HC Deb 25 March 1839 vol 46 cc1186-98
Mr. T. Attwood

rose to move an address to her Majesty upon a subject which involved most intimately the safety and honour of the country. The other night he had the pain to hear all the dreadful anticipations he had formed fully confirmed. The hon. Secretary for the Admiralty had acknowledged that we were not in a condition to repel the Russians at sea, if they should think proper to attack us. The hon. Gentleman acknowledged that the Russians might do us much injury on the English coast. He believed the Russians might attack England next July if they pleased, and with much greater injury than the hon. Secretary for the Admiralty would allow. He would proceed at once to state the grounds of the fears he entertained, and the extent of the injury which he apprehended. It was acknowledged on all hands that the Russians had twenty-eight line-of-battle ships at Cronstadt, well-manned, well-equipped, and in all respects well-appointed. The gallant admiral commanding at Portsmouth, no doubt, had told them that when the Russian navy joined Lord Duncan before the battle of Camperdown, they were found totally inefficient. The gallant admiral had also told the House that the Russian fleet, when it was sold to Portugal, was found on passing the Bay of Biscay to be totally inefficient, and was in consequence obliged to be broken up. The times had, however, changed since then, and no one, he thought, would be found at present hardy enough to give a similar account of a Russian fleet now. Every naval officer with whom he had conversed now said, that a Russian fleet would prove no despicable enemy. The Russians had now a fleet of twenty-eight sail of the line in Cronstadt. Our Ambassador, the Earl of Durham, had sailed with that fleet, as had also Commander Craufurd, who had given an account of its state of preparation, for which the country could never be sufficiently grateful. The year before last the Emperor of Russia had brought the whole of those twenty-eight sail of the line together at Cronstadt, and had taken them out to sea to manœuvre in one fleet. Last year he would not bring them together in one fleet to insult England; he and his councillors were too wise for that; for the proceedings of the House of Commons in the mean time had struck fear into their hearts. But the twenty-eight sail of the line were still at Cronstadt, and all last year 80,000 Russian soldiers were on the coast of Poland. "I put it to the Whigs," said Mr. Attwood, "for I think little of them. I put it to the Tories, and I think little of them too. I put it to the Radicals in this House—and of all the three factions I think them the worst—I put it to them all three, and, though bad is the best, I think the Tories the least wicked of all.—yes, I fear that Whigs, and Tories, and Radicals, have entered into a compact, a treasonable compact, to introduce Russian soldiers into this country to humble us poor Radicals out of doors. This appears to be a wild suppositionv—and the days are wild in which we live—and we see wild circumstances arise every minute—and when I know the miseries of the people of England, their grievances, and their thorough discontent, and when I know that Whigs and Radicals have year after year turned a deaf ear to the sounds of calamity and woe, I may be allowed to imagine that there is such a thing as treason in this House. I'll not say that it is so, but I must be permitted to imagine that it may be so. Either treason or imbecility it is. I have no suspicion of the integrity of my hon. Friend below me, the Member for the Admiralty. I forget the place for which he is a Member ["Halifax"] but I have a strong suspicion of his want of knowledge. I will not say that we should have been a bit better under Tories, because I recollect their doings in 1827, in 1828, and in 1829, and then we were no better off than we are now. I could enter into a state of the degradation inflicted by them upon the country, which would make every honest man in the House blush, if they would only believe me, or if they would only refer to the documents in the library, in case they won't believe me. Yes, the Tories began the career of their country's shame. The Whigs, under Earl Grey, carried it out in Poland, and the Whigs, under Viscount Melbourne, are now carrying it out in every part of the world. The right hon. Baronet knows this well, nobody better; for in 1827 the Russians made a treaty with him called the 6th of July. [Sir R. Peel—"I was not then in office."] True, you were not in office then, but you were six months afterwards. That treaty of the 6th of July, established the principle, that Russia was not to make war upon Turkey, except with the consent of England. The gallant Admiral near me (Sir E. Codrington) had in the discharge of his duty to exercise a great judgment on the Turkish fleet. He had then in his pocket orders from George Canning to enter the Black Sea, and to protect Turkey from the designs of Russia. [Sir E. Codrington—"No, no."] I must request the gallant Admiral not to contradict me now. He can answer me when I sit down. I hope he will let me explain. I say, that after the battle of Navarino, when the Turkish fleet was destroyed by an untoward event, the gallant Admiral had orders to enter the Black Sea and protect Turkey from Russia. ["No, no," from Sir E. Codrington.] I assert further, that whilst the gallant Admiral was repairing his fleet, after the battle of Navarino, George Canning, by an unhappy fate, died. The Duke of Wellington and Sir R. Peel then succeeded to the Government, and Sir Pulteney Malcolm was sent