly or indirectly in the internal affairs of England, and that neither with laws which we proposed to pass, nor with the execution of laws which we had already passed, should any foreign Government presume to meddle. Now, it would be impossible for us to maintain that principle as strictly as we ought to do if we interfered in the present case. Even for the sake of the object which the hon. Member for Finsbury wished to accomplish, it would be most politic for him not to press his motion to a division; for the French people, though chivalrous and generous, were sensible of the value of high character, and though they might be swayed by the expression of the opinions of a free assembly in a friendly country, yet if that assembly went further, and arrogated to itself a right of interference, it was much to be apprehended that their pride would be roused, and an effect produced the very reverse of that which the hon. Member intended. He, therefore, begged the hon. Member to content himself with having elicited sentiments from both sides of the House in concurrence with those which did him so much honour. He begged him to allow the matter to rest where it then was, and as the battle was now over, and as the constitutional monarchy of France was now established be yond any possibility of shaking it, and as the objects for which it was established were now in progress to their accomplishment, he implored the hon. Gentleman to share the confident hope which he himself entertained, that the same generous feelings which induced him to make this motion would spontaneously animate the French people at large, and that their own innate generosity would lead them of their own accord to the very same results which his hon. Friend wished to accomplish.
§ Mr. Randall Plunket
believed, that the severity of the sentence passed on the un fortunate prisoners at Ham had been carried into effect in consequence of the cruelty of that nation of which he did not 1200 think so highly as some hon. Gentlemen. The crime was not so much that of the Ministers as that of the monarch, and this was not the first case of this nature where individuals had been punished, or even suffered death, and the chief party had gone free in consequence of its being thought that a monarch was only responsible through his Ministers. There was a very remarkable case of this kind in the history of this country.
§ Mr. Cutlar Fergusson
was satisfied that the adoption of the motion would not tend to promote the object which the hon. Gentleman and the majority of the House had in view. He wished, however, to observe that he could not agree in what had been observed by the hon. Member for St. Alban's (Mr. Ward) that the guilt of these persons had not been sufficiently punished. He, however, entirely concurred in the expressions of sympathy which had been uttered for those unfortunate persons, and he was sure that if they were allowed their liberty, that it would excite the sympathies of Europe in favour of the King of the French, and do much to establish his Government in the feelings of those persons who had previously been opposed to it.
§ Lord John Russell
, though he sympathised deeply with the individuals in question, and earnestly wished to be of service to them, he should have felt quite satisfied to let the House go to a vote on this motion, on the ground stated by his noble Friend, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs. But his motive for rising at present was to make one or two observations, in addition to the statement of his strong conviction that it was impossible for us to interfere with propriety in the internal affairs of another nation. Before making those observations, however, he would say, that he trusted the Government of France would consider this question in the manner in which his hon. Friend, the Member for Finsbury desired, and in which the House appeared to coincide with him. Being contented with the statement of his noble Friend, he should not have risen to say a single word, had not the hon. Member for Drogheda thrown out certain reflec- 1201 tions against the French nation, which were used very inappropriately on this subject, and which he had some reasons for knowing were quite unfounded. "It happened to me," said the noble Lord, "to be in Paris soon after the Revolution of 1830, when the popular opinion was—and it was very natural that it should be so, after a revolution which had cost so much blood and so many lives—that the Ministers of Charles 10th would expiate their offences by forfeiting their lives on the scaffold. It happened to me to be asked by some persons very nearly connected with Prince Polignac and his family, to ascertain what was likely to be the issue of his trial. Certainly I could not pretend, certainly I did not pretend, to have any such influence with the per sons with whom I was then acquainted in Paris, as to hope to alter any opinion of theirs; but I had sufficient acquaintance with the Ministers and Court of Louis Philippe, and others who had influence in France, to ascertain from them the nature of their opinions. I did ascertain from them, for the satisfaction of Prince Polignac and his friends, that the enlighten ed sovereign who now reigns over the French nation, and the Ministers who were then his advisers, contemplated with horror the infliction of any capital punishment upon those Ministers, and that any influence which they could use would be directed to prevent the Chamber of Peers, and those engaged in the trial, from coming to a decision by which their lives would be placed in jeopardy. I took care to convey that information as soon as possible to those who were anxiously awaiting the result