§ MR. LAING
rose, according to notice, to call the attention of the House to the objects and policy of the war as affected by the late negotiations, and to move an Address for copies of any Correspondence with the French Government relative to the last proposals of Austria. It was scarcely necessary for him to say that no thing but a strong sense of duty could have induced him to bring forward this Motion on the present occasion. He was perfectly aware that to invite discussion at this period of the year, when the strength of hon. Members, both mental and physical, was expended, was not the best way to add to his popularity in this House; and he was equally aware that the opinions he was about to express were not likely to add to his popularity in the country. The importance of the present crisis, however, was such that he should be unworthy of his seat in that House if he allowed such considerations to weigh with him for a single moment. The Government had recently come to a decision—one of the most important in modern history—in regard to the non-acceptance of the Austrian propositions for peace in opposition to the unanimous opinions of the five Plenipotentiaries who represented the Allied Powers at the Conferences at Vienna; the war, prolonged in consequence of that decision, had entered into a new phase; and the relations of this country towards its allies and other Powers of Europe had been entirely changed. Now, no discussion whatever had taken place with re- 1755 spect to the policy pursued by the Government since the House had been in possession of the information bearing upon this subject. He stated this deliberately, because he recollected well, when he first asked the Government to fix a day for this Motion, the noble Lord, in his usual pleasant and jocular manner, endeavoured to put him off by saying that there had been a great deal of discussion on the subject already, and that it was useless to press it any further. Now the only discussion that had taken place on the policy and objects of the war occurred several weeks ago on the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli), and that discussion arose not only while the House was in a state of ignorance, but, what was worse than ignorance, of positive misconception as to what had really taken place at the Vienna Conferences. All that was then known to the public was that the negotiations at Vienna had been broken off, and that the noble Lord the Member for the City of London had left Vienna; and it was supposed that those negotiations had been broken off because Russia had refused to entertain the proposal of the allies for the limitation of her fleet, and that she had made two counter propositions which were unacceptable, and presented no hope of arriving at a satisfactory solution. Subsequently some rumours found their way into the newspapers that Austria had, at the last moment, made a further proposal, but the general belief was that that proposal was little more than one of the last Russian propositions slightly disguised. Further rumours then got out abroad that dissensions existed in Her Majesty's Cabinet on the subject of the Austrian proposal, and that a portion of the Cabinet was in favour of what was described as a dishonourable peace on the basis of this proposal; but this rumour was not credited. In this state of things the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bucks brought forward his Motion, previous to which, Members on this side of the House were summoned to one of those confidential meetings in Downing Street, which had been frequently referred to, and where if anywhere, it might be imagined that the truth ought to be disclosed. He appealed, however, to those who had attended that meeting to say whether either then, or during the discussion which had afterwards taken place, the whole truth had been disclosed? He did not wish to use strong language on 1756 this point, but he was bound to say that the suppressio veri on that occasion approached very nearly to a positive suggestio falsi. The result was, that the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman was discussed while a complete misconception of the real state of things existed in the House. It never entered into the imagination of any one to believe that a proposal had been made by Austria which the noble Lord the Member for the City of London and all the other Plenipotentiaries considered contained a satisfactory solution, and that a difference of opinion existed in the Cabinet, and that the Government had come to a decision which led to the prolongation of the war in spite of all this. He was bound to say that he thought the terms of that Motion were strictly correct—that the conduct of Her Majesty's Government was uncertain and their language ambiguous, and nothing had occurred within his recollection of public events which was so much calculated to shake the confidence of the country in public men as the meeting in Downing Street. Subsequently a discussion took place upon the Motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for Hertfordshire (Sir B. Lytton); but that discussion turned upon a question affecting the personal conduct of the noble Lord the Member for London, and it was altogether nipped in the bud by the resignation of the noble Lord. The Motion itself was an endeavour to ascertain, not whether the noble Lord was right in the decision to which he originally came at Vienna, but whether, having arrived at that decision, he was right in retaining his seat in the Cabinet after his opinions had been overruled by his colleagues. A third Motion was afterwards brought forward by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck), which went directly, not to the policy and objects of the war, but to the manner in which it had been conducted. Under such circumstances he thought the House would agree with him that this great and important question had not as yet been fairly discussed, and that no opportunity had been afforded for deciding whether the noble Lord the Member for London was right or wrong in his original decision, and whether or not the Austrian proposal would have afforded a satisfactory basis for the conclusion of peace. He (Mr. Laing) therefore brought forward his Motion now on account of what he knew with respect to the public opinion of Europe. Perhaps, from his large connection 1757 with industrial undertakings in foreign countries, he had been better enabled than many hon. Members to ascertain the opinion entertained abroad with regard to the war and the negotiations for peace, not by professed politicians, but by men of business—bankers, merchants, financiers and others largely interested in trade and commerce, who constituted to a great extent the independent public opinion of Europe on this subject. In the first instance this opinion was unanimously in favour of the course taken by the Western Powers in resisting the aggression of Russia; but he was bound to say that they were now entirely agreed that a great mistake had been committed in not making peace upon the terms proposed by Austria at Vienna. They naturally said, "When you sent to Vienna a man of the eminence of the noble Lord the Member for London, the recognised leader of the Liberal party, and, since the death of Sir Robert Peel, the most prominent statesman in the country, the conferences which he attended were looked upon more as an arbitration than as a mere diplomatic negotiation; and yet we now find you fighting against the award of your own arbitrator." The public felt that unless the terms proposed by Austria would have led to a satisfactory solution of the matters in dispute they would never have received the unanimous approval of the noble Lord the Member for London, of the French Plenipotentiary, M. Drouyn de Lhuys—who had gone to Vienna with opposite instructions—and, as it was now understood, of the Turkish Plenipotentiary also the representative of the Power principally concerned. If it could be shown that the noble Lord the Member for London had been wrong, and that the majority of the Government had been right in refusing to entertain the Austrian proposal and in deciding upon continuing the war, it was high time that some endeavour should be made by a full discussion of the question to remove the erroneous impression which prevailed both in this country and upon the Continent. For his own part, he was bound to say that an examination of the papers recently laid before the House only tended to confirm him in the belief that in rejecting the Austrian proposals the Government had committed a very great mistake.
In order to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion upon the matter, it would be necessary, in the first instance, to define what were the precise objects for which the war 1758 had now been protracted. He approached the question with entirely different views from those entertained by the hon. Members for Manchester and the West Riding, and other gentlemen connected with what was commonly called the peace party. He greatly admired the ability of those hon. Gentlemen, and still more the moral courage with which they came forward to defend most unpopular opinions; but he had always felt that the war was a just war, and that, having been entered into by France and England in defence of the rights of civilisation, it was necessary to continue it at all hazards until the objects for which it had been originally undertaken had been attained. But the circumstances of the case were now entirely different:—he believed that the rational objects of the war had been attained, and he could not but feel that hostilities had been unnecessarily protracted. He came to that conclusion from no misgivings as to the original policy of the war, or of the ability of the Western Powers, if they chose to submit to a sacrifice, to obtain in the long run any amount of military success, but because he thought that it was a mistake and a crime to continue a war when there was a possibility of concluding a satisfactory and honourable peace. The general objects for which the war was undertaken seemed to be pretty accurately defined by the Austrian Minister when he said in his despatch,—The object of the war was to limit the political power of Russia to such a point as to render the abuse of its material resources, if not impossible at least in the highest degree difficult.He believed, in other words, that the great object of the war was to maintain the balance of power in Europe, and that he held to be an object not only worthy of this country, but one that could not be given up without dishonour. England had ever been forward in resisting the attempts of any nation to acquire universal dominion or to destroy the balance of power in Europe, and he trusted that the same honourable and manly policy would always continue to be adopted. He knew that the words "balance of power" were unpopular in the time of the first Georges, and that they had been used to justify wars undertaken for mere family interests; but at the same time he could conceive nothing more necessary than to maintain a proper balance of power in Europe. He believed that our modern civilisation rested on the fact that we had a community of nations, 1759 each pursuing its own development independent of the others without allowing any one to gain undue preponderance or to draw others into their own system; and that if we allowed that principle to be subverted, instead of European civilisation we should have a system more in accordance with that which prevailed under the old Roman Empire, or now existed in China. It was therefore the duty of England to maintain her position at all hazards. Beyond all doubt the balance of power in Europe had been threatened by the attitude taken by Russia, and the main object of the war was to restore the balance of power, and to place Russia upon terms of equality with the other great nations of Europe. It was necessary, however, to consider by what means Russia had been enabled to obtain a preponderance of power, and how it was that the peace of Europe had been disturbed. Unfortunately, from a combination of circumstances, the great German nations, which were the natural rampart of Europe against Russia, had been induced to desert their position, and to become almost subservient to Russia. A variety of causes had led to this result, but the most prominent, he was sorry to say, was the foreign policy of England, by which she had alienated the Conservative Governments of Europe by mischievously intermeddling in their internal affairs, and by patting on the back the revolutionary parties on the Continent, while we had never any serious intention of forwarding their designs; and that it was more particularly by the course which we pursued in 1848 that we had alienated the German Powers, had driven them into the arms of Russia; and had thus created the danger with which we were now called upon to deal. The opinion of the noble Lord the Member for London with regard to the co-operation of the German Powers was deserving of serious attention, and ought to carry with it considerable weight. The noble Lord said—I have always considered that, whatever arrangements may be made for the security of Turkey, in order to have a durable peace, we ought to have Austria and Prussia and the States of Germany parties to a general alliance, by which Turkey would be secured against aggression.There was no doubt that the interests of Austria and of England were identical in regard to their foreign policy, and he believed that an alliance between England and Austria to resist Russia was one dictated by nature and common sense, for 1760 England and Austria were both essentially conservative and non-aggressive powers as regarded foreign policy, and it was the interest of each to maintain the balance of power in Europe. We had brought the war upon us in a great measure by alienating the German Powers, and the keystone of any effectual system for resisting the aggressions of Russia, and restoring the European equilibrium, must be a hearty and cordial alliance between England and the German States. But the more immediate and specific danger arose from the position of Russia with regard to Turkey. It was caused, in the first place, from the internal and, he was afraid, incurable weakness of Turkey, and the existence of certain old treaties so ambiguous and ill-defined that Russia could carry her aggressions to an extent which affected the independence of Turkey without constituting any specific casus belli which would justify the interference of the other Powers of Europe. The direct cause of the war was the attempt of Prince Menchikoff to extend those treaties a step further, so as to enable Russia to acquire, an almost absolute supremacy over the Christian subjects of the Sultan, and to establish an imperium in imperio in the Turkish dominions. The great difficulty then felt was, that the old treaties were so ambiguous and ill-defined that Russia could carry on her aggressions to a very considerable extent without constituting a casus belli. The remedy for this state of things proposed by the statesmen of the leading Powers of Europe was embodied in the propositions known as the "Four Points." The object of the first of these points was to abrogate the ambiguous treaties with regard to the Danubian Principalities, and to provide that Russia should not enter those Principalities without constituting a casus belli. The second point provided for the free navigation of the Danube. It was provided by the first part of the third point that Russia should be required formally to abandon her designs of aggrandisement with regard to Turkey, and, by the second part, that Russia should afford some security against any aggressive attempts by the reduction of her fleet in the Black Sea. The fourth point provided that the Christian subjects of the Porte should be placed under the joint protectorate of the great European Powers. Russia was asked, by acceding to these terms, to relinquish a position which she had acquired by centuries of successful warfare, 1761 and to bind herself in the most distinct and solemn manner to abandon her designs of aggrandisement. When the Four Points were first proposed Russia complained that, by acceding to them, she would be compelled to sacrifice advantages which she could only be expected to relinquish after years of disastrous warfare; but a year had hardly elapsed before Russia conceded the principle involved in the propositions of the allied Powers. A conference consequently took place at Vienna, with the object of carrying out the Four Points in detail. The first two points were agreed to, and the first half—and, as he considered, the most important half—of the third point—namely, the recognition of Turkey by a European treaty as an essential element of the balance of power was settled, or could have been settled, without difficulty; but the negotiation was broken off upon the mode of defining the means of carrying into effect the second half of this third point. If the Black Sea had, like the Baltic or the Mediterranean, been accessible to the ships of all Powers, the second half of the third point would never have been proposed, for this country would have trusted to her own resources and those of her allies to maintain the counterpoise. This question arose in consequence of the peculiar position of the Black Sea, and the narrowness of its entrance by the Dardanelles, which rendered it a matter of equal difficulty to maintain that sea as a close sea, or to open it indiscriminately to the ships of all nations. The danger which was contemplated arose not so much from the magnitude of the Russian force in the Black Sea, as from that constant tête-à-tête between Russia and Turkey which certainly did expose Turkey to considerable danger. Proposals were made by Russia to settle this question on the basis of absolutely closing or completely opening the Black Sea, and both those propositions were, in his opinion, very properly rejected as failing to afford any effectual guarantee. He considered that the absolute opening of the Black Sea would have left Russia in many respects in a position of greater power and Turkey in a position of greater danger than when the war began, for in that case Russia would have been enabled to unite her Baltic and Black Sea fleets, which might have cruised in the Greek waters and have made demonstrations before Constantinople. He did not think, either, that the other proposal made by 1762 Russia for absolutely closing the Black Sea would have afforded any satisfactory guarantee, because it would have left matters in precisely the same position as before the commencement of the war, and if Russia entertained any sinister designs with regard to Turkey, she would have been enabled to carry them into effect.
