HC Deb 04 April 1848 vol 97 cc1304-12

said: Mr. Speaker, at this late hour of the night I should not think of pressing the Motion of which I have given notice, if I were not satisfied that it is of great practical importance for the House and for the country. We have been engaged of late with discussion after discussion upon the Estimates proposed by Her Majesty's Ministers for the Navy and the Army—defences at all times necessary, but more especially called for under present circumstances, by the alarming aspect of affairs in Continental Europe. We are even at this moment engaged in inquiries as to the best and cheapest mode of providing for those defences. We have to consider how they are to be obtained, without, upon the one hand, hampering the country with debt, and, upon the other, weakening our position at home and abroad. I think that these precautions, wise and loyal as they are, are wholly insufficient at the present crisis. It is one in which it behoves us to look abroad—to anticipate events—to prevent contingencies which when they happen, we may not be able to cure. Here, Sir, I will meet one question boldly, that has been raised on former occasions in this House. I say that of invasion from abroad I have no fear—of hostile intention on the part of the French Government (for that, I believe, is at present our only bugbear), I have not the smallest apprehension. But then, Sir, I say that there is a danger of another character—a danger more frightful than any hostile aggression to which, in the judgment of some hon. Members, we may he exposed. That danger consists in the possibility of an undue intervention in the affairs of independent States on the part of our own Government. I say this with no unfriendly feelings towards the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government, or the Ministry taken collectively over which he presides. But, I say, it behoves us, having experience of the past, and too familiar with the present practice, to look well to this danger. I know that, by that practice, it is in the power of any one Minister, without consulting Parliament, or Privy Council—those lawful advisers of the Sovereign, to involve this country—I will not say against its will—it is sufficient to say without its knowledge—in treaty-engagements, frightful in every kind of present mischief and future danger. Sir, it is an alarming incident that at present we have had proposed to us fears for which, I sincerely believe, there is no foundation—fears of aggression from France, a friendly Power, and that no notice has been taken of dangers from the North—dangers of a real cast, of an alarming and menacing character, such as should have commanded the deepest consideration of Government and this House. That danger which I more immediately apprehend is, that under the pretext of pacifying the Continent, and keeping invasion afar from the shores of Ireland, we may be misled into alliances—un-English—unnatural alliances—and principally with the great Power of the North. For, Sir, the natural and inevitable issue of such alliances once formed will be the rupture of our friendly understanding with France, and her union with all the other Powers of Europe against us. It is to prevent that danger that I have given notice of this address. And, Sir, whether I appeal to those on the opposite side of the House (the Ministerial), who have assumed to themselves, as their peculiar charge, the defence of the great principles of civil and religious liberty, or to those who on this side of the House assume, in like manner, the especial guardianship of law, and order, and justice, I cannot anticipate that any sound objection will be taken or serious opposition made to the Motion with which I shall conclude. I ask Her Majesty's Government, I ask the House, to do nothing that shall contradict, but on the contrary that they will endeavour, by every moans that shall be afforded them, to uphold that principle of non-intervention, of which, in these latter times, we have heard so much. It is to pray Her Majesty that she will not agree to any new arrangement, territorial or otherwise, consequent upon the events in the north of Europe, which shall not provide for the restoration and maintenance of the rights and liberties of the Polish people—a people whose legitimacy is undoubted, whose title to our protection and assistance is not to be denied. And, Sir, that there may be no misunderstanding or misconception in any quarter as to the extent and effects of the desired representation, I ask the House to limit it to the restoration to that people of such liberties and such independence as are lawfully theirs. The proposition is so reasonable that I cannot imagine that any opposition to it will be offered by Her Majesty's Government, unless, indeed, upon the supposition that they have already determined upon, or at least imagined, those impolitic and unwise and unjust aggressions, the possibility of which the adoption of this address will effectually avert. If ever there was an occasion upon which it behoved the House and the Government to beware how they committed or tolerated any new infraction (for we have too many already to lament and expiate) of international and of constitutional law, it is at this moment. In the name of law international and constitutional, the Government is now calling upon the House for advice and assistance to deal with impending rebellion at home, and possible invasion from abroad. I, for one, standing here an independent Irish Member, take this opportunity to say that I shall be always ready to give my hearty concurrence to any measures that may be framed for the prevention or the repression of these great evils. I take this opportunity further of declaring that I condemn, as I am bound by every principle to to do, those criminal appeals to foreign Powers, which the noble Lord the other night, in temperate and unexaggerated language, denounced in his place in this House. But, Sir, on the other hand, I am quite prepared to condemn and put down as far as my humble means may serve me, any endeavour that may be made in any quarter to renew abroad, in the name of this country, the criminal policy of former years with