of any facts which had come to my knowledge. But it was stated to me, that even if the case were as I had been in formed, and even if the Ministers and the Chamber of Peers should decide that the lives of these unfortunate men should not be forfeited, and that they were not to undergo capital punishment, there might be a popular insurrection,—that the National Guards might be forced, or perhaps might allow themselves to be forced, and that in being conveyed to the Chamber of Peers, or in being taken from it, those individuals, who on their trial were declared free from all danger as to their lives, might be sacrificed to the vengeance and fury of a sanguinary mob. It was my fortune to be intimately acquainted, and I say it with pride and gratification, with 1202 General Lafayette, then in command of the National Guard of Paris. I wrote to him, and asked him for an interview on a subject of great importance. He did me the honour to come and visit me, in order to hear the questions on which I wished to ascertain his opinions, and I then told him of the dangers which were apprehended for the lives of the Ministers then upon their trial. He stated immediately his opinion—his decided opinion; and he asked me, as an Englishman, whether I did not think that the opinions of Englishmen in former times would have coincided with his own,—namely, whether the offence which those Ministers had committed was not an offence punishable with death? He went on, however, to state, that as a question of humanity, he never would promote, or be a party consenting to promote, the infliction of that punishment on those Ministers; and when I put to him this question—"Is there not danger lest the National Guard should be forced, and violence be committed on these prisoners?" he answered me, with great emotion, "No, that must not, that shall not be." That was the answer given me by General La fayette, a brave and honest man, a re publican, it may be, in opinion, but still a sincere and humane man; and I now ask the hon. Member for Drogheda, such having been the concurrent opinions of the Ministers of Louis Philippe, of his Court, of the Chamber of Peers, and of the Commander of the National Guard, all borne out by their subsequent conduct—I ask him, I say, whether, after the provocation to the Revolution of 1830, any imputation of cruelty can justly rest on the nation, of which the King who now reigns, and of which General Lafayette, who is now un fortunately no more, were the most distinguished ornaments? The noble Lord then proceeded to observe, that he had thought it right to say thus much on these facts, because they came within his own personal knowledge; and having said thus much, he would now repeat, that he could not agree with the motion for the reasons stated by his noble Friend. If he had thought it right to agree to motions of this kind, there were other occasions on which he should have supported them in behalf of persons who had been condemned to suffer, he would not say whether justly or unjustly, and had suffered most grievous punishments, not for being parties to the promulgation of ordinances injurious to 1203 liberty, but because they had been too sincere and ardent advocates of liberty. He alluded to the cases of Count Gonfalonieri and Silvio Pellico, with whose narrative all the House, he believed, were now acquainted. He, however, considered it to be the sacred duty of that House to abstain from interference in such cases, and he had, therefore, neither propounded nor supported such motions. He thought that foreign Governments were the best judges of what ought to be done in such cases. The Austrian Government had thought it necessary to take such and such measures for the protection of its dominions in Italy, and since that time it had deemed it necessary to extend mercy to the individuals whom it had formerly punished. He was sorry for the severity: he rejoiced in the mercy which had been displayed towards those individuals. Like his hon. Friend, the Member for the University of Oxford, he should be sorry to interfere in the internal affairs of a foreign Government. He could not, therefore, support the motion for an address; and if he were compelled to vote against it, he hoped that the House would give him credit for a full participation in those generous sentiments which had led the hon. Member for Finsbury to bring it forward.
§ Sir Edward Codrington
must also disapprove the imputation of cruelty cast upon the French nation by the hon. Member for Drogheda. He had been in Paris immediately after the revolution in 1830, and could confirm the statement of the noble Secretary for the Home Department.
Mr. Grove Price
observed, that this debate had been as creditable to the House as its warmest friends could wish, for it proved, that when a question of humanity was brought forward, there was no difference of opinion among Englishmen of all parties, but all were ready to support it. The House and the country owed a deep debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Finsbury for bringing this motion forward, and whatever might be the fate of it, the hon. Member ought and would feel happy in having brought it forward.
§ Mr. Arthur Trevor
said, that although it would not be expedient to press this question to a division, and although it was not consistent with the policy of his Majesty's Government to accede to it, there could be no doubt its object, and the manner in which it had been brought forward, 1204 were equally creditable to the hon. Member for Finsbury, and he was not without a hope that the unanimous expression of opinion which had taken place on the subject would not be without the happiest effects in France.