Well, the conference closed, but subsequently Austria made a new proposal, and he thought it was well to bear in mind the statement of the noble Lord the Member for the City of London (Lord J. Russell) that whether that proposal was a good one or a bad one, it was totally and entirely distinct from the Russian proposals which had been previously made. The Austrian proposal was that the Black Sea should be closed against Russia, but that in some contingencies the allies of Turkey should have access to it, and that a system known as the system of counterpoise should be established. According to that proposition, while Russia confined her fleet in the Black Sea to a certain number of ships, the allied Powers were each to maintain two frigates in that sea, but if Russia thought proper to increase her fleet the rule for closing the Dardanelles against foreign Powers would ipso facto be abrogated, and the ships of England, France, and Austria, along with those of Turkey, would be admitted into the Black Sea in sufficient numbers to establish a counterpoise against the force of Russia. If Russia, having six ships in the Black Sea, chose to increase that number to ten, England would be empowered as a matter of right to send in five ships, France would be entitled to send in five ships, Austria would be entitled to send in a specified number, and Turkey would have the right of maintaining, if she thought fit, an equal force with that of Russia. If, therefore, Russia maintained ten ships in the Black Sea, there would have been seen also ten French and English ships in addition to the Turkish fleet, and an effectual counterpoise would have been established. If Turkey was menaced she would have at once the support of the fleets of her allies. In addition to this system of counterpoise, however, it was proposed that Austria should enter into an alliance with England and France to guarantee Turkey against any aggression on the part of Russia. That was an object which the noble Lord the Member for the City of London had told them he had laboured hard to accomplish at the Vienna 1763 Conferences and he (Mr. Laing) thought such a treaty afforded the most satisfactory and the only effectual security that could be obtained: indeed, so long as that triple alliance existed, he believed that the peace of Europe was perfectly secure. Austria offered to insert a secret and important article in that treaty of triple alliance, providing that if Russia should reject the proposition then to be made to her, or at any time hereafter should manifest designs of aggression in any unmistakeable manner by increasing her fleets, Austria would consider such a proceeding as a casus belli. To sum up the position in a few words—either Russia would have accepted the proposals, or she would not. For the moment he would argue on the assumption that Russia would have accepted the proposals, and he preferred to proceed upon that supposition, because it had been so put in the despatches of Count Nesselrode and of our own Government—because in the circular which had appeared in the French papers, and which was attributed to Count Nesselrode, it was stated that Russia would have accepted the proposals and would only have made some trifling objections—and also because, from all the information he (Mr. Laing) had been able to obtain in this country and abroad, he believed that as circumstances turned out, Russia would certainly have accepted those propositions. He believed that, coming under consideration, as they did, at a moment when the important successes in the Sea of Azoff had been obtained—events which had made a great impression at the Court of Russia—the result would have been that they would have been accepted. Assuming that to be the case, he would proceed to consider the difference between what we asked for at Vienna and what we might have had. We asked for securities for the future. Russia consented to abandon all her old treaties and to enter into a new treaty binding herself in the most solemn manner to refrain from aggression on her neighbour. Thus, in principle, every security for the future would have been obtained. But it was then said, "We cannot trust Russia, and must have a material guarantee." A material guarantee would have been obtained in the triple alliance of England, France, and Austria, which he believed to be the best and only guarantee that could be had. In addition, we might have had a system, by means of which the preponderance of Russia in the Black Sea would be effectually destroyed, 1764 namely, that, if she increased her fleet in that sea to any alarming extent, France and England would have the power of sending their ships in sufficient numbers to neutralise that increased force. Thus our position clearly resolved itself into this,—we broke off negotiations and continued the war simply for the difference between counterpoise and limitation. When he found such grave results springing apparently from such trivial causes, he asked himself, what were the arguments which rendered limitation so far preferable to counterpoise, as to justify a continuance of war, with all the sacrifices of men and money that it involved, merely on account of the difference? The arguments in favour of limitation, as they were very fairly stated by the noble Lord the Member for London and by Lord Clarendon, appeared to be threefold:—First, it was said, that to keep up a fleet in the Black Sea as a counterpoise to that of Russia would involve a very large amount of expense, which this country might not be willing to incur; secondly, that an appearance of protection was humiliating to Turkey, and would interfere with our desire to see her reconstituted as a great Power; and, thirdly, that such a state of things as proposed would only be an armed truce, and that the presence in the Black Sea of so many vessels of war, representing different, and it might be trivial interests, would create a risk of continual conflicts. He did not deny that there was weight in those arguments, but he thought their importance had been overrated. With respect to the first objection urged against a system of counterpoise—of expense—he would observe that we always kept up a considerable fleet in the Mediterranean, and if, after peace was concluded, we heard that Russia was augmenting her fleet beyond the stipulated number, there would be no difficulty in our detaching three or four ships from the Mediterranean fleet, and sending them into the Black Sea to show our flag, and learn what was going on—a proceeding which could not involve any very large additional expense. But even should it be necessary to increase the fleet, and, for the protection of Turkey, to establish a naval depôt at Sinope, or elsewhere, in the Black Sea, would the expense be decisive against the system of counterpoise? Would not the interest of the money we were now spending in carrying on the war amply meet the expenses of any additional naval establishment which 1765 we might be required to maintain? But there could be no question of deliberately setting money against the evils and dangers of a protracted war, and if a good practicable peace could be obtained no one would attempt to set expense against human lives. However, as he had stated, he really believed the expense would be but trifling. With regard to the protectorate of Turkey being humiliating to that Power, he feared that was a condition they must expect to see. Turkey could not hope to exist as an independent Power, without a certain amount of protection from other Powers; and was this country to continue the war to avoid the appearance of doing something which, in spite of ourselves, we were obliged to do? With respect to the third objection, that the proposed system of counterpoise would be only an armed truce, and, as argued by Lord Clarendon in one of his despatches, there would be a constant chance of collisions occurring, he (Mr. Laing) could not see why that argument should apply more in the present case than in other and parallel cases. For instance, in 1840 we were on the verge of war with France upon the Syrian question. That war was happily averted; but for a considerable time afterwards our relations were somewhat reserved, and large fleets watched each other in the Mediterranean; but no quarrel arose in consequence, and he could not see what greater danger there would be from a similar state of things in the Black Sea, nor could he believe that British naval officers were so little amenable to discipline that they, in time of peace, would risk the involvement of their country in war by any chance collision or bad feeling towards Russian officers. There was a much larger question of limitation of naval force, which might well be considered. There could be no doubt that to a great extent the naval forces of all the great maritime Powers were maintained upon the principle of counterpoise, and if some relative proportion of force to be kept up by each State could be agreed upon by a European convention, the aggregate forces might be diminished while the balance of power remained unaffected. That, however, was a much larger question than the isolated question of the Black Sea. Even if there were some little danger to be apprehended from the chances of collision between the various fleets in the Black Sea, they were not sufficient to outweigh the convincing arguments in favour of a 1766 system of counterpoise. One great and, to his mind, overwhelming argument in favour of a system of counterpoise was, that the limitation plan was only a paper arrangement, while counterpoise was a practical plan. Counterpoise would, as had been well observed by the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell), make it the interest of Russia herself to limit her forces, because she would know that the act of increasing them beyond the stipulated amount would bring about the very thing she was most anxious to avoid—the presence of the British and French flags in the Black Sea, the appearance of which could not fail to have an immense moral effect upon the population of the coast of that sea, which would be extremely prejudicial to the preponderance of Russian power in those countries. It would, therefore, be a reasonable security against any increase of the Russian force; it would be a practical remedy also. If there was a paper limitation, saying that Russia should only keep up a certain number of ships, in some ten years hence, when this country was on good terms with Russia, we might hear that she was building a ship or two beyond the stipulated number; but then he (Mr. Laing) did not believe this country would go to war on that account, or make it a casus belli. But under the other arrangement, if you were to hear that Russia was increasing her naval forces, you would have no hesitation in sending a certain number of your ships to take a cruise in the Black Sea to look after her proceedings there, and the danger would thus be at once met. I call one, therefore, a working plan, and the other a mere paper stipulation.
It was likewise important to observe that the difference between the counterpoise plan and the plan of limitation on which the Vienna Conferences were broken off is entirely one of detail, and not of principle. In the last paper relative to Eastern affairs laid on the table, containing instructions given to Lord J. Russell when he went to Vienna, it was distinctly laid down that the system of counterpoise was one of the systems by which the object sought for might be obtained. In those instructions Lord Clarendon wrote—The end in view is the formal recognition of the Turkish Empire in its character as an independent and self-existent State, as a member of the great European family, and as an essential element of the balance of power in Europe. One of the means by which that end is to be accomplished is the abrogation of Russian supremacy 1767 in the Black Sea. How this is to be effected with the least inconvenience to the Powers of Europe is the problem to be solved. It might be brought about by a common agreement, that the maritime Powers should maintain in the Black Sea a force adequate to counterbalance the naval forces which Russia has heretofore maintained, and, if uncontrolled, may again hereafter maintain in that sea.And he went on to argue that this mode of agreement would be a most inconvenient one, but at the same time he admitted that it was one mode of agreement, and therefore he (Mr. Laing) contended the difference was one of detail and not of principle. In his judgment, therefore, it was most unfair to the noble Lord the Member for London to charge him with having acted at Vienna not only without instructions, but even in opposition to his instructions. The plan of counterpoise was distinctly laid down in his instructions as being one of the plans by which an arrangement might be effected; and, considering the large discretion which was left to him, when he found that the eminent men with whom he was associated at Vienna considered that this proposal afforded a chance of obtaining a fair and honourable peace, he might very fairly and properly take upon himself to lay it before his Government. Throughout the whole of this war the noble Lord's conclusions, to his mind, had been those of a statesman, and so far from estimating his own position too highly, if there was any fault to be found with him, it was that he had not always acted with sufficient firmness and vigour on his own opinions. The noble Lord had been charged by the Press with a too exclusive regard for his own position and reputation, but if he was blameable at all it was rather because he had not sufficiently comprehended his own position as leader of the great Liberal party, and had too readily waved his own opinions in deference to those of men who had by no means equal weight with himself in the country. Looking to the plan of counterpoise as a means of obtaining peace with Russia, the difference between it and the plan of limitation was certainly not very great; but, upon the whole, the preponderance of argument was in favour of counterpoise. It was not likely that a great Power such as Russia would submit to a proposal which would compel her to restrict her naval forces at her own door, and in seas where she had such considerable interests. A Russian statesman might reasonably say, "If we are to give up our designs on Constantinople, you Western Powers must give us some security that you will not take it 1768 yourselves—some guarantee that Constantinople will not be attacked by others, while we, who are most interested in its ultimate fate, are unable to protect it." That certainly would be a reasonable proposition.
He entirely agreed with the opinion expressed by the noble Lord at Vienna, that the terms of peace to be proposed to Russia should be such as would be consistent with her honour and dignity. The object of this war was not to destroy Russia; such an idea was altogether visionary and impracticable—and, if we could not destroy her, it would be the worst possible policy to force on her conditions which were sure to be irritating and galling to her, and which would place her in a permanent state of antagonism to us. The consequences of the acceptance or rejection of this plan of counterpoise were certainly most serious. If we had accepted it, we should have obtained either peace or the active co-operation of Austria in the prosecution of the war. That was a point of great importance, though, apparently, some difference of opinion existed on it between men who had sat in the same Cabinet at the time when it was discussed there. The right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary stated that one reason which had induced him to think that the Austrian proposal ought to be declined was, that he did not believe that Austria was sincere, or that the rejection of her plan by Russia would have led to her taking part with the Western Powers. Now, undoubtedly some confusion had arisen on this point from not sufficiently distinguishing between the two casus belli which were mentioned in the course of these transactions—one the immediate casus belli which Austria was ready to submit to Russia at once, and the other the distinct and prospective one which she was to put in the secret article of the tripartite treaty; and also from the difference between that which the Austrian Ministers talked of in the first instance, and what they offered to do when their proposal had ripened into a definite plan. He cordially agreed, however, with the description given by the noble Lord in his speech of the 6th of July. The noble Lord then said—In making these propositions, the Austrian Government declared that they were ready to make them an ultimatum—that is to say, they were ready to send this alternative to St. Petersburg—either that Russia should consent to that plan of counterpoise which I have described, or that she should consent to limit her naval forces 1769 in the Black Sea to the number existing at the time that these propositions were accepted. … … If Russia refused both propositions, the Austrian Minister was to have orders to leave St. Petersburg in eight hours, the military Convention with France and Great Britain was to be signed, and the Austrian army was to be concentrated and placed in such a position that it could commence the war at any moment. The Austrian Government did not promise that an immediate declaration of war should be made, but it declared that it would regard the rejection of its proposition as a casus belli. The Austrian Minister said that it would bring on the war, and considering the character of the Austrian Government, I have no doubt that unless Russia had yielded at the last moment it would have led to a war between Austria and Russia."—[3 Hansard, cxxxix. 568.]The Austrian Foreign Minister, in a despatch dated the 20th of May, addressed to Count Colloredo, stated—If Russia, being placed in a position to agree to one or other of these propositions of the ultimatum, had rejected both of them, we should then have had proof that she will decidedly not give her assistance to the complete realisation of the third guarantee, in so far as its object is to put an end to Russian preponderance in the Black Sea. It being impossible, therefore, to do else than consider as exhausted the means of conciliation for bringing about such a peace as the interests of Europe, and our own in particular, require, the Emperor our august master decides to have recourse to arms as a means of obtaining this peace, the want of which is so generally felt, and which would miscarry under the resistance of one Power alone.The same language was repeated in a circular, and the Minister declared that Austria was prepared to make war on that alternative. Could anybody doubt, therefore, that the facts were as had been stated by the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, and that we had in effect rejected the armed co-operation of Austria? The only despatch of Lord Clarendon in which the argument was used that Austria would not be drawn into a war with Russia was anterior to the date of the last definite proposal of the Austrian Government? for Lord Clarendon, in reply to a despatch from the Earl of Westmorland, after stating that the inducements which might be held out as a temptation to make renewed proposals of peace to the enemy were the probability that terms satisfactory to us would be accepted by Russia, and that if they were rejected Austria would take part with the Western Powers in the war, remarked—But in the present case no such inducements are held out; the conditions are not in themselves such as would be satisfactory to us. We are told that Russia would, in all probability, refuse them; 1770 and Count Buol informed your Lordship that this rejection by Russia would not lead Austria to give effect to the obligations of the treaty of December 2nd, by uniting her arms to ours. The only consequence, then, of the course of proceeding which Count Buol proposes that we should adopt would be a formal declaration by Austria that the conferences were at an end, and, it is to be presumed, a subsequent announcement that she had determined to maintain her neutral position, and to take no part with England and France in the war.It was subsequently that it was announced that the Emperor had made up his mind, in case of the rejection of the proposals by Russia, to embark in the war, and therefore the statements of the noble Lord were not at all controverted. This really involved the question of the bona fides of Austria throughout these transactions, and on that point nothing could be more distinct than the testimony of the noble Lord himself, who ought to be better acquainted with the subject than any one else—and he said that she had acted, not, perhaps, the part that he would have wished, but a straightforward and intelligible part, and that there could be no well-founded complaints of treachery against her. Austria was as much opposed to Russian preponderance as this country could be, and she had said that she was prepared to fight for the destruction of that preponderance, but that, if the same object could be accomplished by negotiation, she would infinitely prefer not going to war. There was nothing unreasonable in that. Austria had many reasons why peace, if possible, should be maintained; her frontiers were more exposed to the enemy than those of any other Power; she recalled to mind the danger of a recurrence of the internal commotions which afflicted her in 1849, and she knew that in all probability even a successful war would almost ruin her finances, there being at the present a deficit of 2,000,000l. or 3,000,000l. a year. Austria, the House would recollect, had been engaged in a vast work of internal improvement—in a task little known in this country, but a most important one—the emancipation of millions of her peasantry from a state of feudal serfdom. She had also engaged in other social improvements, such as increasing the means of internal communication, which required a state of peace and tranquillity above all things, and it was but natural that if she could effect her object by diplomacy she would entertain a horror of going to war.
That being the state of things, and the conferences having broken off on the ques- 1771 tion of counterpoise, he came to consider the enormous dangers to which this country and all the Powers of Europe would be exposed by a continuance of the war. He did not dwell on military risks, because he entertained a confident opinion that the resources of England and France would in the long run be too great for those of Russia, and that if they submitted to all the sacrifices which the war demanded, they would eventually carry any reasonable point. The expense incurred by the war was, however, a plain and tangible sacrifice which every one could appreciate. If the war were indefinitely continued for an indefinite object, we should undo all the good that the last many years had done, and we should load ourselves with the burden of a second national debt to no purpose. It must also be obvious to every one that the continuance of the war must finish in the exhaustion of the ally we undertook to succour. He did not wish to say a word reflecting on the alliance between England and France, but, he asked, could anybody guarantee that that cordial alliance would be in the same state a year or two hence? Were there not already to be seen in the war very obvious germs of dissidence between the two Western Powers? Might not reverses bring with them recrimination?—for even the unsuccessful assaults on the 18th of June had that effect. Above all, was there not danger that by the continuance of the war France would be inoculated with that spirit of martial ambition and military conquest which forty years of peace had not totally extinguished? Our alliance was an alliance which had been formed and cemented by the arts of pence, and it was mainly the extraordinary increase in the wealth and prosperity of France that had so many years restrained that nation from following the phantom of military glory. If France were engaged in a war upon this gigantic scale, in which she was staking millions of money, was there no danger that public opinion in that country would revert again to ideas of military enterprise, and that the people of France would say, "If we are to make these enormous sacrifices they must be for some more material and substantial advantage than that of a simple question of counterpoise or limitation in the Black Sea?" Public opinion in France was a delicate subject to refer to, but it was desirable that we should be able to form a correct idea of it. He believed that some time ago all reasonable men in France acquiesced in the war as an inevit- 1772 able necessity, and that the popularity of the Emperor made the war popular for a period; but he was persuaded that the great majority of the thinking people of France now considered that there was no sufficient object for carrying on the war, and he could not look without apprehension to the results which might arise at any time from a continuance of the struggle. That which was true with respect to our relations with France was equally true with regard to our relations with Germany, and must greatly endanger that which he had already described as the very sheet-anchor and keystone of any successful resistance to Russian aggression. We had brought this war upon us by driving Germany into the arms of Russia, by the sort of amateur patronage which was given to revolutionary principles by our Government in 1848. If vague ideas of resucitating the nationalities of Hungary and Poland—ideas which were utterly visionary—were encouraged at public meetings and in the Press, he feared that our relations with the German Governments would be greatly imperilled. He would not detain the House by dwelling upon the risks of the war, because they were obvious; but he asked, would the country believe that it was worth while encountering those great risks for a mere question of counterpoise or limitation? It might be said that, having gone to Sebastopol we could never relinquish our efforts until we had conquered it. Such an argument might be all very good for persons who had no responsibility; but was there anybody in that House who would seriously advocate the continuance of the war except as the means of attaining a certain specific object? War was only justifiable as the last resort; and the moment war was made the end instead of the means we relapsed into the condition of barbarism and were unworthy the name of a civilised nation. He was persuaded upon calm reflection, that neither the conscience nor common sense of the country would approve the continuance of the war for mere notions of military glory, or a determination to succeed in our enterprise against Sebastopol. War had a very exciting influence on the imagination; and very false and exaggerated notions were entertained out of doors as to the importance to our reputation of continuing the war. Suppose that pence had been concluded upon the terms proposed at Vienna, could it have been said twelve months hence that France and England had been baffled in the war, when Russia had 1773 conceded the very points for which the war was undertaken, because they had not obtained a victory over the great military power of Russia upon her own soil? As for military prestige, England never had and never would have any military prestige; the only prestige which England possessed was as a naval Power, and he contended that our naval prestige had in no way suffered. If we had not achieved great triumphs by sea during the present war, it was only because the superiority of our force had been so overwhelming that the enemy dared not face us. Nothing had occurred to show that there was a possibility of sweeping our navy from the seas or of invading England, and he asserted that the operations in the Sea of Azof were more important to the prestige of England as a naval Power than if we had taken half-a-dozen Sebastopols with the aid of the French, the Turks, and the Sardinians.