respect to foreign Powers and independent States—a policy quite as criminal as private conspiracy or rebellion, and far more mischievous. If this were a mere theory—if this were a question whether in the north of Europe or in the south, the principle of absolutism or that of constitutionalism, as they are called, was to prevail—I should not be here to-night addressing the House, even if the time of the House were less valuable than at this moment. But, Sir, it is because I see here on the one hand a great danger, and on the other a great and glorious opportunity, that I come forward to present to the House—with the hope of interesting at least a few of its Members, and of directing the attention of some at least of the Members of Her Majesty's Government to the subject—to present a most important subject to their consideration—a subject, which used formerly to be well remembered and laid to heart, but is now, unhappliy, too much and too generally forgotten. Sir, the Treaty of Vienna, which succeeded the Treaty of Westpharlia, had become the only bond, such as it was, of security for the peace of Europe and of the world. That treaty is how, I will not say formally abrogated and ended, but become impracticable, if not impossible. The Treaty of Vienna, by the common act, if not by the common consent of the Powers who were parties to it, has been rent and torn asunder. The territorial arrangement which was to last to the end of time—for the condition is stated in the treaty itself to be that of perpetuity—exists no more. It was violated first of all in the case of that Power, the creation of which was the principal arrangement contemplated by the Congress of Vienna, because upon the creation of that Power was rightly judged to depend the peace and independence of all the rest of Europe—I mean Poland. That Power destroyed— that arrangement at an end—the natural consequences could not but have followed. And now—(I will not enumerate the facts—they are too recent and too notorious to need description or enumeration: they are in the minds and memories of every hon. Member whom I address)—and now recent events—and those events more particularly which constitute the history of every day and hour we live, show that if we are to look to any arrangement—to any territorial or other arrangement for the future peace and independence of Europe, assuredly it must not be to the extinct Treaty of Vienna. I call upon the House to take into its serious consideration this case. It will be impossible for Her Majesty's Government to avoid, sooner or later, becoming a party to some great arrangement or other, if not with all the Powers of Europe, at least with some of them, for the purpose of maintaining the minor States against the aggressions of the greater; for the purpose, above all, of preserving the peace and honour of our own country. And, Sir, I think that when everything else is altered, this condition remains the same as at the date of the Treaty of Vienna. It will still be necessary to oppose a great barrier to the progress of northern ambition—one which shall defend regenerated Europe firmly against Russia. Otherwise it will be impossible—for every reason impossible—that any arrangement that may be made can last. It will be geographically impossible, because political events, however much they may blot or deface the political map of Europe, cannot alter the territorial distribution of that continent. It will be impossible in point of future precedent, because the value of every precedent consists first of all, and above all, in its conformity to justice and to law. It will be impossible in point of present expediency, because now, as in 1815, when every Power felt that, besides the great necessity of doing justice to others before seeking to secure their own lawful pretensions, there was on the side of Russia a common danger, against which it behoved them to provide a common bulwark, so in 1848 there is still the same danger; I wish I could add there is the same sense of justice. Sir, the imaginary dfficulties which in 1830 and 1831 were set up to excuse the criminal abandonment and even the betrayal of Poland, exist no longer. If it be true, that to secure the restoration of rights, you must first of all secure a mili- tary road which shall bring you into the territory of the Power whose independence and rights you vindicate; if this be true—and yet, Sir, I cannot see what pretence there is for saying so, with the map of the world before us, and with Cronstadt accessible to a British squadron in the Baltic, and with Sevastapol accessible to a British squadron in the Black Sea, and, above all, with treaties in our hands which bound us only so far as the Treaty of Vienna itself was respected and obeyed—treaties by the infringement of which we might have punished and avenged the violation of the first—I say, Sir, that if it be true that in 1830 and 1831 our neglect was sufficiently accounted for and justified, or at least excused, by the remoteness of Poland, and the presence of hostile or unwilling Powers intervening between this country, or France, and the territories which we would protect—now at least those difficulties exist no longer. The military road is open. Poland is brought home to us as near as Prussia herself, or Austria. For now the example of restoration is set, not by a Warsaw insurrection, as of old, nor yet by a movement of democratic Frenchmen to co-operate, but by the spontaneous, the generous, and the magnanimous assertion which the free and virtuous peoples of Ger-many have made in the name of right and justice. The empire of Austria comprehends Polish territory no longer. The Sovereign of that empire rules over Gallicia now by quite another title. The kingdom of Poland has been proclaimed there by the mouth of the Emperor himself. The same has been done in Posen. There the Prussian sovereignty is at an end. It is as a Slavonic, and no longer as a Germanic Prince, that the King of Prussia reigns over the Grand Duchy of Posen. And, Sir, we have Cracow resuming an independence so shamefully violated, and still more shamefully betrayed, and with that independence resuming her proper place at the head of the Polish people. We