out to take the command of our fleet in the Mediterranean, with orders not to enter into the Black Sea? What was the consequence? The Emperor of Russia violated his compact with us, and ordered his troops to cross the Pruth. The Earl of Aberdeen, who was then a member of the Duke of Wellington's Government, remonstrated with the Russian Cabinet, and asked them why they had gone to war with Turkey? There was then an apology made to us. The Russian Cabinet said, "it was a private quarrel of their own," and promised that they would confine the war to the Black Sea. Then the right hon. Baronet, to his immortal shame, and the Duke of Wellington, for whose services no man feels deeper gratitude than I do, became associated with this degradation of their country. Yes; they were at the head of affairs in 1827, when the Russian troops passed the Pruth, in defiance of England. It was true that they remonstrated with Count Nesselrode, but what did he say to them? "Be content, we have a private quarrel with Turkey, and we must be the arbiters of our own honour." Then it was that the right hon. Baronet and the Duke of Wellington pocketed an insult to England such as England had never pocketed before. Count Diebitsch, the passer of the Balkan, should never have passed the Balkan. A Russian fleet then came out from the Baltic. I believe that there was not a man either in this House or in the other House of Parliament, which equally misgoverns England, that did not expect that that fleet would have been introduced on its passage into an English port. That, however, did not happen; but that fleet passed by us with contempt and insolence, and almost sweeping the Channel with a broom, as Van Tromp did in the time of Charles 2nd. It passed through the straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean, and then proceeded to blockade the Dardanelles. The Earl of Aberdeen proceeded to remonstrate again, and what said the Russian Ministers? We have a question affecting our honour to settle. It is true we have made a compact with you not to carry the war into the Mediterranean; but Russia is the guardian of her own honour. If a Russian ship is attacked by a Turkish ship, you cannot deny to Russia the right of acting in her own defence. We find the Pasha of Egypt is coming up with his fleet to assist the Sultan of Turkey, and we must be prepared to meet him; but to show you that we mean no insult to your great country, we give you a pledge that every English ship which is cleared out for Constantinople before the 28th of October, 1828, shall be allowed to enter this Dardanelles. Is there any man who can refrain from blushing when he hears of such language being addressed to his country? The right hon. Baronet,—I wish he would lift up his head and let me see his face. [The Speaker, "Order, order."] The right hon. Baronet must listen awhile to what I am about to say. The right hon. Baronet consented to submit to a burning insult, which must cause every Englishman to blush with shame. Yes, we were insulted by Russia, and basely submitted to the insult. This career the Tories began. Then we came to the treaty of Unkiar 'Skelessi. We saw the Russians, when the Turkish fleet was destroyed at Navarino, enabled thereby to move their artillery by sea and take Varna, and advance upon Adrianople. They never could have passed the Balkan, if the Turkish fleet had not been destroyed at Navarino. The hon. Member proceeded to contend, that if under such circumstances the Sultan had asked for the loan of an English fleet, whilst he was engaged in repairing that fleet which England had destroyed by "an untoward event," he would have been perfectly justified in making that demand. Without it he was too weak to resist; and the consequence was, that the Russians advanced on Adrianople. They made a treaty there. The Tories were then in power. That treaty gave to Russia the delta of the Danube, the district of Circassia, and the sovereignty of Abasia. Russia was under contract to England that she would take nothing from Turkey at the close of the war, and yet she took the gifts which he had just mentioned. She took the delta of the Danube to which she had no more right than England herself. She took the district of Circassia which Russia had no more right to take than Turkey had to give, for Turkey exercised no dominion there. Thank God, and the exertions of the brave Circassians, she had not yet got possession of the latter gift. Next to the Dardanelles, Circassia was the most important military point in Europe, and the Tories made us submit to the deep and burning degradation of acquiescing in the gift of it to Russia. But there came a deeper and more burning degradation still—the treaty of Unkiar 'Skelessi. Of all the treaties which ever disgraced the diplomacy of England, that was the most burning and damning. We suffered the Dardanelles, which had been an object of ambition to the ancient Romans, and the possession of which had now, for two centuries, been sought by the Russians—we had suffered that glorious military position to be placed in the power of the Russians without even a word on our part. It was true, that they had not yet obtained possession of it, but they soon would if that House did not awaken from its slumber. The Russians had now twenty-eight sail of the line at Cronstadt, and twelve sail of the line at Sebastopol. He would not at present enter into the question whether the fleet at Cronstadt would sail to attack our shores, though he thought it would not, for reasons which he should state hereafter to the House; but be would ask any hon. Member then