He thought the Government and the House of Commons had been guilty of mystification towards the public on the subject of the objects of the war. What were the objects for which the war had been undertaken? Judging from the papers before the House, the whole dispute was one of counterpoise versus limitation. If there were other objects of great national importance involved it was right that the House and the country should be made acquainted with them, and it might then be seen whether the House would support the war on that issue. But the Government had been guilty of considerable mystification in this respect; and the House had never had any intelligible conception of the situation of the country in regard to the war. There had been a great deal of talk about the "vigorous prosecution of the war," and a "safe and honourable peace,"—expressions which might mean anything or nothing—but the House ought to have some more definite intimation of what was intended. He could not himself imagine what ulterior objects there could be in prosecuting the war; and if Russia were to give us a blank piece of paper, and were to say, "write your own stipulations for peace," he was at a loss to conceive what, in the interests of England, would he required more than had been already offered. Would we insist upon taking Sebastopol and the Crimea under the condition of being obliged to incur the expense of maintaining them? Why, he did not believe that any rational statesman would accept Sebastopol if it were offered as a 1774 free gift; then was it sensible, was it Christianlike, to go on shedding blood in order to take a place which, if it were offered to us as a gift, we would not accept?
One word as to the form of his Motion. He had thought it better not to submit any proposition having a party complexion, or which would lead to a division upon that account. He had thought that at this late period of the Session it would be unfair to absent Members to do anything of the sort; but, independently of that, he believed that it was better for the dispassionate consideration of the arguments upon the question, that it should not be encumbered with any subject of a party nature. He asked for the correspondence with the French Government relative to the last proposal of Austria, because he thought it very important that it should be known—so far as it could be communicated without detriment to the public service—what had passed between the two Governments, and whether or not the Government of this country was principally responsible for the rejection of the terms of peace. It would be for the noble Lord at the head of the Government to say how far the information which he now sought for could be given consistently with the interests of the public service. He had no desire to have any papers produced that would interfere with the public policy; but he did think the correspondence which he asked for was necessary to a clear conception of all the circumstances connected with this subject.
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House, Copies of any Correspondence with the French Government relative to the last proposal of Austria.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
I am quite willing to admit that Her Majesty's Government have no right to complain of the course which the hon. Gentleman has taken in having, before the prorogation of Parliament, again brought the important subject to which his speech and the Motion he has made relate, under the consideration of the House; nor can any one complain of the manner in which he has brought it before us. But, at the same time, it is much to be regretted that, if the hon. Gentleman did think it necessary in the discharge of his duty to revive before the prorogation of Parliament the discussions that have taken place in this 1775 House with regard to the recent negotiations at Vienna, he should have adopted the particular course which he has now taken. I regard the Motion which the hon. Gentleman has made as objectionable on two grounds. It is a Motion that, so far as relates to the production of the correspondence between the French and English Governments with regard to the last Austrian proposal, he must himself have been aware that it was impossible that the Government could accede to; while, on the other hand, it is a Motion which, while the speech of the hon. Gentleman raises most important questions, and is calculated to excite public feeling, affords no opportunity for the expression of opinion on the part of the representatives of the people in Parliament. The hon. Gentleman has called the attention of the House to the course taken by Her Majesty's Government after the last proposal of Austria, made after the Conferences at Vienna had been suspended, and then he asks for the production of the communications that have taken place between the English and French Governments in considering, jointly, the course which it was their duty, having a regard to the interests and the honour of the two countries, to take in reference to that proposition. Now, the House is in possession of ample information with regard to the negotiations at Vienna, and also with regard to the proposal made by Austria after the Conferences at Vienna had been suspended, but before they were formally closed, together with the grounds and arguments on which Austria based that proposition, and recommended it to the Governments of France and England. They are in possession not only of the decision of the Government with regard to the proposition, but the grounds and reasons on which that decision was arrived at. They are in possession of the protocols, stating distinctly the propositions made by the allied Powers, and they are aware of the extent to which those propositions were agreed to, and the grounds on which the negotiations were broken off. The House is also in possession—in consequence of a request made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli)—of the instructions addressed by the Government to the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) as one of the Plenipotentiaries of the British Government in the conduct of those negotiations—for the Government, breaking through the reserve usually observed in such cases, at 1776 once consented to lay those instructions on the table of the House. And now the hon. Gentleman asks for further communications of a character and nature which he must feel it would be in direct opposition to the duty of the Government to produce to the House. In the course of the war in which we are engaged, constant, free, and unrestricted communications have taken place between the Governments of the two countries with regard to important operations of war, as well as with reference to the negotiations in which they have been recently engaged; and it is necessary that these unreserved communications should take place—that there should be a free and unembarrassed interchange of views and opinions in order to insure that unity of action which is essential to success, whether in war or in negotiations. The mutual interchange of views and opinions which usually takes place in such cases with reference to points on which, perhaps, there may at first be some diversity of opinion, leads ultimately to a unity of sentiment, and that is exactly what has taken place with regard to the Governments of France and England. But if these confidential communications are to be produced, the necessary consequence must be, that such unreserved interchange of views must for the future cease. The Government cannot, therefore, consent to lay this correspondence on the table, because they believe it would be prejudicial to the public interests, and destructive of that confidential intercourse between the two countries which is essential to a vigorrous prosecution of the war. When the hon. Gentleman thus asks for the production of what ought to be kept secret, he shows little regard for the maintenance of that alliance, on the maintenance of which his speech seemed to throw so much doubt. Attaching, as we naturally do, the greatest importance to the preservation of the alliance with France, we ought to consider what the feelings of France would be if the Government of this country, without communication with them, and without obtaining their opinion or consent, were to produce to Parliament and send over all Europe the confidential communications of the French Government with regard to the important questions that have come before them.
But this, after all, formed a very unimportant part of the speech of the hon. Gentleman, who made use of his Motion evidently as one of form only, in order to 1777 enable him to state his views as to the course which Government have pursued and the course which he thinks they ought to have pursued, in relation to the last proposal of Austria. The hon. Gentleman impugns the policy of Her Majesty's Government only in this last stage of the proceedings, namely, in refusing, along with France, to agree to the proposal which Austria submitted with the view of ascertaining whether Russia would accept it as a basis of negotiations for peace. The hon. Gentleman, separating himself from some of those near to whom he sits, admits, in the fullest and most distinct terms, the justice and necessity of the war in which we are engaged; he stated that he considered the war to have been absolutely inevitable; and he admits that the principles embraced in the Four Points are principles which it was the duty of the two Governments to insist upon. He goes further, and separates himself not only from those who originally impugned the necessity of the war and denied its justice, but from those also, who, having at first concurred in the justice and necessity of the war, and having been parties to embarking in it and in prosecuting it up to a certain point, have thought at a later period that we had secured a sufficient basis for the negotiation of peace, and have therefore declared themselves hostile to its further prosecution. The hon. Gentleman goes further than those parties also who declare that in both the proposals that were made, or in either of them, there were contained satisfactory bases upon which negotiations might have been renewed with a prospect of arriving at a safe and honourable peace. If I have understood the hon. Gentleman correctly, he is of opinion that the Governments of Great Britain and France, and their Plenipotentiaries at Vienna, were fully justified in their rejection of the proposals made by Russia as not containing the bases upon which a satisfactory solution of the points at issue might be obtained. The only point, therefore, upon which the hon. Gentleman impugns the policy of the Government is as to the course adopted by them with regard to certain proposals which were made by Austria at the later stage of the Conferences at Vienna. The hon. Gentleman regrets that the Governments of France and of this country did not concur in proposing to Russia conditions different from those which they had originally declared to be necessary to se- 1778 cure a satisfactory termination of the contest. I do not think, in defending the course adopted by the Government, that I need do more than refer the House to those papers which have been laid upon the table, in which the decision of the Government with regard to those proposals is stated in the most clear and distinct manner, as also the reasons upon which that decision was arrived at. I need not, I say, do more than refer to those papers, because I believe that, with few exceptions, the opinion of this House is entirely in favour of the course pursued by the Government. I am led to that belief because, in a recent debate, the despatch of my noble Friend Lord Clarendon, stating the views of the Government upon the subject, was spoken of in terms of approbation from all parts of the House, and I do not remember that there was on the part of any hon. Gentleman a distinct disapproval of it. The real question, as has been stated by the hon. Gentleman, is one between the principle of the limitation of the Russian power in the Black Sea, or the neutralisation of that sea on the one hand, and the principle of counterpoise on the other. The hon. Gentleman does not appear to differ from what I believe to be the universal opinion, that as between the principle of limitation or neutralisation on the one hand, and the principle of counterpoise on the other, the balance of advantage is in favour of the former. I think that no one will dispute that, as between the principle of limitation and that of counterpoise, if the principle of limitation had been conceded by Russia, it would have afforded the best security for obtaining the objects for which we are now contending. Now, what was the opinion of Austria with regard to these alternatives? It may be seen from the papers which have been laid before Parliament that Austria repeatedly declared her preference for the principle of limitation as opposed to that of counterpoise, and that she advanced cogent and conclusive reasons in favour of that opinion, which she shared in common with England and France. Austria never declared that she would make the principle of limitation an indispensable condition of peace, or that she would go to war if it were not conceded; but she concurred with France and England in the desire to see that principle adopted, because she entertained the opinion that it held out the most satisfactory prospect of a solution of the Eastern difficulty. We are not now called upon to 1779 assert that peace can never be established except by adopting the principle of limitation; that question does not now arise, and it is most desirable that we should be left as free and unembarrassed as possible when future negotiations for peace are resumed. There should be ample opportunity afforded of considering any proposal which affords a prospect of obtaining the objects of the war, but the principles of limitation or neutralisation of the Black Sea and of counterpoise are the only methods which have yet been suggested.
The real question now is, whether the Government were right or wrong in insisting upon the principle of limitation, and in refusing to agree to the Austrian proposals, which were based upon the principle of counterpoise. It is necessary for me, in dealing with this point, to refer to the views entertained by the Government throughout these negotiations. The hon. Gentleman has referred to the instructions which were given to my noble Friend (Lord John Russell) on his proceeding to Vienna, and I must also trouble the House with a few extracts from the despatch containing those instructions, which clearly and distinctly state the views entertained by Her Majesty's Government with regard to the negotiations which were about to be opened at Vienna, and to what they considered to be the best method of obtaining the objects for which the war had been undertaken. In that despatch Lord Clarendon writes—In common with her allies, Her Majesty most anxiously desires to see peace restored to Europe in such a manner as to afford a reasonable assurance that it will long remain uninterrupted; but this can only be expected if the conditions of that peace are such as to afford a sufficient guarantee for the future security of Turkey.My noble Friend subsequently wrote—But it will be in vain to stipulate that the Danubian provinces shall be withdrawn from the exclusive protectorate of Russia, or that the navigation of the Danube shall be set free from the obstructions which impede it, unless effectual precautions are taken to render the Turkish empire an integral part of the European system, and sufficient restraint be imposed upon the military and naval power heretofore exercised by Russia in the Black Sea, and the overbearing influence which, by reason of that power, she has acquired over the councils of the Porte.It will be seen that the opinion of the Governments of France and England—an opinion which was also concurred in by Austria—was that the naval power of Russia in the Black Sea was a standing menace to Turkey, for that naval power 1780 was maintained to enable Russia to make encroachments upon the independence, and even the existence, of Turkey, and not for the purpose of defending any portion of her own empire. It appeared to us, therefore, that the reduction of that naval power would be the best means of preventing a repetition of aggression on the part of Russia. The hon. Gentleman has argued that my noble Friend, while assenting to the opinion that there were two ways of putting an end to the preponderance of Russia in the Black Sea, either by adopting the principle of limitation or that of counterpoise, expressed no decided opinion one way or the other, but implied that either might be adopted according to the opinions of the Plenipotentiaries, and he has upon that ground defended my noble Friend the Member for London from the charge of having exceeded his instructions by bringing under the consideration of the Government at home the Austrian proposals. Now I do not conceive that my noble Friend requires any defence for having brought under the consideration of the Government proposals made by Austria which he considered might lead to a satisfactory solution of the question at issue. My noble Friend declared, in conformity with his instructions, that as Russia refused to admit the principle of limitation those instructions were exhausted; but I apprehend that he was by no means precluded from bringing under the attention of the Government the proposals which were made by Austria, and which on account of the importance of the interests at stake, required the most careful consideration. But does the despatch of my noble Friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs warrant the opinion that he expressed no preference for the system of limitation as opposed to that of counterpoise? Why, my noble Friend writes that the objects of the war—Might be effected by a twofold process—by reducing the maritime force of Russia in the Black Sea within reasonable compass, and by opening that sea, with the consent of Turkey, to the maritime forces of other nations. Her Majesty's Government would much regret that the Porte should be so impressed with a sense of its own comparative weakness as to be prepared to abdicate its power to defend the Turkish empire against even a limited display of hostile force. It would be better for the nations of Europe that the Porte should be encouraged to rely on its own resources, though left at liberty to call in the aid of friendly Powers to counteract the menaces of its powerful neighbour; but the re- 1781 duction of the Russian naval force in the Black Sea within such bounds as might, in co-operation with an equal Turkish force, suffice to provide adequate protection for peaceful commerce, would have the further indirect advantage of preventing, at any future period, the march of Russian armies on Constantinople, or at all events of rendering any such operation one of extreme hazard; for, as far as present experience extends, the support of a powerful fleet, capable of co-operating with the advance of armies, and affording the means of providing them with requisite supplies, is essential to the success of any movement on the Turkish capital. The imposition, therefore, of adequate restrictions on the naval power of Russia in the Black Sea would give to Turkey the material protection of which she stands in need; while her recognition as an essential element in the balance of power in Europe would afford her a moral guarantee, under the safeguard of which she might fearlessly carry out those plans of internal reform and social re-organisation which have been so earnestly pressed upon the Porte for many years.In the concluding paragraph of these instructions, Lord Clarendon adds—The blood and treasure which have been so freely expended in support of that policy would be altogether thrown away if the only result of our efforts should be a hollow truce, to be broken whenever a suitable opportunity should arise for the attainment of the long-cherished objects of Russian ambition—the subjugation of the Ottoman Empire in Europe, and the enthronement of a Russian prince in the capital of Turkey.I have read these extracts, to show what the views and feelings of the Government were on entering into these negotiations, and to show that they did not hesitate as between limitation and counterpoise, but thought the arguments were conclusive in favour of the first, and equally conclusive against the adoption of the second of these principles. These opinions were urged with great force and ability in the Conferences at Vienna, France and Turkey concurring with, and Austria supporting them. They were rejected by Russia, and for very good reasons—because she was well aware of the efficiency of the means possessed by the allied Powers to effect the object they had in view. Russia was unwilling to loose her grasp on Turkey, and therefore she pertinaciously and positively declined to part with those means of aggression which she kept in the Black Sea with views scarcely concealed, or, I may rather say, avowed. When Russia had so refused to adopt the principle of limitation, the question was, whether there was any prospect of a successful issue by continuing these conferences? The Government were at the time blamed for not at once breaking up these conferences, and for not refusing to listen to any other proposition 1782 made to them. I am in the recollection of hon. Members, when I ask them whether that was not the tone and temper of the House, and whether the Government were not accused of maintaining a lingering hope that negotiations might be resumed, and were not charged with a want of sincerity in prosecuting the war, because they did not at once declare that the conferences must be closed? On the other hand, Austria naturally clung to the hope of a peaceful solution, and no one will blame her for so doing, for it is her interest to remain at peace with Russia so long as she can do so consistently with honour. She expressly requested permission to lay before the allies some other proposition which she conceived might lead to a satisfactory issue; and the Austrian Plenipotentiary then had recourse to that system of counterpoise against which such strong arguments had already been adduced, both in the instructions to my noble Friend and in the despatches before the House. At this time nothing had occurred which would justify the Government in abandoning the view they had before taken, and in coming to the conclusion that the system of counterpoise might be adopted and acted upon with a prospect of attaining the end they aimed at. When Austria first made this proposal, my noble Friend (Lord J. Russell) stated, with that force and ability for which he is conspicuous, the objections which he, in common with the Government, entertained to the basis of that proposal. On its being suggested at Vienna that this system of counterpoise might be substituted for that of limitation, my noble Friend said, in his despatch to Lord Clarendon, dated the 10th of April, 1855—I showed that the project of counterpoise was ineffectual, as we could not always have a large fleet at hand; humiliating to Turkey, if she were always to lean on France and England; unsafe for Europe, which would be kept in the perpetual ferment of preparation for war. We had, however, examined this plan carefully, in conformity with the desires of Austria, and only gave it up from being convinced of its inadequacy.Such was the opinion of my noble Friend himself on the 10th of April with regard to the basis on which the Austrian proposal was founded. The hon. Gentleman says, that the proposal was one which my noble Friend stated offered a satisfactory solution of the question. Now, I am not aware that my noble Friend has ever made such a statement, and as he is present he 1783 can correct me if I misrepresent the sentiments he expressed. I repeat that I do not remember that he ever said that, looking to the intrinsic merits of the Austrian proposal, it was one which he could recommend for adoption, and one which would be productive of those results which we were entitled to expect from the prosecution of this war. What did my noble Friend say in a subsequent despatch of the 16th of April, giving an account of a conversation with Count Buol?—I said that the British Government had always pointed to the Russian fleet in Sebastopol as a standing menace to Turkey, and to provide by treaty that this very force might again be constructed and assembled would be a course they could not justify to Parliament or the nation. That Russia, if she consented to limitation, would hardly refuse to agree to one that would be efficient. The closing of the Dardanelles and an efficient limitation were consistent propositions; but if the limitation was not to be efficient, the closing of the Straits would be inconsistent. He had himself argued that the danger consisted not in the magnitude of the Russian force, but in the tête-à-tête of Russia and Turkey in the Black Sea. Yet this very danger he now proposes to restore.Further on he says—The Ottoman Minister, who was unfortunately not summoned to meet us, is of a totally different opinion—[that is from Count Buol]. He thinks it would be injurious to the Porte to require that she should devote her revenues to the fortifications on the Bosphorus, when internal improvements so urgently require her attention. He doubts whether any forts on the Bosphorus would save Constantinople from attack.Now, no doubt my noble Friend subsequently modified his opinions—not as to the abstract merits of the Austrian proposal, as the hon. Gentleman has assumed to-night, but as to the expediency of the course to be taken under the circumstances which then pressed themselves under the consideration of my noble Friend just before be left Vienna. What does he himself say on this question in that very despatch in which he declares his belief that the Austrian proposal is worthy of consideration—In saying this, I may appear to contradict my former opinions. But, in fact, I do not retract those opinions. The system of limitation I believe to be far better than that of counterpoise. But the question is between an imperfect security for Turkey and for Europe, and the continuance of the war.I think, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman is not entitled to cite my noble Friend as agreeing in the opinion that the balance of the arguments as between limitation and counterpoise was in favour of the latter. 1784 Well, this proposition, submitted by Austria, and recommended by my noble Friend to the attention of the Government at home, did receive careful and mature consideration. The Government thought, looking at the magnitude of the interests concerned, and the responsibility of continuing a war for one day longer than justice and necessity required that any proposition which came from Austria—recommended by that weight of authority which were thrown into the balance in its favour—was entitled to their most mature consideration. Such consideration was given to it, and in discussing it we had the advantage of the presence of my noble Friend as a Member of the Government after his return from Vienna. The French Government having had the same proposition made to them directly from Austria, as it was made directly to this country, also took it into mature, and deliberate consideration, and no doubt in the course of the few days, during which this proposition was under consideration, communications did take place, as was suggested by the hon. Gentleman, between the two Governments. As a common action was required, it was necessary to precede this by common councils. Communications, therefore, of a strictly confidential and unreserved character did take place, in order that the two Governments might, by an interchange of opinion, weigh every argument which could be adduced, either in favour of or against the Austrian proposition, and I think it cannot be imputed to either of the two Governments that they lightly rejected any proposal which afforded a prospect of a safe, honourable, and lasting peace. The hon. Member desires to know the reasons which influenced the French Government in their rejection of the Austrian proposal. Now, I have before stated that I do not consider the Government are bound, or are even entitled, to disclose to this House communications which may contain the unreserved and confidential opinion of the French Government. This House has a right to know the reasons which influenced Her Majesty's Government, and I do not think any one can impute to the Government the slightest concealment in this matter. ["Oh!"] The hon. Gentleman who interrupts me, and who has always objected to the war, thinking that no war ought to have been engaged in, disputes my assertion. Well, I challenge him to make good his denial, and to state on what ground he 1785 thinks the Government have kept back the reasons which influenced them. No one is more capable than the hon. Gentleman of refuting my assertion if it be untrue, and I only wish he would appeal to the House and to the country as to the justice of his opinion on this point. I say that Lord Clarendon has stated fully and explicitly the reasons for the rejection of the proposition last made by Austria.