have thus, in Cracow, in Gallicia, and in Posen, the first elements of the future kingdom of Poland. From thence we have spreading widely and at work within the Polish territories occupied by Russia that wonderful sympathy, binding all the Slavonic people together, and most of all those of the Polish race. And thus we have foreshadowed to us that not distant time, when all these scattered fragments of the ancient kingdom of Poland will reconstitute themselves under one sceptre, and become what they once were—the great barrier against the barbarians of the north, and the great defender of the civilisation of the south. All that I ask is, that Her Majesty may at this great juncture be advised by her Council of Parliament. [Viscount PALMERSTON: The civilisation of the south? That is the civilisation of the Turks!] The noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs says, the civilisation of the south is the civilisation of the Turks. In the first place, Sir, I beg to tell the noble Lord, that there are other nations having territories lying southward of Russia besides the Turkish nation. But I am willing to adopt the noble Lord's interpretation of my words. I will tell him then, that the part of Poland will be to protect, with the rest of the world, the independence, and, I will add, the civilisation of Turkey, against the inroads which the barbarous and savage Cossacks, Calmucks, and Tartars, constituting the Russian nation, are making upon the south. All that, under these circumstances, I ask the Parliament—the natural counsellor of the Queen—to do, is to agree to the address to Her Majesty, of which I have given notice. I do not propose the expenditure of a single man or a single ship upon that great emprise of restoration, and which emprise once was ours, when we stood forward the defender of law and justice, but which has now passed out of our hands into the hands of the free and virtuous people of Germany. It is not to such a determination as that that I seek to bring the House or the country. It is not for that end that I seek the protection and countenance of the Sovereign. I only ask that Her Majesty, and the country, and the world, may be protected against any impolitic, precipitate, and let me add profligate, attempt on the part of any Minister to involve this country once more in diplomatic embarrassments—in leagues triple or the pacification of the world, or for any other professed object in which Russia shall be a contracting Power with England. I ask for no intervention, not even intervention to perform that which our duty binds us to perform, and which we cannot refuse without dishonour and criminality. I ask for no intervention of any shape, legitimate, criminal, or dubious. I only ask that the House will take order that this country may not be led into temptation and into evil by the act of one its servants. I ask the House to address Her Majesty, praying Her to to take care that if the independence of Poland and the safety of the world are to be provided for by the counsels and the acts of Germany, and not by England, that at least the people of England may not have the damning sin laid to their charge, that in the hour of hope and at the moment of triumph they stepped in and bore it away from the champion's disappointed grasp. This is the extent to which I seek to pledge the House. This is the extent to which I seek to bind Her Majesty's servants. Let me add, Sir, that whether this address be carried, or whether it be refused, this House and Her Majesty's servants are not the less bound. It is their natural and ordinary obligation. They are bound to take care that, under pretence of preserving the peace of the north of Europe, or under pretence of sanctioning some new territorial arrangement in the place of the old, they do not sin against those great principles of international and constitutional laws which are the only barriers and bulwarks of States. Whether it be in the north or in the south, they are bound to see that the principles which the noble Lord opposite, the First Lord of the Treasury, the other night announced, and which I heard with so much gratification with respect to Italy—they are bound to take care that those principles are adhered to every where, but most of all in those countries where fidelity to those principles shall most be needed. They are bound to take care that the great duty which we have of late abandoned, and which I fear we are never more likely to resume, the great duty of vindicating the rights of the weak against the tyranny of the strong—that duty which is now so nobly assumed, so successfully carried out by other Powers—Powers whose strength has derived from late events so miraculous a development, is not frustrated in act by any intervention on the part of the country, or of those who represent it. Sir, if the danger of that intervention be nigh, it is fit that this Address should be carried. If the danger be distant and improbable, the adoption of this Address can do no harm. But at least one result will follow from its adoption or rejection. Adopt it, and then Sovereign Powers will know that they may safely treat with us and co-operate in the design of driving back Russia to her pristine barbarism and her native snows. Reject it, and then at least a timely warning will have gone forth unto all the countries of Europe—a warning which will not have been heard in vain. I therefore move Sir— That a dutiful Address be presented to Her Majesty, on the occasion of the recent important political events in Austria, Poland, and Prussia, and praying Her Majesty that She will not consent to any new territorial or other arrangement, consequent on such events, that does not recognise and secure to the Polish people their lawful liberties and independence.


I rise, Sir, to second the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman; and at this late hour of the night I feel that I should be wanting in respect to the hon. and learned Gentleman, to the House, and to the country, if I did not observe that there is not a sufficient number of Members present to constitute a House.

There being only thirty-one Members present—

The House adjourned at fifteen minutes to Twelve.