present, what there was to hinder that fleet from passing the Sound, from traversing the Channel, from entering the Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar, and from presenting itself at any moment at the Dardanelles. When it arrived there, it would find eleven English ships of the line on the station. Would any man in that House expect the captains of those eleven English ships to sacrifice their vessels in a contest against twenty-eight Russians? If there was such a man in the House he blushed for him. He knew that our ships and their commanders would perform their duty nobly under any circumstances, but ought we to expose them to so fearful a collision? It was well known that the Bosphorus was not fortified. The Russian fleet might therefore attack Constantinople when it pleased; eleven English ships of the line might frighten them from attacking it at present, but let twenty-eight Russian ships-of-the-line once come from the Baltic, and form a junction with twelve others from Sebastopol, and what motive would the Emperor of Russia have to prevent him from gratifying the ambition of 200 years, by taking possession of Constantinople and the Dardanelles? He said, that if this country only remained quiet, Russia would take possession of them both by next July. It was true that we might retake both, but at what a sacrifice of blood and treasure! It would require an army of 50,000 men, and a fleet of thirty sail of the line. He was afraid that the political economists with Mr. Hume at their head would oppose such a proceeding on the score of expense. But would he (Mr. Attwood) recommend it? Yes, he would, and the time would come when England would command it. Those who measured honour by the ell, and prowess by the pound, and whose souls were rapt up in pounds, shillings, and pence, might call this advice romantic. But such was not the light in which the great statesmen of the better days of England would have considered it. Would the great Chatham, that clarum et venerabile nomen, who said that he would stake the whole empire in the contest, rather than suffer Russia to get possession of a single village on the Black Sea, have submitted to the arrogant menaces of the Czar? Here was Russia insulting us in every way; they had got Odessa to the north of the Danube, they had got the sea of Azoph, they had got the mouths of the Danube itself, they had attempted Circassia, and almost taken Trebisond; next month they might have Constantinople, and the Black Sea would be a Russian lake as completely as the Thames an English river. Were we to stand still and see all this going on without making a single effort to prevent this fatal accomplishment of the destinies of England? We ought to be awake, and awake in time. We ought not to quarrel about Tories, Whigs, and Radicals, as the Greeks of Constantinople, when the Turks were thundering at the gates, disputed abou grace and free will; we ought to forget every low squabble about Churchmen, Catholics, and Dissenters; all were in danger, and the common interest of all required common exertion; every unworthy feeling ought to be discarded, and a determined effort made to protect the safety and honour of the country. He thought he had now traced the misdeeds of the Tories well enough, and shown that he was no friend of theirs, although by no means a friend of their opponents; he had proved that they had neglected a great duty in making no provision for the security of England. Now he came to the Whigs, and would show that the aggressions of Russia were still going on. The Tories had borne the aggressions of Russia on Poland. They stood by and saw them without remonstrance; or if they did remonstrate, they remonstrated as a coward always remonstrated—in a meek and dainty fashion. They did not hold a sword in one hand and a cannon ball in the other, but uttered a kind of humble and deferential remonstrance. He knew that there had been communications made by the various Governments from 1815 to 1830, but every one knew, that during that time the constitution of Poland was violated by the Emperor of Russia. All the institutions guaranteed to it by treaty had been smashed and annihilated. In 1830 and 1831 the Whigs were in power. He was quite sure the Whigs could have saved Poland by merely lifting up their finger, if they had pleased. He saw the hon. and gallant Admiral near him at Ramsgate in 1831, with his fleet, and thought it had been intended that the gallant Admiral should go up the Baltic. Every Englishman thought so too; and if the gallant Admiral had done so, not a gun would have been fired, or needed to have been fired, but Poland would have assuredly been saved. This was not done, and Poland was abandoned and betrayed—betrayed by England, and worse betrayed by France. That great and glorious nation was given over to the tender mercies of its cruel foes, the Emperor of Russia and his myrmidons, who had rebelled against its liberties and constitution. The Whigs abandoned the friends of liberty in Poland, and the French Government did the same. Louis Philippe said, they had received the most honourable assurances that the nationality of Poland would be protected. Louis Philippe and Earl Grey threw dust in the eyes of the unfortunate Poles; instead of giving them protection, they had given them treachery, and the consequence was, that the independence of Poland expired. But Poland was not dead; as her own children said of her, she but slept; and the right hon. Baronet opposite might be assured, that when the proper time arrived, when England awoke, Poland would also awake. The Whigs had betrayed