§ Mr. Poulter
differed from the noble Lord, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and from the hon. Members who had sided with him in opinion, as regarded the propriety of the interference of that House in a matter of this kind. It appeared to him that there were some circumstances of a peculiar nature in the present case which took it out of the operation of the rule which had been laid down. The fact was, that although there was a very general feeling throughout France, among all classes of the population, that the prisoners at Ham had already received a degree of punishment adequate to the satisfaction of public justice, yet that the Ministry of the day were so situated with respect to party and to public opinion, that they would not act on their conviction, because of their fear that their conduct would be construed into an approval of the course of proceeding for which the prisoners had been sentenced to the punishment. And when it was considered that there was no assembly on the face of the earth which stood so high in the estimation of the French people as the British House of Commons—above all, no assembly in which it was known there was a greater repugnance to, and dislike of, such principles as those which had actuated these unfortunate prisoners, those acts for which he (Mr. Poulter) was bound to say they had been justly condemned, he thought that, in these circumstances, there would be found grounds for interference, which in other cases, perhaps, might not exist. Even admitting all the primâ facie objections to that course which had been urged by preceding speakers, he (Mr. Poulter) thought these circumstances afforded sufficient and ostensible reasons for making some demonstration on behalf of these unhappy persons, especially when it was remembered, that if such a step were not taken by our Government no other government would take it, and Prince Polignac and his companions would most likely be confined for the remainder of their lives. He believed good effect would be produced by the friendly interposition of the Sovereign of this country, undertaken at the instigation of this House; he, therefore, hoped his hon. Friend, the Member for Finsbury, would press his motion to a di- 1205 vision, and he should feel it his duty to support him.
did not intend to have spoken but for the speech of the hon. Member for Shaftesbury, from every part of which he entirely dissented. He was certainly of opinion that if there was one mode by which more surely than by another the object they had in view would be defeated, it was that proposed by the hon. Member. The interference of that House would be calculated especially to excite the jealousy of a nation like the French; it would be an unjustifiable interference with them on points which, according to the law of nations, belonged exclusively to the sovereign power to decide and determine. Were this motion acceded to, there would be no end to the occasions on which this House would be called upon to say to a foreign government, in respect of any political offenders, "We, the British nation, think you have punished these individuals long enough, and we, therefore, call upon you to exercise that clemency, which, if it is to be exercised at all, ought to be exercised from the sovereign power alone." He could not say that he thought the motion would be productive of any good, or that it would tend, in the slightest degree, to accelerate the release of these unfortunate persons; on the contrary, he thought this was of all others the very period when the French Government would be afraid to exercise their own discretion and free will, because of this interference on the part of the British nation. He could not help concurring in what fell from the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. What would be the feeling ex cited in that House by an attempt, on the part of a foreign government, to interfere in the administration of justice in this country? He (Dr. Lushington) for one would say, that such an interference should never for one moment influence his mind. Having said this, however, on the subject of the form of the motion, he felt it due to himself to say, that no person could feel more strongly than he did for the situation of the prisoners. He had throughout his life been attached to the principle of rendering punishment certain, but not severe, as the only sure mode of rendering it efficacious everywhere. He hoped the declaration he was about to make would not be considered inconsistent with this line of conduct. He would acknowledge that he was not prepared to create this precedent in favour of individuals who had fallen a 1206 sacrifice to their endeavours to introduce despotism into a foreign country, when that House had never made a similar at tempt in favour of the hundreds who had worn away their lives in captivity, and lingered out their days in miserable imprisonment, because they were too much attached to the cause of liberty, and too desirous to confer upon their native land the blessings which free countries enjoyed. He would tell the hon. Member for Drogheda that there never was a case in which the imputation of cruelty was more unfounded, than against the French nation in this instance: when, by the acts of these individuals, however conscientious, the whole country was in a state of fearful agitation; and the wives and children of the slain were crying for vengeance. He (Dr. Lushington) would confidently affirm, that there never was an instance of a nation similarly circumstanced, displaying such moderation. He would ask, what would have been the sentence of that House if Gentlemen sitting on that (the Ministerial) bench had so sought to overturn the constitution of Great Britain, as Prince Polignac and his associates had that of France? He need only refer the House to English history, and to the Acts of Attainder passed in the reign of William III., for a reply. He (Dr. Lushington) could expect no benefit from this motion: he hoped it would be productive of no evil. So far as his voice could reach, he prayed that this sentiment might reach France:—We trust in the honour and mercy of the French Government in our commiseration for the sufferings of these unfortunate individuals—we place trust in them. The British nation abjures, and never will attempt to interfere in the execution of their justice.
§ Mr. William Roche
agreed with the hon. Member for Finsbury in so much of his object as regarded the humanity mixed up in the question, but as regarded the form of the motion he felt himself bound to side with the hon. Member's opponents. He thought that a direct interference would be highly impolitic on the part of that House; but that, on the other hand, the universal and unanimous expression of feeling which the subject had called forth on this occasion would prove most beneficial to the prisoners.
§ Mr. Thomas Duncombe
said, that, not merely in deference to the opinions which had been given, but also from a regard to the interests of the individuals whose cause he had endeavoured to support, he should 1207 beg leave to withdraw his motion. He could not do so, however, without expressing his gratitude for the sympathy in the object of the motion which had been shown from all parts of the House. He sincerely hoped the sentiments which had been expressed by his Majesty's Ministers, and that House in general, would be received elsewhere in the spirit in which they were intended.
§ Motion withdrawn.