Before, however, I allude to the arguments used by my noble Friend the Foreign Secretary for the rejection of the proposal based on a system of counterpoise, I will notice the statement of the hon. Gentleman, that a secret article was inserted in the treaty proposed to be adopted by Austria, in which she bound herself in a certain contingency to go to war. Now, he omitted to notice the answer of Lord Clarendon with reference to that secret article in his despatch of the 8th of May. The noble Lord, in his despatch to Lord Westmorland says—I then proceeded to state that Her Majesty's Government could not attach much practical value to the engagement of Austria to make, at some future period, a casus belli of the increase of the Russian fleet beyond a given amount, for she had already declared that it was beneath her dignity to discuss numbers, and that she could not admit that the question of peace or war should turn upon eight or ten ships of the line; and if such were the case now, when circumstances would enable Austria to go to war with advantage, what prospect would there be of her doing so some years hence, under circumstances likely to be far less favourable, for the very same cause, though in a lesser degree, that she would not now entertain.I refer to that passage in consequence of the observations made by the hon. Gentleman with respect to what fell from me on a former occasion, when I said that in considering the proposal made by Austria Her Majesty's Government had no reason to assume with certainty that if they had agreed to that proposal, and it had been rejected by Russia, the rejection of it would have led to an immediate declaration of war on the part of Austria. My hon. Friend has quoted the speech of my noble Friend the Member for London, in order to show what his impression was with regard to the intentions of Austria in proposing this ultimatum; but I must say, after searching these papers through from beginning to end, that I can find no explicit assurance in writing, on the part of Austria, that if her proposal had been acceded to by England and France, 1786 and rejected by Russia, its rejection would immediately have placed Austria by the side of the belligerent Powers. The hon. Gentleman says that Count Buol has stated in his despatch of the 20th of May that such was the intention of Austria; but the House must remember that that was after the Austrian proposal had been considered by England and France, and when she knew that they had rejected it. I have already read the passage in Lord Clarendon's despatch in which he alludes to a casus belli as proposed by Austria, and I will now read the remarks of Count Buol upon that statement. In his despatch to Count Colloredo, dated the 20th of May, he does not say that Lord Clarendon misunderstood the intentions of Austria, but he says—Lord Clarendon does not attach much practical value to this stipulation, since, he says, Austria has already declared that she could not admit that the question of peace or war should turn upon eight or ten ships. But we may be permitted to remind his Lordship of the immense difference that exists between our attitude in the actual state of affairs, while we are still free to determine as to the question of war, and the contrary position in which we should be placed were the case of war once clearly defined and stipulated by treaty. In this contingency no one can doubt that Austria would scrupulously act up to the engagements she contracted.That is the answer of Count Buol, and it will be seen that he neither says that Lord Clarendon had misunderstood him, nor that a declaration of war would have immediately followed the rejection by Russia of the Austrian proposal. I look in vain for any assurance on the part of Austria addressed directly to the British Government that if they accepted the proposition and Russia rejected it, she would immediately consider the rejection of it a cause of war. I wish to be clearly understood upon this point. I am not contending that it was not the intention of Austria to act in the manner in which my noble Friend (Lord J. Russell) was led to believe, from conversations which he had with Count Buol, she intended to act; neither am I imputing a want of good faith to Austria:—but the Government have been charged with rejecting a proposition after being distinctly informed that if it was accepted by them and rejected by Russia the rejection of it by Russia would have ranked Austria upon the side of the allies, and I wish to show that at the time when our decision was made we had no such explicit intimation of the intentions of Austria, as could enable 1787 us to infer, that even if Russia rejected the proposition she would immediately have declared war.
I will now refer for a moment to the reasons which were given by Lord Clarendon on the part of Her Majesty's Government for rejecting the proposition of Austria. In his despatch to Lord Westmorland, dated May 8, he says—I reminded Count Colloredo that Austria was pledged to put an end to the preponderance of Russia in the Black Sea, and I asked how that pledge would be redeemed by the proposal that the allied armies and fleets should withdraw from the Crimea and the Black Sea, and that England, France, and Turkey should agree by treaty that the naval forces of Russia should be re-established in that sea, the same in number and in power as before the war, which amount we had constantly declared, and Austria had agreed with us in declaring, was a menace to the Ottoman empire, and to the peace and equilibrium of Europe. I said that on a former occasion I had expressed, in strong terms, to Count Colloredo the opinion of Her Majesty's Government upon this proposal, and it was hardly necessary to inform him that that opinion was unchanged. It was unnecessary, I said, to inform Count Colloredo that Her Majesty's Government desired peace, but they would prefer the continuation of the war to a peace that would not be honourable or likely to last, and which would not effect the objects we had undertaken to secure for the maintenance of the Ottoman empire, and the future tranquillity of Europe.The reasons, then, which influenced Her Majesty's Government in rejecting the proposal of Austria were these:—They thought that that proposal did not contain the elements of a safe, lasting, and permanent peace, but that, based as it was upon a system of counterpoise, it would effect nothing further than a hollow truce, liable at any time to break out again into open war, and, perhaps, with greater advantage to Russia in the prosecution of the war. Lord Clarendon goes on to say—If, therefore, Austria can discover such a scheme it will not only be favourably considered by Her Majesty's Government, but will be to them a cause of the most sincere satisfaction; but it must be a scheme that will be effectual for its purpose; it must impose conditions on Russia, and not be a scheme by which the allies are to impose conditions upon themselves, leaving in the Black Sea complete freedom of action to Russia.The whole of this despatch is well worth the consideration of the House, and I have no doubt the attention of hon. Members has been drawn to it, as it states in clear terms what I consider to be unanswerable objections to the proposition of Austria, and clearly and distinctly shows the precautions which ought to be taken for securing a last- 1788 ing and permanent peace. In other despatches Lord Clarendon expresses opinions of a similar character, and in dealing with the further proposal subsequently made by Austria, and brought forward at the last conference, before the negotiations had actually terminated, he says, writing to Lord Westmorland:—Your Lordship will convey to Count Buol the best thanks of Her Majesty's Government for this communication, which they regard as a fresh proof of the goodwill of Austria, and of her earnest desire to promote the restoration of peace; and you will state to his Excellency that Her Majesty's Government consider that they would be wanting in the frankness and good faith which have hitherto characterised the proceedings between Austria and the Western Powers if they hesitated to make known the objections they entertain to the course which Count Buol proposes to adopt, and the grounds on which they think that the engagement taken by his Excellency at the last conferences will not be effectually carried out by a project which he says he expects that Russia will reject, and which cannot be acceptable to England and France.In reference to this last proposal, I admit that it was explicitly stated on the part of Austria that she believed it would be rejected by Russia, and that she would not make its rejection a casus belli. Writing to the Earl of Westmorland on the 2nd of June, Lord Clarendon says—I expressed my entire concurrence with Count Buol as to the desirableness of limiting the political power of Russia; but instead of entering upon a new problem, the practical solution of which was not even alluded to by Count Buol, I thought it would be more prudent for the allies to confine themselves to the question at issue, which was how to give effect to the third basis, and to put an end to the preponderance of Russia in the Black Sea, and as yet no way so simple or so effectual had been discovered as such a limitation of her naval forces in that sea as should render their amount consistent with the safety of Turkey. In his despatch to Count Colloredo, Count Buol expresses his firm conviction that the proposal of Austria for giving effect to the third basis would be effectual, complete, and in conformity with the interest of Europe; and his Excellency adds that its rejection by the Western Powers does not permit Austria to cast exclusively upon Russia the responsibility of the failure of the negotiations. Upon this I remarked that England and France, being at war with Russia, and having made vast sacrifices, must be allowed to judge for themselves on what terms they could make peace consistently with their honour, and with the objects for which such sacrifices had been made, and that the necessity under which they felt themselves of declining the proposals of Austria proved that, in their judgment, those proposals were neither effectual nor complete, nor likely to be for the advantage of Europe. But Russia, I said, had rejected terms that Austria thought reasonable in themselves and necessary 1789 for the peace of Europe, and that were not inconsistent with the dignity of Russia; and because she had so rejected them, and because the Western Powers could not agree to conditions that Austria has since proposed, and which are altogether different and ineffectual for their object, it is surely unjust to say that England and France oppose obstacles to peace, and that Russia is no longer exclusively to blame for the failure of the negotiations. I must also, I said, express my regret that Count Buol should now be of opinion that the proposal to limit the naval forces of Russia could only be considered as one of the conditions which the belligerents had expressly reserved to themselves the right of imposing beyond the Four Points, and which the continuation of hostilities might render necessary; for his Excellency, to the best of my belief, had not regarded the proposal in that light, even when discussing it with the Plenipotentiaries of England and France, and he had supported it in the conference, and had recommended it to the acceptance of the Russian plenipotentiaries, as the best means for giving effect to the third basis. The object of the third basis is to put an end to the preponderance of Russia in the Black Sea; the limitation of the Russian fleet in that sea comes then strictly within that object, and is not a distinct and separate proposal apart from the four bases, and such as the allies reserved to themselves the right to bring forward, according as the events of the war might make it necessary. I requested Count Colloredo to assure Count Buol that we did not, as he supposed, exclude by anticipation any other project that would be equally efficacious; but that we declined, and must continue to decline, all such means as are manifestly ineffectual for the objects we have in view. Count Colloredo observed that some sacrifice should be made to secure the alliance of Austria. I said I entirely agreed with him, and that we had shown all possible deference to Austria. It was solely out of deference to her that England and France had agreed to the four bases, and had consented to enter upon negotiations for peace. It was to meet the views, and to secure the co-operation of Austria in a cause which might be considered essentially her own, that England and France adopted a course which they would not otherwise have pursued until the events of war had more distinctly defined the relative position of the belligerent powers. Count Colloredo then adverted to the great interests which Austria had at stake, and the risk she would incur by going to war with Russia without being able to reckon upon the material support of the Western Powers, while she would have to fear the ill-will, if not the hostility, of Prussia and of some of the German States. I said that, so far from questioning these considerations, Her Majesty's Government gave great weight to them, and never failed to make allowance for the disadvantages under which Austria thought herself labouring. It was for Austria to decide between the considerations alluded to by Count Colloredo, and the engagements she had entered into with the Western Powers; but whatever her decision might be, and whatever view Austria might take of her own interests and obligations, no effort on the part of Her Majesty's Government would be wanting to maintain unimpaired the friendly relations that now existed between the two countries. On the other hand, however, we must 1790 claim to be the best guardians of our own honour and the best judges of our own interests, and Austria would have no just cause of complaint if we declined to accept conditions which we might regard as inconsistent with our honour and ineffectual for the objects that England and France had pledged themselves to secure.I have read these extracts to the House because they explain distinctly the grounds upon which Lord Clarendon, in the name of Her Majesty's Government, thought it his duty to reject the propositions made by Austria. Possibly other considerations might have influenced the minds of some Members of the Cabinet; but the case of the Government is contained in these despatches. They conceived that the proposals made by Austria, taking all the circumstances into account, were not proposals which they were justified in accepting, as being calculated to lead to that result which is the great object of the war—namely, a satisfactory and permanent peace; but that those proposals would leave Russia in full possession of the means of encroachment upon Turkey which she has so carefully cherished, and that we should be sacrificing the interests we are bound to maintain if we agreed to make peace upon the basis contained in these propositions.
The hon. Member for Wick (Mr. Laing) has stated fairly and candidly the arguments which, as he says, seem very nicely balanced between the one proposition and the other. He has dealt with the argument, that an armed truce, and not a peace, would have been the result of adopting the proposition of Austria. He does not deny that an armed truce, and not a permanent peace, would have been the consequence of adopting that proposition; but he says that, an armed truce having formerly existed in the Mediterranean between England and France, an armed truce in the Black Sea between the allied Powers and Russia would be no more objectionable. If we had adopted the proposition of Austria, we should have been compelled to maintain a large war establishment at Malta; but compare the distance between Malta and Constantinople, and between Sebastopol and Constantinople. Russia might have kept up her fleet at Sebastopol to any amount; and she might have collected there an overwhelming force which might at any time have attacked Constantinople. But does the hon. Gentleman really believe that the objects contemplated by the proposal of Austria could have been carried out by our maintaining 1791 a war establishment at Malta, and sending a few cruisers occasionally into the Black Sea? Those cruisers might have seen some ten, or twenty, or thirty sail of the line preparing at Sebastopol; they might have returned and reported the fact to the Commander in Chief of the fleet at Malta; remonstrances might have been addressed to Russia on the part of Her Majesty's Government; but Russia would reply, "You have yourselves agreed to a treaty by which we are entitled to maintain our fleet to any amount in the Black Sea, and we deny that we have any aggressive intentions." Well, in such a case, what course must have been taken by the allies? The whole English and French fleets must have been sent to the Black Sea, where they have no ports of refuge beyond the Bosphorus, in order to prevent an anticipated attack upon Constantinople. This could not be considered either a peace or an armed truce, it would be in fact a declaration of war accompanied by a blockade of Sebastopol. When the hon. Gentleman spoke of the proposed limitation as an agreement only upon paper, whereas the other was a working plan, I suppose he meant that although Russia might, in the first case, have solemnly bound herself by treaty, she would have altogether disregarded her obligations and would have kept a fleet in the Black Sea for the purposes of aggression. But if treaties are not binding upon Russia it is useless to negotiate, and the only mode of restraining her ambition is by the maintenance of an armed force on the part of the other European Powers which may be sufficient to curb her power.