England as well as Poland; the Vixen cried out against them on one side of the world, and the Express packet which had been attacked by the French, on the other side. There was no sound of English vengeance—no vindication of English honour by the Whigs. One would cost us four-farthings, the other three-farthings, and the Whigs at once said, "Let English honour go to the winds, and let us save our farthings." But this was not a doctrine which the people of England would endure; the Whigs had already covered themselves with greater contumely than the Tories, and their day was drawing to a close. The people of England would give back with heart and soul all that they had got from the Whigs, if they would only give back to the industrious classes the prosperity they had enjoyed during the war. But if prosperity at home was to be accompanied with shameabroad, the people of England never would be content, whether their rulers were Whigs, Radicals, or Tories. He had now detailed the difficulties and dangers of our position, our want of preparation, and the magnitude of the Russian preparation, but he had a word more to say. He might be told we had no right to interfere with the Russian fleet; that they had a perfect right to keep up as many ships of war as they pleased: no doubt; but he contended we had a right to ask them why they kept up so many ships in time of peace. If they told us they were going on an expedition against the Chain of Tartary, or a cruise throught the deserts of Siberia, or against Denmark or Sweden, or against ourselves, we had a right to say, "Dismantle your fleet instantly or we shall do something." The rights between man and man, in his view, were not more plain than those between nation and nation; we had a right to ask why a particular fleet was kept up, and if we could get no satisfactory answer, we had a right to take such measures as should seem required for the assertion of our rights and dignity. The Secretary for the Admiralty on a previous night, in a speech that was very clever, but rather mal-à-propos in its illustrations, had the honesty to admit that Russia might do us great injury. "But," said the hon. Gentleman, "so may any robber do to me when I go home, if he chooses to attack me." Now, he (Mr. Attwood) never carried pistols nor any such murderous weapons, and if such an accident as that supposed by the hon. Secretary were to-cur to him, he should be rather puzzled; but if he saw some banditti watching him when he had 1,000 sovereigns about him and was carrying them with great anxiety, and if two or three were to approach him, presenting pistols to his breast without saying a word, he supposed he should understand what that meant; he supposed that was a case in point. If he saw these ruffians present their pistols, he supposed he should not stop to argue with them, but dash their pistols down and take his chance. The hon. Gentleman below him could not deny that the Russians had been levying black mail upon them for seven years or more. There was a little country called Circassia, and another called Turkey, where they had been making sad havoc with our interests. Circassia received no assistance from us, although we ought to defend her independence as a nation till the last gasp. The Turks had gone, the Danube was gone, the Poles had gone, and what was to go next? The Secretary of the Admiralty had talked of Malta the other night. He supposed some one would advise them to give it up to the Russians to quiet them. But if they did that, the Russians would soon drop a civil request for Gibraltar; and if that were granted, we should have them next at the Isle of Wight. The fact was, we must take up the bow, the spear, and the battle-axe, but God forbid we should have occasion to use them. Only put ourselves in fitting order, and then he was convinced the Russians would never dare to attack us; but remain unprotected, and he would be content that the truth he was now uttering should be taken for falsehood if we did not receive some burning insult from the Russians next summer. Next summer, if we remained as we were, a Russian fleet might enter the mouth of the Thames. They would, if they were wise, next July take possession of Sheerness; that would be a terrible affair; that would break the Bank of England in forty-eight hours; he begged the House would pay attention to this; he begged they would be prepared for the burning of Sheerness and the breaking of the Bank of England. They must stop payment in gold in forty-eight hours. Now, he would tell them what would prevent the Russians from taking Sheerness; for he rather thought hon. Gentlemen were not aware of it. He would tell them why the Russians would not take Portsmouth; although he was sure no noble Lord or right hon. Gentleman on the bench below would say that if the Russians chose to attack us in an unperceived manner next July they might not take Sheerness and Portsmouth by landing 30,000 men from their 28 line-of-battle ships. There were40 sail of the line in Portsmouth harbour; he did not know how many at Sheerness; and both these places might be taken with great ease. If they chose to embark 50,000 men in line-of-battle-ships and transports, they might take London—an event unknown in the history of the country, for London had not been taken even by the Normans. But so miserable was our Government, so alarmed our people, and so weak our army and navy, that he had a perfect confidence that the Russians, if they pleased, next summer, might get possession of London, unless we made preparations to avert the danger. 