HC Deb 11 March 1845 vol 78 cc639-44
Viscount Palmerston

said: I rise, Sir, to ask the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government some questions of which I gave notice a few days ago, with regard to the hostilities carrying on between Buenos Ayres and Monte Video. It is well known that between those two States there has existed, for five or six years past, a state of hostility more or less interrupted. And it is also well known that the British Government at one time endeavoured, by an offer of mediation between the two parties, to put an end to those hostilities. The questions which I am going to ask are founded on documents which have been published in the newspapers of Monte Video, in which appeared a Correspondence between Mr. Mandeville, the British Minister at Buenos Ayres, S. Arana, the Minister for Foreign Affairs at Buenos Ayres, and S. Vidal, the Minister for Foreign Affairs at Monte Video. From that Correspondence I am led to infer, that about the summer of 1842, the British Government determined to interpose, and put an end to those hostilities by forcible interference. I beg to guard myself against being supposed to express any opinion, one way or the other, whether the case was such as either to call for or authorise such an interference on the part of any third party, though it is perfectly true that the great commercial interests of this country were affected by that war; and that it would be of great importance to the interests of this country, that the war in question should cease. Nor is it necessary for me to say anything as to which of the two parties was in the right; or to give any opinion whether both of them were in the wrong. But this I may observe—that it appears by a letter written by Mr. Vidal, dated August the 30th, 1842, and sent in answer to a letter from Mr. Mandeville, bearing date the 25th of the same month, that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had a short time previously informed the Agent of the Monte Videan Government in this country that the British Government had determined to put an end to the war between the two Republics in question. It also appears, by a letter from Mr. Mandeville, addressed to Mr. Vidal, the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Republic of Monte Video, dated the 9th of September, in the same year, that Lord Cowley had an interview, on the subject of the war between the Argentine and Uruguay Republics, with M. Guizot; and that the latter had agreed to all the proposals made on the part of Great Britain, for the union of the forces of the two countries, in order to put an end to the war. It likewise appears that an official note was sent on the 16th of December, in the same year, by Mr. Mandeville, to the Government of Buenos Ayres; and a similar note was, I have been informed, delivered to that Government by the French Minister at the same time. Mr. Mandeville's note I will read to the House, as it appears in the public journals of Monte Video; and the right hon. Baronet will, I trust, inform the House, whether it substantially agrees with the official documents that are, no doubt, in his possession. It is as follows:—

"Buenos Ayres, Dec. 16, 1842.

"The Governments of England and of France having determined to adopt such measures as they may consider necessary to put an end to the hostilities between the Republics of Buenos Ayres and Monte Video, the Undersigned, Minister Plenipotentiary of Her Britannic Majesty to the Argentine Confederation, has the honour, conformably to the instructions received from his Government, to inform His Excellency M. Arana, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Government of Buenos Ayres, that the sanguinary war at present carried on between the Government of Buenos Ayres and that of Monte Video must cease, for the interest of humanity, and of the British and French subjects, and other foreigners, who are residing in the country which is now the seat of war; and, therefore, requires of the Government of Buenos Ayres,—

  1. "1. The immediate cessation of hostilities between the troops of the Argentine Confedeation and those of the Republic of Uruguay.
  2. "2. That the troops of the Argentine Confederation (it being understood that those of the Republic of Uruguay will adopt a similar course) remain within their respective territories, or return to them in case they should have passed their frontier.

"The Undersigned requests his Excellency to reply as soon as he conveniently can, whether it is the intention of the Government of Buenos Ayres to accede to these demands, and has the honour to be, &c.


"To His Excellency Don Felipe Arana."

It appears, further, that the Plenipotentiaries of the two countries were of opinion that the combined naval forces of England and France would appear in the La Plata about the end of the month of December, for the purpose of enforcing those demands. Now, what I wish to ask the right hon. Baronet is—since it appears, by subsequent events, that the proposition contained in these letters has not been acted upon—when it was that the two Governments of England and France altered their intentions of resorting to forcible interference—what were the reasons that led to that change of determination upon their part; and whether that change was officially communicated to the respective Governments of the two Republics concerned; and was made known to those British subjects, and other residents, whose interests might be affected in one way or another by the result of the war? I would also wish to ask the right hon. Baronet whether he has any objection to lay upon the Table of the House the Correspondence that has taken place on the subject of this proposed interference.