I have called the attention of the House to the documents which have been laid before them, to the instructions given to my noble Friend (Lord J. Russell), and to the correspondence which has taken place with reference to the Austrian proposals, in order to show the grounds upon which Her Majesty's Government, necessarily acting in communication and concert with the Government of France, thought that, consistently with their duty, they could not adopt such proposals. The hon. Gentleman has, however, stated some general reasons which he thinks, in the nicely balanced argument between limitation and counterpoise, weigh in the balance for counterpoise as against limitation. The hon. Gentleman has said that the alliance between this country and France may be hazarded by a protracted 1792 war. Now that is not an argument for concluding a peace upon terms which the Government may deem inconsistent with the honour and interests of this country, with the security of Turkey, and with the welfare of Europe, but against entering at all, in concert with France, into a war which no man of any foresight could conceive would be brought to a conclusion within a short period. The hon. Gentleman says that in April, 1854, the war was just and necessary, and he rejoices that we entered upon it in conjunction with France; but now he says, although the terms of peace offered are not such terms as ought under the circumstances to be accepted, I think you ought to have accepted them on account of the imminent hazard in which the alliance between this country and France is placed by carrying on a protracted war. I was certainly astonished to hear such an opinion expressed by the hon. Gentleman, who says that Her Majesty's Government were justified in entering into war in 1854. But has the hon. Gentleman any right to assume that France would have been willing to make peace upon the terms proposed by Austria, and that the intimate alliance between the two nations would not have been endangered if Her Majesty's Government had accepted terms of peace which France might have thought dishonourable to herself, unsafe for Europe, and which would have failed to attain those great objects with which the war was commenced? I certainly think the alliance with France would be more likely to be endangered by the adoption of the course suggested by the hon. Gentleman than by proceeding hand in hand with France in the vigorous prosecution of the war, which France has shown her determination, by the exertion of all her powers, to bring to a satisfactory and honourable conclusion.
The hon. Gentleman has referred to the evils of war and the blessings of peace, and I most cordially concur in the opinions he has expressed on that subject. No one feels more than I do the responsibility which attaches to any man connected with the Government of a country who hastily and inconsiderately consents to involve that country in a war of the justice and necessity of which he is not fully convinced. I feel also the responsibility attaching to any Government which continues a war for a single day beyond the period when the objects with which it was undertaken may be safely and honourably attain- 1793 ed, and when the war therefore ceases to be just and necessary. The real question is, would the objects of the war have been attained by the peace which the hon. Gentleman thinks might have been made? If those objects could have been attained, the terms offered ought to have been accepted; but if not, they ought to have been rejected. The hon. Gentleman has also spoken of the hazards to which we are exposed by a continuance of the war. Here, again, this is a matter which necessarily entered into the consideration of those who engaged in the war, and then more than now was it necessary to consider all the risks to which the country would be exposed by entering into a contest with so gigantic a power as that of Russia. While I should be the last man to speak in the language of overweening confidence; and while I think such language would be inappropriate and unbecoming, at the same time I must say the language we have heard, not from the hon. Member, but from others in this House—the dispiriting language of gloom and despondency—is wholly inappropriate to the circumstances in which we are placed. I think we have no reason to be dispirited and discouraged because we have not brought the war to a successful termination within twelve months of commencing active military operations. I think, too, we have a right to feel confident, without speaking in a boastful spirit, that whatever can be effected in the field by the devoted gallantry of the soldiers of France and England, who fight side by side and share equally in the glory and hardships of the war, will be accomplished. Of this I am, at all events, convinced, that the country and a majority of this House do not partake of those feelings of discouragement and gloom which it is the object of some hon. Gentlemen to instil into the minds of the people. They know what are the resources of this country. They believe the war to be just and necessary, and believing that, they do not concur in the censure attempted to be cast upon Her Majesty's Government for not accepting terms that would have left in the hands of Russia those means of aggression, which Russia has shown a determined resolution not to part with, which we may be sure, from her language and her acts, would be used on the first favourable occasion in the prosecution of her avowed designs of ambition and encroachment, and which are not only inconsistent with 1794 the security of Turkey, but with the permanent peace and security of Europe.
* Mr. Speaker, it appears to me, Sir, that the Motion which you have put from the chair, and which may be regarded as the immediate subject of debate, is a matter of small account. So far as regards that Motion, I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman (Sir G. Grey) who has just sat down, and who illustrated and enforced his opinion at some length, that the granting of these papers is a matter for the judgment of Her Majesty's Government, and that the hon. Member who has raised this debate would act unwisely if he attempted to force the Government, should they, in the exercise of their discretion, decline to produce them. Waiving, therefore, all reference to that Motion, I come to the speech of my right hon. Friend; and, again, with regard to that speech, I must distinguish the opinions and views of my right hon. Friend from the statement of facts and circumstances which he gave us in relation to the late negotiations.
As respects the opinions of my right hon. Friend, they appear to me to be moderation itself. Passing beyond the mere generalities in which, perhaps, we are all too apt to indulge—protesting, on the one hand, that we are too deeply sensible of the evils of war, and, on the other hand, that we will not stoop to buy peace with dishonour—passing over these vague generalities, which are bandied to and fro without any sort of profit between persons ranged on different sides of the question, my right hon. Friend has told the House, if I understood him rightly, that limitation itself—the limitation of the Russian forces in the Black Sea—was not to be regarded absolutely as a sine quâ non of peace in negotiations which may hereafter arise. My right hon. Friend has made that, which I think an important communication, considering the character of the person from whom it comes, and from what high station it is uttered. Moreover, while he has told us that limitation of the Russian fleet is not to stand before the world in the character of an absolute condition of peace, he has told us of no other absolute condition of peace which is to come into its place. The effect of his speech, therefore, as far as it goes, is to restrict the scope of the objects and terms for which the Government is contending; for he appears to have withdrawn from the catalogue one of the objects on which 1795 at a certain stage so much has turned and with such fatal consequences, and to have inserted nothing in its place. But, then, it appears to me that the right hon. Gentleman, with all the moderation of his views and opinions, has only made more glaring the false position in which he stands; for what are the Government about? They are prolonging a war which costs the allies in money not less than 100,000,000l. per annum, together with a loss of lives which will, I think, not be very greatly overstated at 1,000 a-day for all parties to the war taken together. To justify the prolongation of such a war in defiance of the weight, as I think of reason, but at any rate, and beyond all dispute, of authority, which is marshalled against it, requires, I think, stronger opinions than my right hon. Friend has expressed, and larger and wider objects than his. Indeed, while we are called upon to make efforts so gigantic and sacrifices so tremendous, I have the utmost difficulty in conceiving what image of an end is in his mind, and what he proposes to himself as an adequate purpose of the war, to give warrant to the extraordinary steps that we have taken, and to the extreme courses in which we are engaged.
And now, with respect to the statement of facts made by my right hon. Friend. Here I am at issue with him on every point. If my hon. Friend the Member for Wick wanted any justification for raising this discussion, he would, I think, find it in the confused and perplexed state in which the narrative of these events yet stands before this House and the world; for well may they find it impenetrably obscure, when I can undertake to show that the speech of a man in the position, and with all the knowledge, ability, and integrity of my right hon. Friend, presents a distorted view of those facts, and does not at all raise the issues upon which this House will have definitively, and I trust before any very long time, to judge. If we were to take our views from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, those who have listened to it might believe that the whole case before us turned upon the difference between the two projects of counterpoise and limitation. But I will show that it is no such thing. And, again, it might be supposed, from the speech of my right hon. Friend, that there had not been proposed to us, or not proposed to us in due time, by Austria, any set terms on the rejection of which by Russia she would 1796 go to war. And this I understood to be a capital point in my right hon. Friend's speech. I think he thus represented to us the case; he said that when a proposal was made, at the end of April, it was rejected by the allies, and it consequently gave to Austria no opportunity of going to war to enforce it; and that, when the proposal of limitation was made in June, Austria declared, as he states, that she would not go to war for the sake of that proposal if Russia should reject it.
Now, Sir, I shall have to contest the general representations of the facts as they have been stated by my right hon. Friend; but, before I go to the consideration of those facts, I must say how deeply I feel that an accumulated and peculiar responsibility in this matter must rest upon the head of Her Majesty's Government. It is not purely the responsibility, although God knows that is great enough, of having chosen the alternative of war, and rejected the alternative of peace, for I will admit there would have been, under the present circumstances, an equal responsibility in making an opposite choice; but it is the position they have assumed, and the proportionate share they have had in bringing about this result, which has made them, and us through them, the principals, and all other parties only in a manner secondary and accessory in the prolongation of the present war.
My noble Friend the Member for the City of London (Lord J. Russell), who was also the Plenipotentiary of Great Britain in the Conferences at Vienna, on the 18th of April transmitted a proposal of Austria, which was approved of by my noble Friend, not, perhaps, upon its abstract merits, but rather, I apprehend, with reference to the circumstances of the case, and the whole interests involved in the decision. That proposal was also approved by the Plenipotentiary of France. It was, moreover, approved or, at the very least, favourably received, if not formally and definitely approved, by the Plenipotentiary of Turkey, and in the last place it was, of course, entirely approved by the Plenipotentiary of Austria. This proposal was sent home by the noble Lord, who was the organ of the Government, and not only the organ of the Government, but a member of the Government; who, moreover, as the organ of the Government, was entitled to something more than the ordinary consideration of a plenipotentiary, from his high station, his distinguished 1797 abilities and career, and especially from the fact that he had been all along cognisant of the views of the Administration, and had shared its counsels at every stage of this difficult and momentous question. That noble Lord made in writing a formal request that the consideration of this proposal should, if it were not accepted, at any rate be reserved until after he came home. Well, what was the course taken by the Cabinet upon the receipt of that request? My noble Friend's despatch was written on the 18th of April. It was received on the 21st, and on the same 21st goes forth from the Foreign Office a despatch of great ability and detail, written by Lord Clarendon, expressing the surprise and regret with which he had received through Count Colloredo from Count Buol that very same proposal, and condemning it without reserve from the first line to the last. By such an act as that, it must be admitted, the Cabinet have incurred a heavy and peculiar responsibility.
But my noble Friend came home. I am not sure of the precise date of his arrival, but when he came home, not daunted by what had occurred—if, indeed, he were at the time even so much as cognisant of it—he made his proposal to the Cabinet of which he was a member. My noble Friend, in his speech in this House on the 16th of July, appeared to be restrained by imperious considerations from explaining the nature of the transactions that occurred during a particular and most eventful week, which my noble Friend defined chronologically, if I remember right, as the week which began on the 30th of April, and ended on the 5th of May. We were only given to understand, that circumstances occurred during the course of that week, which influenced the British Government in the rejection of that proposal of the Austrian Government. For myself, as I can do no more than echo the popular construction of certain oracular phrases that have been used, and state what the public out of doors understood by these mysterious circumstances, there can be no reason why I should use reserve in the matter. The public understood that it was already the decision of the French Government to reject the Austrian proposal; that that decision formed a new fact in the case, and had either wholly, or in great part, led to its corresponding rejection by the Cabinet of Great Britain. But, Sir, I am bound to 1798 say that in my belief it was not to the French Government, but to ourselves, that the responsibility of that rejection is mainly and substantially due. There are signs and tokens, that are not to be mistaken, in proof of this opinion of mine; because there was published in a Belgian newspaper an account of the resignation of M. Drouyn de Lhuys, which appeared in Paris in the columns of the Moniteur, a journal of which the contents are understood to have in the strictest sense an official authority; so that it is not too much to say that the direct sanction of the Government was by that publication given to the statement in that letter. And does that letter bear out the belief entertained by many, that we rejected the proposal of my noble Friend because the French Government had already decided upon its rejection? Why, what did the Government of France, through its own official organ, say, and, as I think, say wisely, on this subject? These are the words of the statement in the Moniteur. I am obliged to cite them in English as they were rendered in English journals, for I have not seen the original French:—It is certain the English Government decided on rejecting it (the Austrian proposal) The Emperor, therefore, had the same motives for refusing it—that is to say, that it did not offer such a peace as would give sufficient guarantees to the Powers which had made so many sacrifices to defend and secure European right. His Majesty had, moreover, a desire to maintain in all its integrity and force the alliance with England, and the feeling of that Government on the question being already known, had, beyond any doubt, a certain weight with him.Therefore, upon the authority of the French Government, it is published to the world—and, if it be a merit, let the Cabinet have the full credit of it, for it is an answer to the charges made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli), to the effect that the British Government was about to conclude a peace when it was checked by the refusal of the Emperor of the French to concur—I say it stands recorded before the world by the declaration of the French Government, that it was the anterior decision of the British Government to reject the proposal of my noble Friend the Member for the City of London, which had naturally influenced the Emperor in his decision. Here, then, I say, is another proof of a heavy and peculiar responsibility resting upon the Government.
Nor, Sir, is even this all, though it is 1799 much; for when the House of Commons was invited by the publication of the protocols to give its opinion on the negotiations, we were not put in possession of all the facts, but the Government of this country placed us in a peculiar and disadvantageous position. I think it will not be disputed that, when, at the end of May and the beginning of June, we debated the question of the war, it was not only upon imperfect, but even upon garbled information with reference to the most important points at issue. I myself, standing in this very place, and many other Members of this House in different parts of it, argued the case as likely to occur, that if the negotiations should be broken off, they would at any rate be broken off by the Western Powers, with Austria upon their side, and, further, that there was no alternative presented to our choice as the means of escaping from the war but one or the other or the two proposals of Russia. And now at length it has appeared, that with regard to both of these fundamental propositions we were entirely mistaken; and although the information that would have undeceived us was then in the possession of the Government, we were called upon to vote a solemn declaration—not, indeed, in the shape of an address to the Crown, but yet a deliberate announcement at the least—of our intention to support the Crown in the prosecution of the war, we being entirely in the dark, or rather being wholly misinformed and misled as to the terms upon which peace might then have been obtained, and as to the parties by whom these terms were proposed and supported. All these things point to the same conclusion, namely, that an extraordinary responsibility rests on the heads of Her Majesty's advisers, and that if they have been right in the decision at which they have arrived, and to which they have been the chief and peculiar means of bringing Europe, then they are entitled to claim the exclusive fame and glory of that decision; but, if they have been wrong, they are as highly and peculiarly responsible; and they cannot plead the French alliance, and the fear of offending France, as an excuse; for the French have already, with great judgment and sagacity, put on record that what they did was done for fear of offending us; so that they leave the burden resting upon the advisers of the Crown. But if there be this peculiar responsibility upon the heads of the Government, then, as they are responsible 1800 to the House of Commons, it is upon us, the Members of the House of Commons, that it must ultimately fall. And now, Sir, I may observe that great praise has been given to my noble Friend the Foreign Secretary on account of the despatches on the Eastern question which have recently been presented to Parliament: this, we are told, is the tone required by the honour of the country; my right hon. Friend, who preceded me in the debate, even thought it worth while to quote the expressions of approbation of their spirit and energy which have fallen from Members of this House, in proof that the policy of the Government has been approved by the House and the country. I accord most freely to Lord Clarendon, as the representative of the Government, all the praise with regard to those despatches that can belong to the highest degree of ingenuity, of force, of tact, and of temper; it is impossible for the ability of the advocate to contribute more effectually to the success of his cause; but I lack in those despatches what I confess I wished to find. I lack the true tokens of such a desire for peace as its inestimable value should inspire; I lack in them the spirit in which, I do not hesitate to say, the noble Lord the Member for London would have written, and I find in them, on the other hand, a proneness to raise every possible objection against pacific proposals; to anticipate, and by anticipation to stop the way against every reasonable hope of a settlement; to place facts and opinions in such an order, and to handle them in such a manner, as, if possible, to show a case for the carrying on of the war. In speaking thus of the tone of the papers, I do not, of course, suppose that my noble Friend would not be the first to embrace the hope of an honourable peace if he could satisfy himself upon the terms; but I speak of the attitude into which his mind has unconsciously and not unnaturally been thrown.