50,000 Russians landed in the Thames might get possession of London in three days. The people had been insulted, deceived, and distressed for so many years, that he very much doubted whether they could be relied on in such an emergency. If 50,000 men landed, we could not bring 20,000 to oppose them. It would be a very easy thing for the Russians to do that, for he knew from credible authority, that last summer 80,000 men had been encamped on the shores of Courland, within a week's sail of England, and the Russians had been buying transports in this country within the last three months. They had been providing large steamboats also lately. Did hon. Members suppose these transports were intended to convey troops to Kamtschatka or Columbia River? The Russians were no fools; the "cold shade of aristocracy," as Colonel Napier called it, did not paralyze them; their nobility possessed very little power; all the power they had was that of bowstringing the Emperor when they pleased. In Russia the army was despotic; their generals, and admirals, and diplomatists were selected from adventurers from all parts of the world; they were not great big Lords and dandies, like fat cows or fat bullocks, but able adventurers, such as Pozzo di Borgo, Capo d'Istrias, and Wittgenstein—the most intelligent men on the face of the earth. These men never slept, or, if they did sleep, they slept like the Bristol men, with one eye open; and they were watching an opportunity for a collision with our English aristocracy, whom they would deal with as a mere bonne bouche. But they would have to deal with the democracy besides, and that, he would tell them, would be like dealing with Æolus. When the Russians attacked England we should have a fearful vengeance, no doubt, a fearful reckoning, as the hon. Secretary for the Admiralty had said the other night; but, unhappily for us, if the country remained in its present state, it would not be executed upon the Russians, but upon the Ministers, and upon their friends and dependents. The very moment Chatham and Sheerness were burnt would be the signal for a revolution in England, and a far more fearful and terrible revolution than that of France in 1793; and a revolution in England would within one month produce a revolution in Europe. This was our protection: the Russians durst not attack us, lest the vengeance of the English people should fall upon them. A namesake of his hon. Friend near him, David Hume the historian, whose character had something of the prophet as well as the politician, seventy years ago foretold, in beautiful and interesting language, that the day was not distant when the government of England would come into the hands of men more interested in supporting the national debt than in maintaining the interests and honour of their country, and at that time, said Hume, the country will submit to all manner of insult and degradation; but it is probable that foreign nations will have regard to her former power and glory, and will be fearful of outraging the English people, lest that glorious people should rise up and execute vengeance upon their assailants; and therefore foreign nations will probably use measured insolence in their aggressions. Now, he could explain the prophecy of Hume; no doubt the Russians would use measured insolence, They would not take Sheerness, not because they could not; they would not take London, not because they could not; but because, if they did so, they would rouse the fury of the English people, the Ministers would be sacrificed, and a revolution of the most dreadful character would instantly burst upon Europe. Half a million of Russians might be landed, but they would be instantly swept into the German Ocean; they would be destroyed by the fury of the English people. Their fleet might escape, but it would be pursued into the Baltic; the ports of the Baltic would be seized, and the Russian Emperor would have a bowstring round his neck in six months. If any Gentleman would explain any weak point to which He (Mr. Attwood) had alluded, he would be much obliged to him. He believed in his conscience the Russians might attack us, and do us great injury with apparent impunity, but we should be avenged by a revolution in England, and that revolution would in one month be followed by a fiery revolution throughout Europe. As a friend of peace, of order, of humanity—as a friend of England, wishing to increase the happiness of its people, and to protect the little liberty they enjoyed, having no other object in all he had said or done in that House than to augment the comforts and prosperity, not of labourers and artisans only, but of masters and employers;—wishing to protect the three estates of the realm, Crown as well as Commons, and uphold that glorious constitution under which English freedom had flourished for 1,000 years, and wishing to see all classes of the community co-operating zealously and harmoniously for the national honour and defence, he was most anxious that Government should take steps to provide against the dangers that now menaced the empire. Considering the circumstances in which the country was at present placed, and having reference to the dangers which menaced our interests from the quarters he had mentioned, he warned the House to guard against those dangers; and to guard in due time and to effect that object, he moved that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that she will be graciously pleased to adopt timely and efficient measures for obtaining a due supply of able seamen for the royal navy.

No hon. Member having seconded the Motion, it fell to the ground, and the House went into a Committee of