Sir Robert Peel

In reply to the questions put by the noble Lord, I have in the first place to observe, with respect to the communication which was presented by our Minister, and by the Representative of France, to the Government of Buenos Ayres, that the translation which has been read by the noble Lord to the House is substantially correct, and agrees in the material points with the original document which I hold in my hand. There is, as might naturally be supposed, some variance in the expressions used; but I must at the same time admit that the translation is in substance perfectly correct. In December, 1842, the Representatives in the Argentine Confederation of the two Powers of England and France did send in to the Governments of Buenos Ayres and Monte Video the representation contained in the letter which has been read by the noble Lord to the House; and I think in the following January they went forward and stated that they had good reason to believe that the combined fleets of England and France had sailed from Europe for the purpose which they had before stated. I do not know whether the noble Lord recollects that in the month of June, 1843, a question similar to that which he has now brought forward was put to me by, I think, the hon. Member for Dumfries. That hon. Gentleman asked me on that occasion whether the Minister Plenipotentiary of this country had been entirely justified in the course which he had taken towards Buenos Ayres; and whether he had full authority for threatening that, if the amicable efforts of England and France failed in putting an end to the war raging between that Republic and Monte Video, those Powers had resolved upon a forcible interference for that purpose. In reply to that question, I stated that the Representatives both of England and France had received an instruction to make the most urgent communications to the Governments of the two belligerent Powers, pressing in the strongest manner for the suspension of hostilities; but I added at that time that the Representative of England had not been justified by his instructions in holding out any menace of armed interference on the part of England and France; that, in fact, I thought both the Minister of England and the Minister of France did go beyond their instructions; at the same time that I felt they had been placed in peculiar circumstances of great difficulty and embarrassment. They saw a desolating war interfering with the pursuits of innocent commerce, and materially injuring the interests of many subjects of their respective countries; and, under these circumstances, the Representatives both of England and France did, in my opinion, exceed the bounds which their instructions warranted them in reaching. Being most solicitous to put an end to the warfare, they took the earliest opportunity of communicating their views to the Governments of the two Republics; but in doing so they were induced, in my opinion, to go beyond the strict limits of their instructions. Such was the reply which I gave to the question put to me in this House in 1843. The noble Lord referred to a letter written by Mr. Mandeville, in 1842, to Senor Vidal, the Minister for Foreign Affairs in Monte Video. I am sorry that Mr. Mandeville did not communicate these documents to us; but we did not know anything of them until we saw them referred to in the public papers of Monte Video. I must at the same time observe, that I consider Mr. Mandeville to be a most worthy officer, and I am willing to make every allowance for the painful circumstances in which he was placed. He knew that the most cordial feeling existed between the Governments of this country and of France on the subject; and the Representative of France having arrived at Monte Video at the time, and having communicated with him, it was, I think, partly in consequence of that circumstance that Mr. Mandeville was induced to exceed his instructions. Though Mr. Mandeville was informed that he had exceeded his instructions, and that he had done wrong in stating to the Governments of Monte Video and Buenos Ayres that England and France had resolved to resort, if necessary, to armed interference to put an end to the war; yet, looking at the great object which he had in view, namely, the putting an end to the existing hostilities between those countries, it must be admitted, in justice to him, that he had a most powerful inducement to act as he did. At the same time after the appearance of that correspondence showing that the Representative of this country at Buenos Ayres had carried on a confidential communication with the Government of a country at war with Buenos Ayres, it appeared to us that he could not with propriety be continued longer in that country; but still, in justice to Mr. Mandeville, I must add that nothing whatever has occurred to induce the British Government to lose the confidence which they have always reposed in him. I have only to observe, in addition, that at the present moment, when we are about to renew our representations with the Government of Buenos Ayres—when this country, acting in conjunction with France, is about to make a fresh effort to restore peace in that quarter of the world, by offering, in the first place, a peaceable mediation, I do not think it is a time when I could with propriety consent to lay the Papers required by the noble Lord upon the Table.

Viscount Palmerston

wished it to be understood that he did not require the production of any Paper that would retard the negotiation at present going forward. He believed, that in the first place, Mr. Mandeville had been officially employed in negotiating a commercial treaty with Senor Vidal, and he had been thus necessarily obliged to communicate with that functionary. If, therefore, any blame was to be attached to the publication of a portion of the correspondence that passed between them, he thought it lay with Senor Vidal, and not with Mr. Mandeville.

Sir R. Peel

said, he was convinced that Mr. Mandeville never expected that his letters would be published. He was also satisfied that M. Vidal knew nothing of the intended publication, as he had been labouring under indisposition at the time; and the documents were most probably made public by an act of treachery towards him.