Now, let us come to the facts before us, and in examining them, there are two points to be kept in view. In the first place, would the objects of the war have been sufficiently accomplished by the acceptance of any of the proposals of peace which have been at our command? In the second place, even if those objects would not have been achieved in the degree which we think desirable, have we, notwithstanding, good reason to believe that it would have been wiser to take the com- 1801 prehensive view which was taken by my noble Friend the Member for London at Vienna, and, bearing in mind the importance of maintaining the great combination with which we have been acting, to come to an accommodation? As respects the means offered you for securing the objects of the war, you have had an extraordinarily copious collection of alternatives before you. Those objects were defined by what are well known as the Four Points or bases, but it is unnecessary to detain the House with the consideration of the first, second, or fourth of the points, or with the first portion of the third; because the first and second, with the first part of the third, were settled at Vienna; while no obstacle was offered, or expected to arise, on the part of Russia, to the settlement of the fourth. Well, then, Sir, you have had no less than seven different plans for what is termed the solution of the second part of the third point. The first was the plan of neutralisation referred to by my right hon. Friend, which never saw the light, but remains in the limbo of things that have but half existed; because at a preliminary meeting of the Plenipotentiaries of the allies, in April last, it was agreed that unless Austria joined in supporting it, which she proved to be unwilling to do, it should never be proposed. Then came the plan of my noble Friend, which was sent home by him on April 16. That plan consisted partly of territorial provisions relating to the territory both east and west of the Black Sea, and partly of provisions as to the actual force to be maintained in the waters of the Black Sea, founded on the principle not of limitation, but of counterpoise. I do not seek to make use of it as an argumentum ad hominem, and I know the noble Lord attaches much value to the territorial stipulations; but so far as the waters of the Euxine are concerned, the plan is identical in principle with the second Russian proposal. However, I will not dwell upon that plan, for, like the first, it never became the subject of practical discussion. Then we had the plan of the allies—a strict and definite limitation, which was proposed and supported by them, and rejected by Russia. Then came the two plans of the Russian Government—the first founded on the basis of open Straits, with a power in certain cases of closing them; the second founded on the basis of closed Straits, with a discretionary power of opening them whenever Turkey might think her security menaced. I still, after all that 1802 has been said and done, cannot think that the second of these two plans of Russia, although it was Russian, or rather because it was Russian, offered a bad basis on which to proceed. It seems to me that it would have been wiser, taking that proposition as the starting-point of your arrangement, to introduce into it the improvements of which it was susceptible, than to reject it as it was rejected. Those five plans, however, are entirely gone by; but they, or, indeed, three or four at most from among them, were the only plans of which the House had any knowledge at the time of our former discussions on this great question. Since that period there have come to light the two plans, which may be called the Austrian plans, although if I follow my right hon. Friend in giving them that name, it must not be used ad invidiam. The first of them proceeded on the principle of counterpoise, and the second on the principle of limitation together with counterpoise. They were not, however, original conceptions of Austria, but were partly founded on actual suggestions from, and in other points had the approval of, the representatives of England and France. What, then, were these two plans upon which the justification of my hon. Friend the Member for Wick in raising the present debate must rest; The first proposal, that of the 18th of April, was founded on these two bases—first, that there should be a guarantee of the territory of Turkey by all the Powers; next, that, in case Russia should at any time increase her fleet in the Black Sea beyond the strength it had attained in 1853, such increase should constitute a casus belli on the part of all the allies. Now, my right hon. Friend almost entirely confined his speech to that proposal, in a great degree overlooking the fact that another proposal was subsequently made by Austria entirely different in character, which was only brought to the knowledge of the conference at its last meeting, on the 4th of June. The latter proposal was to this effect—that the original parties to the quarrel, Russia and Turkey, should in the first instance agree between themselves, and should subsequently propose to the conference, the amount of force which they were each to maintain in the Black Sea. Primâ facie, this proposal was founded on the principle of limitation; and it is obvious to remark, that if that principle be as valuable as on our side has been contended, we thus had the means given us of obtaining the recognition of it. 1803 But long before the proposition was actually made, Her Majesty's Government had anticipated it, and had barred its adoption by the most hostile comments. They had said as early as on the 24th of April, by the pen of Lord Clarendon, that the plan of settlement by collateral agreement suggested by the French Plenipotentiary would not do, that they knew what it meant when embodied in a treaty, because in a similar case—and they instanced the Treaty of Vienna—Russia, supported by the Northern Powers, had held that an incorporation of that kind amounted only to registration. In consequence, I suppose, of this argument—at least no other ground is alleged—we refused even to take into consideration the second Austrian proposal at the conference of the 4th of June; and chose rather to put an end to the negotiations. Now, what is the responsibility we have incurred with respect to these two proposals? The first proposal, founded on the principle of counterpoise, was made with the authority of all the Plenipotentiaries at Vienna; with the authority of the noble Lord the Member for London; with the authority of the French Plenipotentiary, who attested the sincerity of his convictions by resigning his office; and if my noble Friend did not take a similar step, it was because he thought—rightly or wrongly—that high political exigencies demanded from him the sacrifice of the views he had so strongly entertained and urged; further, the Turkish Plenipotentiary had given that proposal a favourable reception; and it had become at that time the proposition of Austria itself. Now, Sir, I venture to gay, without fear of contradiction, that long as this war may last (and doubtless it may last long), you never will overcome the significance and importance of this fact—that all the Plenipotentiaries of all the Powers (Turkey included) assembled at Vienna, the Austrian, French, and English Plenipotentiaries being likewise either chief ministers or high ministers of their respective Sovereigns, with one mind and one consent urged that proposal upon their own Governments respectively. You will never get over the weight and moment of that fact; and it is vain for you after this to think of regaining the opinion of Europe. That opinion cannot be upon your side, in defiance of such a weight of evidence, of a kind so palpable in its nature to the general apprehension, as that one fact brings to bear upon, the reasonableness and righteousness of the proceedings of the 1804 respective parties at Vienna. I say, then, Sir, without a moment's doubt, that even the first proposal should have been accepted; but, turning to the second, I confess that I have been astounded upon discovering how cavalierly it was dealt with. This second proposal offered you the alternative of limitation, and of limitation together with counterpoise; because it did not stop with providing that the Powers should themselves propose an arrangement as to their respective naval forces that should become an integral part of the treaty, but it likewise gave Turkey the right to open the Straits in case of danger. And, although I do not think the terms in which this power was reserved to Turkey were quite satisfactory or large enough, yet, taken in connection with the comment of Count Buol, I find it was, beyond all doubt, intended that they should be made effective, so as to enable the Porte to call in the aid of its allies whenever it deemed its security to be menaced. And why, Sir, do I say that this proposal was entitled to a formal consideration in the conferences? Upon this account—that it had already been declared by the Plenipotentiaries themselves to be preferable to the other proposal, to which other proposal they had formerly given their assent. If you refer to page 11 of Papers No. 15, you will see that at a meeting of the Plenipotentiaries on the 17th of April, it was determined that this course should be adopted in the conferences; that they should propose to Russia, first of all, the strict limitation desired by England and France; next, the plan which some time afterwards became the second Austrian proposal; and, lastly, the plan which very shortly afterwards became the first Austrian proposal. Now these plans were at that time arranged in the order in which they were considered to stand upon their respective merits; and, therefore, the proposition of counterpoise and limitation received the sanction of the four Plenipotentiaries even in a higher degree than the project of counterpoise alone. Yet that plan, when brought before Her Majesty's Government, nay, even before it was regularly submitted to them, was summarily rejected, and the members of the conference, when they met on the 4th of June, were not even allowed to discuss it.
And now let me advert for a moment to the argument that you cannot trust to a limitation which is effected by ft collateral agreement. Why cannot you trust to such 1805 a limitation? Because, you say, there were certain engagements of this class collaterally introduced into the Treaty of Vienna, of which Russia, with the other Northern Powers, considered the insertion in the treaty as only having the effect of a record or registration. Well, what could be easier than for us to provide that the incorporation of such an instrument should not be a mere registration, but should render it, as, indeed, the Austrian proposal in distinct words declared, an integral part of the treaty? First of all, then, we have rejected the opportunity of making peace upon the first Austrian proposal, because we thought the difference between counterpoise and limitation so great, that while we might accept limitation, we could not accept counterpoise; and next, when we had the offer of counterpoise and limitation combined before us, the limitation, however, being reduced to a form that saved the honour of Russia without of necessity raising any difficulty on our side as to its mere degree, we absolutely refused that proposal. Therefore, I say that my right hon. Friend is entirely wrong, and that his speech will altogether mislead the House if it induces it to infer that—wretched as we should consider such a plea by way of justification of the war—the object for which this contest is prolonged is the maintenance, with reference to the forces of Russia to the Euxine, of limitation as against counterpoise.
Again, Sir, in another point, and another point, too, which I hold to be of capital importance, my right hon. Friend's narrative absolutely demands explanation, because he gives us to understand that we could in no case have secured the military aid of Austria. I am sorry to say the great confusion in which the history of these transactions is presented to us—it may be from the fault of nobody, but probably from the necessity of the case, owing to the number of the parties concerned, and the way in which the communications have been carried on in different places at the same time—has obviously quite bewildered and deceived even my right hon. Friend; for I can show you that Austria did give you an absolute pledge, in a certain event which it was placed within your power to bring about, that she would go to war. I here state that boldly and broadly, and I challenge contradiction, of which I know perfectly well the case does not admit. The facts 1806 were these. Austria made two proposals. The first of them having been rejected by the British Government, at the commencement, namely, of the month of May, the question of Austria's going to war in regard to it never could arise, because that result was made to depend on refusals by Russia only. Austria then brought forward another proposal in the conference, after her first one had been rejected by the Western Powers; and my right hon. Friend leaves it to be supposed that when she made that second proposal she distinctly intimated that she would not go to war if Russia refused to accept it. That is the case of my right hon. Friend; and it is the truth, but not the whole truth. I admit it; she made the first proposal in April, and the case of her going to war did not arise. She made, that is, she made formally and finally, her second proposal in June, and she said she would not go to war if Russia refused it. But this is not all; my right hon. Friend has omitted from his view that upon which the whole merit of the question turns, and that which is now proved beyond the possibility of doubt—namely, that in the interval between these two proceedings a communication came from Austria which involved a junction of the two proposals, upon the collective rejection of which she was prepared to go to war. Austria did not offer to go to war for either proposal singly; but she said this:—"Let us propose to Russia these two plans jointly, and if she rejects them both we will then draw the sword." (Lord J. RUSSELL: Hear, hear!) My right hon. Friend, indeed, made a faint allusion to this part of the Austrian communications, and said it was made after the decision had been taken by Her Majesty's Government. After what decision? Why, after the decision to reject the first Austrian proposal, but before the conference at which the second proposal of the same Power was rejected. Before that conference, and therefore while everything was still open, Her Majesty's Government received from Austria the communication from which I shall read a very brief extract; and, with this document in their hands, they sent fresh orders to the conference, or allowed orders previously sent to operate there, which absolutely closed the door against a settlement. The passage which I shall quote has already been referred to by my hon. Friend (Mr. Laing), but as it is of such deep importance in this controversy, and as the 1807 matter has really been so much obscured by the inadequate and misleading statement of details which has been made by my right hon. Friend, himself, as I have shown, misled, I may be forgiven if I read a few lines from it to the House. The words in question are contained in a letter from Count Buol to Count Colloredo. My right hon. Friend said something about the want of direct communication with our Government on the part of Austria. I trust that he does not intend to take his ground upon that distinction. The distinction between limitation and counterpoise is, I think, narrow enough as a ground for war. I hope we shall not add to it some other distinction between a direct communication from Austria, and a communication through Count Colloredo, the Minister of Austria. This letter, which I shall now quote, was addressed by Count Buol to Count Colloredo, and was communicated by the latter directly to Lord Clarendon. In his hands it was left on the part of the Austrian Government, whose entire authority it therefore carried, and upon whom its contents were thus absolutely binding. The words are these:—As to the third principle, we have proposed to our allies, at the same time binding ourselves in case of need to support it by force of arms, a solution which it is our firm conviction would be effectual, complete, and agreeable, to European interests.Something has been said about these words referring to a casus belli occurring hereafter if Russia increased her fleet beyond her strength in 1853. The paragraph which follows entirely disposes of such a construction, for it at least indisputably applies not to any contingency to arise hereafter, but to an immediate participation in the war now raging;—If Russia, being placed in a position to agree to one or other of these proposals of the ultimatum, had rejected both of them, we should then have had proof that she will decidedly not give her assistance to the complete realisation of the third guarantee, in so far as its object is to put an end to Russian preponderance in the Black Sea. It being impossible, therefore, to do else than consider as exhausted the means of conciliation for bringing about such a peace as the interests of Europe, and our own in particular, require, the Emperor, our august master, decided to have recourse to arms as a means of obtaining this peace.[Mr. WILKINSON: What is the date of that document?] It is dated Vienna May, 20. We do not know the precise date at which it was communicated to 1808 Lord Clarendon, but it is clear it must have been before the 2nd of June, for on that day Lord Clarendon writes to Lord Westmorland on the subject of it; and it was not till the 4th of that month that the second proposal itself was formally submitted to the conference, and the door closed upon negotiation by the direction of the Government of England, acting, I presume, in conjunction with that of France. Therefore, having the promise of Austria to make a double proposal to Russia, involving two alternatives—the one counterpoise alone, and the other counterpoise with limitation by collateral agreement; and having also her promise to go to war in the event of the rejection of both proposals, the Government refused to agree to that suggestion of Austria, and determined in preference on the continuation of the war; and while I am speaking, my right hon. Friend (Sir J. Graham), reminds me that this very idea of proposing a plurality of plans to Russia, and making the alternative of war depend on the rejection of the whole—an idea evidently conceived in a pacific spirit—owes its origin, so far as we are aware, to the noble Lord the Member for London, who closed his letter on the 18th of April with words to this effect—that if Her Majesty's Government decided on accepting any one of the three proposals made at the conference, he thought they ought to insist upon Austria making the rejection of all three by Russia a casus belli. So much then. Sir, for the plans of accommodation which we have refused. And I must confess that I can hardly express my feelings when I consider that we are making war, and that, too, a gigantic war, on account of such paltry differences as those which can alone be even colourably alleged between what was proposed to us and what we had ourselves proposed.
No doubt, there is in this country a strong war party, and a strong feeling in favour of the prosecution of the war, but neither the party nor the feeling is that to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State belongs. There are persons entertaining more extended views; they have feelings of far greater exasperation, requiring much more to allay them; they look to European changes; they look to revolutionary struggles; they look to effecting what they consider to be progress—and true progress by pacific means we all desire to see accomplished—they look to effecting progress, in the sense of their 1809 opinions, by means of the sword; others, without proceeding to such lengths, have vague, and as I think somewhat visionary views, of humbling our enemy: but there are, I may venture to say, none that look for limitation instead of counterpoise, or that consider such a difficulty as that (which difficulty, however, we are no longer entitled to say exists), in the arrangement of terms of peace to constitute a justification for the continuance of the war. I recollect, indeed, that my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Lowe) has expressed a good opinion of limitation—he has even made a Motion in this House upon it. Does he recollect the fate of that Motion? How many persons adopted that doctrine of limitation, a limitation which was to be the hinge of peace and war? I doubt whether the Government would find upon a vote ten adherents in this House to the particular view which they have adopted, and yet it is for that view that we are at war. But my right hon. Friend says, and says truly, limitation was a proposal which we, who belonged to the Cabinet in February, were bound to make to Russia. We had agreed to it, as a proposal to be made, as a condition we were desirous to obtain, but we had not agreed to it as an ultimatum; we had not agreed to make, and it appears tonight that my right hon. Friend will not now bind himself to make this condition of limitation the hinge of peace or war.
I must, however, Sir, press it upon the House that, if we confine ourselves to considering the details of these proceedings, however clear and however strong our views and convictions may be, we do injustice to them. There is a deeper question at issue than the particular conditions offered and refused, or than the difference between those particular conditions. How are the aggressive tendencies of Russia to be effectually restrained? What is the war into which we have plunged? It is a war in defence of Turkey. How is Turkey to be effectually defended? Sir, in my opinion, having obtained the great and essential objects—the abolition of Russian rights over the Principalities, and the destruction of Russian claims upon the Greek Christians of the Ottoman empire—I do not hesitate to say the best plan will be, not that which looks best upon paper—not even that which in the abstract may have the best claim to our approval, but that which will command the united support of Europe. It is to the support of Europe 1810 that we must look, if we are to think of restraining Russia. Great as is the power of England and France, I defy you for any length of time to fight effectually against the fixed law of nature and course of events. You cannot by the efforts of the two Western Powers control the paramount laws which must determine from age to age the destinies of Russia. You may, by gigantic and unheard of efforts, succeed for a moment—I grant that, although when I consider all that it involves, I cannot regard even that as free from doubt—in effecting your purpose, but your success will be bought at a fearful price, and it will be the success of a moment only. It is impossible to contemplate as a normal state of things that union and identification of the whole West, which is the first condition of such success; but, even if that could be relied on, the thing itself is impossible to be done. As Mr. Burke said, when discussing the chimerical proposition of representation for the American colonies, "You have the ocean with its 3,000 miles against you;" opposuit natura. So now we have, if not the great Atlantic, yet 3,000 miles of sea against us. There is but one way of maintaining permanently what I may presume to call the great international policy and law of Europe—but one way of keeping within bounds any one of the Powers possessed of such strength as France, England, or Russia, if it be bent on an aggressive policy, and that is, by maintaining not so much great fleets, or other domonstrations of physical force, which I believe to be really an insignificant part of the case, but the moral union—the effective concord of Europe. Now, what course has been pursued here? We are told that Russia is a Power from whom we are not to expect the observance of treaties—you cannot trust to her good faith. We are not told that from an un-authoritative source, for Her Majesty's Government on a former night put up their Attorney General, who expended his unsurpassed ingenuity in a detailed demonstration, amidst the cheers of this House, that it is impossible to bind Russia by treaties. Now, Sir, I am not about to claim any peculiar sanctity or purity for the policy of Russia—I am not ready to assert that for our own policy—especially I am not prepared to claim it for our policy such as it has too commonly been in the East—still less, or at any rate quite as little am I prepared to assert it for Russia. I am ready—if this really be the opinion of 1811 Her Majesty's Government, that the observance of plighted faith is not to be expected from Russia—to accept that doctrine. I have myself recently heard that there is at St. Petersburg a considerable party of persons who hold language such as this: "What folly in our Government not to have accepted the terms offered by the allies; they should have acceded to any plan—peace would have been made, the vicissitudes of politics would shortly have separated England and France, and then we could have set at nought the stipulations of the treaty." I am told that there is a party which holds that doctrine, but, on the other hand, I am also told that there are people in Russia, as in other countries, who look upon that doctrine as the height of villany, and who desire that no peace should be made which involves dishonour to their country. I am about to show, however, the glaring contrariety of the course pursued by the Government with the arguments they employ. They say through the Attorney General, "We cannot trust Russia in regard to the observance of any terms;" but, if we cannot trust her, what, is the alternative? What should we do? Why, we ought certainly not to rely on wretched stipulations, which we ourselves declare to be worthless for the purpose of binding her, but rely upon the maintenance of that union—that combination of the moral and the material strength of Europe—which you found available for the purpose two years ago, and which, but for your own acts, might be available to you hereafter. If you cannot trust to treaties, trust to something independent of and more trustworthy than treaties; trust to the enlightened sense of the general interest in the peace of Europe, for it is by that union and that common sentiment alone that Russia, or that any Power of the first order, can be permanently coerced. But, no, the Government have indeed declared treaties to be worthless; and yet, for the sake of a stipulation in a treaty which nobody outside the Cabinet thinks worth anything, which even the Secretary of State tells us is not a sine quâ non, and which the Attorney General proves to us Russia will not observe—yet, for the sake of it, they will dissolve the combination of Europe; they will break the last link which unites us to Germany; they will reduce us to a state of comparative isolation; they will turn the favourable current of European opinion, and, madly pressing on the conflict, 1812 which they are now doing all in their power to render desperate, they reject the golden opportunity which the mercy of Providence has placed in our way to enable us to restore peace to Europe.
Now, Sir, with respect to the great Powers of Austria and Russia, I confess I am not among those who are apt to sympathise with Russian or Austrian views on the mode of managing the domestic affairs of the States of Europe. I have but little name in the Courts of Vienna and St. Petersburg, but that little is, I fear, a bad one; for I am not supposed to admire the policy which those Powers, if they do not practise it themselves, have been, I think, too apt to countenance and support in other quarters. But that is not the question now before us. We have now to consider what our position relatively to Austria was and is. What was it? It has been idly said that we reaped no advantage from the Austrian alliance. I reply, we had various and great advantages. Austria neutralised the action of 300,000 Russian troops, of whom the first fruits are now finding their way to the plains of the Crimea, and who will soon be, if they are not already, among the ranks of our adversaries. Again, as long as we had the Austrian alliance, her occupation of the Principalities had quite a different character to that which it now bears. I cannot regard that or any foreign occupation as being in itself otherwise than a serious evil. I have often been astonished during the course of this controversy, when the occupation of the Principalities—first by Russia, and then by Austria—has been discussed, month after month, day after day, entirely as a question of the payment of some 40,000l. a year to Turkey, or as a violation of her rights as suzerain of the country, but never in reference to the happiness, the well-being, the freedom, or the peace of the millions of inhabitants of those Principalities. The occupation of the Principalities by Austria was, however, useful for the primary purposes of the war. You endured it, because she formed a barrier against Russia in that quarter. I do not know now against whom she forms a barrier, or whether she will hereafter practically occupy the Principalities more for us than against us. Well, Sir, these things have changed in regard to Austria, and I must say I look on the change that has been brought about as most serious with regard to the occupation of the Principalities. I 1813 think it still more serious in another point of view. After the feeble policy of Prussia, it was on the support of Austria alone you could rely to keep up anything like the character of an European combination—that character which entitled us to use the lofty language that Lord Clarendon not unbecomingly employed in the autumn, when he declined to dispute the case with Russia as between parties standing in the view of the world on a level with each other. He said, and he was entitled to say, that Europe had pronounced on the respective positions of the parties. I am doubtful whether he can now renew that lofty claim to represent Europe in the quarrel, or to act under her sanction. And I am afraid that we shall not find the change in our relative positions stop there. I think, after the refusal which Austria has received from us to her proposals, and after she has been told, as I see it stated is the case, that the Russian Government was ready to accept her most recent proposition, we must look to a gradual widening of the interval which now separates us from that Power; and it is not a little remarkable, if the common sources of information may be trusted, that, following immediately upon the diplomatic rupture, we find Austria first stripping her Polish and Russian frontier of troops, and diminishing her army on that side of the Alps, while at the same moment we hear that she is strengthening her garrisons in Italy. These are, indeed, circumstances full of meaning; and they are circumstances of which we begin to feel the magnitude and the weight when we recollect all the special pleading we have bestowed on the differences between counterpoise and limitation.
However, Sir, it is quite true that we still retain certain allies. First of all, Turkey is our ally. Is that alliance really an addition of strength? I have been reproached for having used at a former time disparaging language in respect to Turkey. If my object had been to disparage Turkey I could have said much more; and could have referred to the history of former periods, and to the part which the Turkish race had played, and the relations it had borne to Christendom. But my object was very different: it was the simple fulfilment of what I thought an imperative duty. Seeing that we were coming nearer and nearer to the likelihood of war, I was desirous, in the little I ever said on this subject, that that little should tend not to blind, but to open the eyes of the people 1814 of England, and to give them to understand what calculations it was reasonable they should make, and what reliance they could justly place on the strength and resources of Turkey to aid them in the war, It appears to me that our alliance with Turkey may be one of a similar character to that mentioned in ancient story of the land that the Ottoman Power now rules. When Æneas escaped from the flames of Troy he had an ally. That ally was his father, Anchises; and the part which Æneas performed in the alliance was to carry his ally upon his back. He addressed his parent in these appropriate words:—Ergo age, care pater, cervici imponere nostræ; Ipse subibo humeris, nec me labor iste gravabit.I commend these words, and the meaning of these words, to Her Majesty's Government, and especially to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for he is the particular Minister to whom, I think, will belong the duty and honour which these words may imply. And, Sir, if unhappily this result shall ensue, it will be from no want of honesty on the part of Turkey, but from the fact that her Mahomedan institutions are decrepit; that the youthful and vigorous elements of European Turkey are underneath, and that the antiquated and worn-out elements of society there are situated above those which are intrinsically more fit to rule. And is it not the fact that she wants, in a great degree, the ordinary organisation and machinery of government? Is it not the fact that, in order to raise her revenues in ordinary times, Turkey has to trust, in a great degree, in many of her provinces, to the agency of military force, which of course is now coucentrated and absorbed in the camps which she has formed for the purposes of the war against Russia? Her revenues, therefore, cannot be fully raised: and the habit of not paying taxes, I need hardly say, is both one which forms itself with great facility, and one which when once formed is extremely difficult to uproot. But, with regard to our ally Turkey, I am bound to say that in my belief the greatest of all the manifold dangers of this war is, that the prolongation of it must bring about the very evils which we undertook the war in order to avert. There is no plan that the Emperor of Russia could have devised so sure and effectual for his purpose of exhausting Turkey and leaving her an easy prey for the first convenient opportunity, as the plan which, though you have not devised it, you are now, it would 1815 seem, prepared to act upon—namely, that of an indefinite prolongation of the war without objects either clear or adequate. Every month, every week, and every day for which you continue the war makes more intense, more obvious, and less capable of remedy, the decrepitude and exhaustion of Turkey. I am not now about to discuss afresh the merits of the Turkish loan, but I protest on my own behalf, and I am certain I may add on behalf of my right hon. Friends near me, that the reasons which led us to go the length of recording our votes in opposition to it were not pecuniary and financial, but were strictly political reasons, had reference to the very alliances you sought to promote, and, above all, to our anxiety lest we should forfeit the attainment of the objects of this war. The very principle of guaranteeing money to Turkey is fatal, inasmuch as it creates in her a state of political dependence. You have gone to war to secure the integrity and independence of the Turkish empire, and then, in order, forsooth, to prosecute the war, you induce Parliament to pass a measure which will leave Turkey in the position of a slave. If we want a fair test of the political effects of this guarantee, let us ask ourselves what we should have thought if the arrangements we have just made had, under different circumstances, been concluded between Russia and Turkey—if Russia had been guaranteeing to Turkey, with many kind words, a loan of 5,000,000l.? I venture to say that such an arrangement and its accompanying mortgages would have furnished ground for a fifth point at Vienna; that we should have declared it to be totally inconsistent with the independence of Turkey, under her peculiar circumstances, that her loans should be raised under the guarantee of a great European Power.
So much for Turkey, and now with respect to Sardinia. I, for one, have the highest opinion of the honour and intelligence of that country and of its Government. Though the pressure on her finances is severe, she has gallantly borne up against it, and she has made every financial exertion becoming a nation in the highest state of civilisation. She has maintained a just balance, though with difficulty, between her revenue and her expenditure; but it is impossible to suppose that she can contribute in any sensible proportion to such gigantic burdens as this war will entail. Moreover, I must confess I begin to feel 1816 some compunction with respect to Sardinia. The invitation we gave to her to join us might be right or wrong; but it was bonâ fide presented by us under the belief that she was to be one in an European combination, representing the united sentiment of Europe; and now, having got her into that combination, we immediately proceed to change its character, and render it no longer a comprehensive European combination, but an isolated alliance only of certain Powers among themselves. I confess, Sir, that I am not without apprehension that we may be found to have incurred a deep responsibility with respect to Sardinia if, in carrying on this war beyond its original and proper purposes, we make her an adjunct merely in promoting a French and English policy.
And now further, with respect to France itself, is there any doubt of the tendency and leanings of the great and gallant people of France in reference to this war? I believe the French people did originally appreciate the objects of the war, and were ready to make all reasonable sacrifices for those objects; but I protest utterly against the construction put by some writers on the great operations we have seen recently taking place in reference to the loans which have been raised in France for the purposes of the war. In my opinion nothing is more groundless than to connect the avidity with which great sums have been subscribed with any general enthusiasm, or with any enthusiasm whatever, for the pursuit of this war. If you ask for an explanation of the facts, I am quite sure that any gentleman connected with the City of London could at once afford it. The phenomenon is of the very simplest and most ordinary kind. The rate of interest offered by the French Government and the terms of subscription were so high, and so peculiarly favourable for all persons having money to invest, that this investment competed advantageously with every other kind of investment. But let us look to the other side of the question, and consider the position of the debtor, that is to say, of the State and people of France. Hardly any one with whom I have had the opportunity of speaking appears to have realised what has taken place. In sixteen short months of war, France has added to her public debt, speaking in round numbers, 100,000,000l. sterling. She has offered to the creditor very nearly 5 per cent interest in sheer interest, besides an immense bonus, which, on the 1817 return of peace, he will obtain by the improvement of the capital value of his stock. It is pretty obvious that the French people are not likely to go on adding 100,000,000l. to their public debt once in every sixteen months, either for the objects of a remote and purely general policy, or for any such differences, did they still exist, as the difference between counterpoise and limitation. If you want to be intelligible to the masses in France you must use other language, language such as associates itself with the former glories and military traditions of the country. Depend on it, there is danger and apprehension in that quarter, connected with the prosecution of your present policy; and those who are wise and earnest in a desire to promote the French alliance, not as an occasional, but as a stable and permanent connection, will be of opinion that it would be best promoted by the acceptance of such terms as those to which I have referred.
Again, Sir, it is said, that the great efforts which are now being made by Russia must be intolerable to her. But, for one, I am not prepared to rely on the broken reed of mere speculation in this country as to the probable financial exhaustion of Russia. The noble Lord at the head of the Government told us on a recent occasion, that the expenses of Russia in this war amounted to 30,000,000l. per annum. I do not know what means my noble Friend possessed of forming a judgment on that point. It is not easy to understand how Russia can spend an excess of 30,000,000l. sterling over her peace establishment upon her armies only, and within her own territory. But even if she does spend 30,000,000l. to match the 100,000,000l. spent by the Powers allied against her, I will not venture to rely on that. I must, indeed, admit that at the present time I find it difficult to obtain information with respect to Russia. I believed, until within the last few months, that we had a Press in this country free, not only legally but morally, and long habituated fearlessly to discuss everything, and to trust to the strength of truth and right to give the victory; but I do not now know where to look in the English papers for Russian documents, such as Count Nesselrode's note of the 4th of June to the Austrian Government, communicating, as it seems, satisfaction at the Austrian occupation of the Principalities, and readiness to respect it. I believe that document has not been published in any English news- 1818 papers. But do not let us build upon any such precarious and uninformed calculations with respect to Russia. As far as known facts go, we have no right to reckon upon Russian exhaustion. There are certain tests which are partial, but are sound and trustworthy as far as they go; look to the state of the exchanges, are they vitally affected? Is the price of commodities imported from abroad materially raised? or is the price received for exports at the place of exportation greatly reduced? Of course I do not refer to corn, because I have no doubt that in many parts of Russia the price of corn must have been immensely reduced; but when we are speaking of Russia with reference to the influences which bear upon her policy, we ought not to speak so much of that vast space which is covered by the territorial designation, as of those portions to which St. Petersburg and Moscow form the central points. Those are the parts which are principally to be regarded as affecting the policy of the Russian Government. I say, then, that you are not in a condition with safety and prudence to speculate upon the exhaustion of Russia as likely to overbear her presumed wishes and resolutions in reference to the prosecution of this war. Then with respect to the spirit and feeling of the Russian people and of the Russian army. I do not speak now of the Russian Government. In the mouths of the Russian Government it may be that the phrases of patriotism and religion are mere cant phrases. But they are not, therefore, of necessity such in the mouths of the Russian people, or even of the Russian army. Let any hon. Gentleman put himself in the place of the Russian soldier, and act upon that rule, so salutary in all controversies whatever, of endeavouring to take a survey of the case from the adversary's point of view. Against whom is he fighting? Against the Turks, against the hereditary enemies of his race, against those whom he is taught to consider the hereditary enemies of his religion; and, finally, and as respects all the allies, against the invaders of his soil. If there are two motives which can act with overpowering might upon the human heart—if there are two incentives which can draw forth out of a man all the power and energy of which he is possessed, are they not these—first, that he is fighting against the enemy of his religion; and, secondly, that he is defending his own soil; and are not these the very motives which the Russian soldiery 1819 and people have at present to work upon them? Let me here relate to the House an anecdote which has lately reached me—I think, on good authority. It illustrates the spirit which the Russian Government is enabled to infuse into its army, and it illustrates also, on the other side, with tremendous force, all that we have been told of the losses which have been sustained by the Russian army in this war. The House will at once see from its impartial bearings that this is not a concocted anecdote, but that it bears upon it the internal evidences of veracity. A corps of 40,000 men—I cannot name the corps—arrived at Perekop on their way to the Russian camp in the Crimea; the case was urgent, and the men were desired to march onwards to their destination at the rate of thirty versts a-day—which the House will see is a forced march, somewhat under twenty miles a-day. The men said, "Do not impose upon us any fixed distance; let us march as far as we can." They reached the Russian camp—a distance of 120 miles—in the course of four days, but they lost on the way 10,000 men. They left Perekop 40,000 strong: only 30,000 men reached the camp. This tends to confirm, you will justly say, all we have been told of the enormous numbers which have perished in the Russian army during this war, and you will tell me that it is impossible for any country long to withstand such a drain; but is there not another aspect under which we ought also to regard this anecdote? What must be the spirit of that soldiery, what its power of passive endurance, its devotion to the will of the Emperor, and what the strength of its sentiments of patriotism and religion, when the zeal of the men outruns the orders of the commanders, and when they are ready to make efforts such as those, even though with reason to anticipate too surely that in the short space of four days, without a hand being lifted against them, one man out of every four will have fallen? I see that an hon. Gentleman smiles, but I confess it appears to me that such a fact as this is full of meaning with reference to the more remote prospects of this war. Again, have you noticed what took place in Sebastopol on the 20th of June? This, I am glad to say, we know through the medium of our own papers. It is a Russian account, but it comes round to us through the Ost-Deutsch-Post, and has been copied into some English journals. 1820On the 20th the burial of the dead was continued, but towards evening the flag of truce was removed and the bombardment recommended; but much more feebly than before. The same day a Te Deum was sung in the church of St. Valdimir in celebration of our happy success, and the soldiers who attended wore the same clothes which they had worn in the struggle, and not a single coat was to be seen there which was not dyed with blood. In the evening the whole garrison of Sebastopol received the Sacrament. Osten Sacken with his staff received it first, and the rest of the troops in succession.You may say that this is fanaticism, but at any rate it is not hypocrisy; or, even if I must suppose it to be hypocrisy in those who lead, it is not such in those who follow. It is a sign of that character, partly passive, but capable of being roused by circumstances to a high and persevering activity, which has enabled Russia to occupy so prominent a position in the affairs of the world, which will never, I am convinced, enable her to become formidable to you so long as your cause is just, but which it must be worth your while to consider when you begin to doubt of its justice. So much for the position of Russia with regard to this war.
And now, Sir, before I sit down, I am bound to express my deep gratitude to the House for the patience with which it has heard me. When I reflect that my right hon. Friends and myself, who were parties to the deliberate decision to enter into this war, at the very moment we come to a clear conviction that it ought no longer to be pursued, are allowed to express Ourselves with entire freedom, and to utter the strongest sentiments against the policy we thus condemn, I must say I never knew a more conspicuous instance of the length to which freedom of speech is not only in theory but in practice given and exercised in this glorious country. We cannot, indeed, under such circumstances, follow the dictates of our consciences without suspicion, without taunts, or without sneers. These things are to be expected, I do not for a moment murmur at them; and I fully admit that if Her Majesty's Government had accepted the proposals recommended by my noble Friend the Member for London, they would have paid the forfeiture of place and power. They would have also paid a heavier forfeit; they would have been pelted by the storm of abuse, and they would have suffered under what is harder to bear—a storm of ridicule. We know something of what these things are, but they would have had to bear them all in a greater degree, in proportion to the 1821 greater importance of the service they would then have rendered to their country. I do not complain of these things; I admit, that to a large portion of the community it must be irritating and exasperating to see those who were among the original counsellors of the war now endeavouring, and endeavouring strenuously as I hope, to bring it to an end. I am doubly thankful, therefore, to this House for the free permission it has given me to express with earnestness and even vehemence all I feel on this important, nay, absorbing subject. The House will feel that if we are wrong our responsibility is great indeed; but we have had no choice; with our convictions, we, above all, are bound to endeavour to draw the country forth from this great struggle on the earliest occasion when we think it can be done with honour. I am not ashamed to say that I remain of my original opinion as to the justice of this war at its commencement. There are Gentlemen who sit near me who think differently from me in that respect, and who, I believe, nay, I hope—for the supposition I am making is only in harmony with the high spirit and principle they have shown, and the consistent part they have acted from the first—were ready to have censured us for entering into it. Between us and them, therefore, there can be no suspicion of conspiracy or combination. I differ from them in this—I think we had cause to go into this war, while I admit the difficulties of the question. I think that it was not only a just and necessary war with reference to its immediate occasion, but that probably, from deeply-seated causes of a more general character, it could not long have been avoided—that, in short, it had become absolutely necessary to cut the meshes of the net in which Russia had entangled Turkey. At the same time, the war, into which I reluctantly but deliberately agreed to enter, was a war, the objects of which I can define; they are to be found in the Four Points. It was a war carried on by an united people in the name and on behalf of Europe, into which we entered, backed by a European combination and by the authority of what I may presume almost to term European law. It was a war which we undertook, not only joined in actual operations with France, but with Austria and Prussia (backward though the latter has shown herself, now for the last twelvemonths and more,) linked in a treaty with us to resist Russia by force of their united 1822 arms, in case of certain events occurring, which were then well known to be both probable and near. That was the nature of the war into which we went, and it was perfectly obvious, from the nature of that war, that certain general rules were applicable to it, to which we ought to endeavour at least to conform. No doubt, the man who advises his Sovereign to go to war cannot possibly give security for an escape at any given time from the struggle which he begins; but the very nature of this war showed that, if possible, it ought to be short. Every war, the prosecution of which depends on alliances, ought to be a short war—that is, every effort should be used to make it short, and its objects should not be such as are certain to make it long. It was not a distrust of France, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would seem to think, which probably led my hon. Friend near me (Mr. Laing) to anticipate danger to the French alliance from a continuance of the war. It was because it is the very nature of a war, when prolonged, from its vicissitudes, from the sacrifices it requires, from the collisions of interest and feeling it entails, to endanger alliances; and every war, therefore, which is to be carried on by alliances, ought to be short, sharp, and decisive. I may be told that this war has not been a short, sharp, and decisive war. My answer is that our war was a war for the Four Points. You may condemn them if you think fit. I am not now defending them; I am speaking of what is historical—not of my own opinion of what ought to have been, but of what, as indisputable and familiar records tell you, actually was. It was a war for certain objects, defined in what are called the Four Points, or bases. Those objects have been, in our judgment, attained; and they having been attained, although the Government, or the Parliament, or the country, whichever of them it may prove to have been, may not have chosen to avail themselves of the offers which have been made, is it inconsistency in us, with our views, to say that the war ought to be brought to a close? Would it not, on the contrary, have been the most contemptible effeminacy of character if a man in my position, who feels that he has been instrumental in bringing his country into this struggle, were to hesitate a single moment when he was firmly and fully convinced in his own mind that the time had arrived when she might with honour pass forth from it? That was the war into 1823 which we entered; what the war is in which we are now engaged I do not profess to know. I hare not the remotest idea, nor, as I believe, has any other person, what may be the policy of the Government. I hope they have a policy. When we began the war we were called on to explain its objects, but the objects of the war which is now being carried on are entirely unexplained. If I refer to the speech of my right hon. Friend I should draw one conclusion; if I turned to the speech of other Members of the Government I might draw other conclusions. What was the upshot of the speech of the Attorney General? What the upshot of that of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland? Something totally different from any admitted object of the war. Austria has recently declared in the most solemn language, that if ever she renews negotiations it shall be for the purpose of giving effect to the four well-known guarantees. Austria uses these words—We shall await, in a firm attitude, the progress of events and the propitious moment for renewing the negotiations for peace, to which, when that moment arrives, we shall on our part only agree with the irrevocable resolution of making them tend to the faithful, effectual, and complete realisation of the four guarantees.That is the declaration of Austria. The declaration of England, as found in the language of Lord Clarendon in answer to Lord Lyndhurst, is as follows—On the other hand, we have announced—I am still answering the inquiry of my noble and learned Friend—that, as the four bases were to be maintained in their entirety, and that as the third basis has been rejected and the responsibility of breaking up the negotiations at Vienna does not rest upon us, but upon Russia, we consider ourselves entirely disengaged from those bases.The effect of that disengagement is, that the House of Commons remains in a state of total ignorance as to the scope and object of this war. I have spoken of the wide scope and visionary objects of the war that some persons desire. I am bound to say I do not believe that Her Majesty's Government would be inclined, or even if they were inclined, that they would venture knowingly to plunge us into such a war as that; but I say that so long as you continue a gigantic war of this kind for small and inadequate, or for unexplained and indefinite purposes, you run a risk, besides the other monstrous evils to which I have alluded, of having every moment new objects forced upon you—objects of 1824 which you now disapprove—objects which would entirely change the character of the war, but which you may hereafter have forced upon you, owing possibly to some mysterious circumstances, such as those to which we know that you ascribe your having once, or rather twice, already given way. Perhaps I shall be told, "What are we to do? Can we leave the siege of Sebastopol?" I fully admit that a little more than three months ago you had an opportunity which you are not likely to have again. If you do not avail yourselves of these golden opportunities when they come, you who are not the masters of events, cannot command their recurrence. Your position now is by far less favourable than it was then. As to the political attitude of the Powers of Europe, the deterioration is palpable. As to the course of the war, you are already considering what are to be the military operations of 1856. Three months have elapsed since that date, but those three months have, I fear, been for military purposes almost a year. You have achieved two military triumphs, but they seem to have been more barren of results than most of us, than I for one certainly, as to the Sea of Azoff, had hoped. On the other hand, you have suffered, and, for the first time in the course of this war, a serious military reverse. [Cries of "No, no!"] Perhaps my language may be too strong. If I may be allowed to substitute other words which will equally answer my purpose, you have for the first time failed in an important military operation. ["No, no!"] Well, I will not continue a controversy upon words; but I want to know whether honourable Gentlemen have really asked themselves what is the object for which we are contending. It is a miserable thing, instead of making war for justice, to be waiters upon success. But let that for a moment pass. Let us suppose that there is no possibility of failure, and that everything is to happen as you would have it. When you have got Sebastopol, what are you to do with it? Are you sure that the possession of it, as matters now stand, will either practically improve our own position, or practically damage the position of our adversary? I recollect one instance in which a great Minister of this country prolonged negotiations—deliberately prolonged them—with a view to the success of a military operation. It was the case in which Lord Chatham prolonged or postponed the negotiations which ultimately 1825 led to the peace of Paris, in order to render himself master of Belleisle. But his object was distinct; he wished to have Belleisle in order that he might give it back in exchange for Minorca. In this case there was no such reason, no such plea. Now, we say that you ought to have receded three months ago from before Sebastopol, on the ground that you had obtained the political objects of the war, and, that as the military operations are only a means for the attainment of the political objects, they should then have ceased. On the contrary, it seems, at least of late, to have been considered by every one out of the Cabinet, though it was so considered by no one in the Cabinet, that the capture of Sebastopol was the great object of the war—that it ought to be pursued at all costs, that it was an end in itself, a kind of principle, of duty and honour, to persevere under all circumstances with that most memorable siege. We protested against the doctrine, and protest against it still. I say that the doctrine that you never ought to forego the accomplishment of a great military operation when the practical objects have been attained, lest you should incur military odium, is both a novel and a retrogressive doctrine—a doctrine which will not carry you forward and onward to the furtherance of civilisation, but backward towards a state of savagary and barbarism. Such are the feelings and convictions I entertain. I thank the House again for the extraordinary indulgence with which they have heard me on this as on former occasions. It is the future only that can decide between us and those from whom we so widely differ. I hope, however, for the sake of mankind at large—for the sake at least of Christendom—that the time is near at hand which will bring to a definitive issue this great and momentous question. For the present, deeply grateful for the indulgence and freedom of speech which have been accorded me, I remain content in the belief that in endeavouring to recall the Government from that course of policy which they are now pursuing I am following the course which is most conformable to the obligations of a true patriot, a faithful representative of the people, and a loyal subject of the Queen.
§ MR. LAYARD
said, that at that late hour he would not long detain the House, especially since it was clear that they had heard nothing that evening which had not been over and over again discussed in that 1826 House. The hon. Gentleman must have been in places where The Times did not reach; for the questions of limitation and counterpoise had been often discussed by the right hon. Gentleman who had that night with so much eloquence and earnestness anew discussed those subjects, and also by other hon. Members. He (Mr. Layard) would not have risen at that late hour but for his desire that what had been said that evening should not go forth to the country and create an unfavourable impression at that moment, when it was most important that it should entertain correct impressions. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Laing) said that he had had opportunities abroad of testing the public opinion of Europe with regard to the war, and he referred to the opinions of persons who were connected with great public enterprises. Undoubtedly, railway contractors and bankers were the most likely persons of all others to look upon war with an unfavourable eye; but the hon. Gentleman said that feeling had been confirmed, in consequence of the knowledge of the opinions entertained on this subject by the noble Lord the Member for London, who being a leading Minister of the Crown, great weight was attached to his opinions; but the hon. Gentleman did not recollect that after the return of the noble Lord to this country he had stated that certain circumstances had changed the opinion which he had entertained at Vienna, and which were in no way connected with the change of opinion in France, and that he had expressed stronger opinions than ever in favour of the war. He (Mr. Layard) wished to say a few words with regard to the other points which had not been touched upon that evening. The House would recollect that on a previous occasion he had protested against the settlement which had been made of the first point in the negotiations at Vienna. As regarded the Principalities, Lord Clarendon, in his instructions to the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) entirely mistook the position of those provinces. They never were actually subject to the Porte: they had princes of their own; and, except in reference to paying tribute, they were independent of the Porte. It was only within this century that Russia had gained any influence in those provinces, and he was bound to say that Russia had used that influence, not for the advantage, but to crush the free institutions and liberty of the Principalities; and Russia could not say that to 1827 her was owing the independence those provinces ever enjoyed. He had personally witnessed the encroachments of Russia in those provinces. In 1848, when some attempt was made to introduce a liberal Government into the Principalities, Russia protested against it, and compelled the Porte to remove those persons who had been engaged in bringing about that change. After Russia they had allowed Austria to occupy the Principalities, as was now admitted, to the great injury of the inhabitants. He wished to call attention, as regarded the Principalities, to the first point of the four which were to be adopted at the Conferences at Vienna. He had already stated that they altogether misunderstood the position of these provinces, and that instead of treating them as semi-independent, they had treated them as completely dependent on the Porte; and not only that, but they had sanctioned the direct interference of Russia, and extended the right of interference to the other contracting parties; and, moreover, Lord John Russell had signed a protocol which would have given Turkey a right to interfere on the demand of Russia, and to expel from the country any one who proposed new laws in accordance with the spirit of the age. This appeared to him trifling with the fortunes of men, for these provinces contained no less than five millions of inhabitants, whom they were handing over, bound hand and foot, to Austria and Russia. Protests had been signed by a great number of the noblemen and gentlemen of the country against this proposed settlement of the first point. The noble Lord said they had no weight because they were signed by persons who were not the legal representatives of the inhabitants; but how could any persons living in the provinces draw up any remonstrance against such a state of things during the Austrian occupation? Only those who were absent from the country and were free to act, could sign the protest. Now, had there been any concession on the part of Russia in this case? None whatever. On the contrary, she had gained, because it was a material thing to her to have the power of interference under the sanction of the other Powers of Europe. With regard to the second point there was not much to be said; they had in that point one concession, of a trifling nature, as to the removal of the Quarantine Station from one of the islands of the Danube to the left bank. But although the Wal- 1828 lachians and Moldavians were directly interested in the navigation of the Danube, which was the exit for their produce, yet they were no parties to the arrangement at Vienna, nor were they to be represented in the commission that was to regulate the navigation of the Danube. The third point, of course, came next in order; but he wished just to say a word with regard to the fourth. On the fourth point had Russia made any concession? None at all. She had no right to any interference with the Christian population. Her right was solely founded on the Treaty of Kainardjie; which merely set forth that the Porte—not Russia—promised to protect the Christian population and its churches. By the fourth point, however, we should have given that right to Russia in common with the other powers. With regard to the third point, he would not enter again into the subject of counterpoise and limitation; but, without entering into the quibbles raised upon those subjects, he believed that the country had made up its mind that the Four Points were not a satisfactory conclusion to the war, and that Government felt that pressure, and acted accordingly. The noble Lord's instructions on proceeding to Vienna dealt specifically with the question of a counterpoise, and stated that it would neither satisfy our reasonable demands, nor afford any hope that the war would be brought to a satisfactory conclusion. Lord Clarendon said in those instructions—It might be brought about by a common agreement that the maritime Powers should maintain in the Black Sea a force adequate to counterbalance the naval forces which Russia has heretofore maintained, and, if uncontrolled, may again hereafter maintain in that sea. But this would be nothing more than an armed truce, liable to be interrupted at every moment by chance collisions, and entailing on the maritime Powers a perpetual expenditure to keep up, at a distance from their arsenals, an efficient force in the Black Sea, while Russia, having her arsenals at hand and her harbours of refuge always open, would be relieved in a great measure from the costs to which the other Powers would be exposed. It may well be doubted whether, after a few years, Great Britain would continue such an expenditure.These instructions were authorised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford, who was then a Member of the Government. [Mr. GLADSTONE made a remark.] Well, he was wrong on that point. The right hon. Gentleman explained that when the noble Lord agreed to go to Vienna he (Mr. Gladstone) had never seen those instructions. 1829 What were those instructions? Lord Clarendon said a counterpoise would be nothing more than an armed truce, entailing on the maritime Powers a perpetual expense. But what did the noble Lord write to Lord Clarendon upon the 10th of April, when the project of counterpoise was first brought forward by the Austrian Government?—I showed that the project of counterpoise was ineffectual, as we could not always have a large fleet at hand; humiliating to Turkey if she were always to lean on France and England; unsafe for Europe, which would be kept in the perpetual ferment of preparation for war. We had, however, examined this plan carefully, in conformity with the desires of Austria, and only gave it up from being convinced of its inadequacy.The noble Lord admitted, therefore, that the system of counterpoise would not effect the object. Lord Clarendon, upon the 16th of April, completely confirmed the views there set forth, and, writing to the noble Lord, he said—I have the satisfaction to inform your Lordships that Her Majesty's Government entirely approve your language in reply to Count Buol, as reported in your despatch of the 10th instant. The opinions of Her Majesty's Government could not have been more faithfully represented, or more ably expressed.And yet they found the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) on the 18th of April proposing to Her Majesty's Government the very plan of counterpoise which he had himself condemned as a totally inadequate termination to the war, and which his instructions forbad him to entertain. He (Mr. Layard) believed that the country was totally dissatisfied with the Four Points, and that the Government, believing that, rejected them altogether. But he did not wish to dwell on that which was past. He had hoped that this evening, before Parliament separated, they should have heard from Government what was to be done, that they should know their position. At that moment they were besieging Sebastopol. Let them suppose it taken or not taken. If it were not taken, was there any better chance of peace? He believed not. Could they expect any better terms than those already offered? Certainly not. This country would never put up with defeat, and a great military Power like France could not put up with anything that amounted to a defeat. But supposing Sebastopol were taken, would they be any nearer to peace? He believed not, and he would refer to some remarkable words on that subject by Count Buol. Count Buol said—Without giving any opinion upon the proba- 1830 bilities of the war, the Austrian Government cannot conceal its apprehension that the greatest successes in the Crimea may not be sufficient to induce Russia to make peace, and that the reverses of Russia may so excite the Russian people as to render peace more difficult of attainment, so that the war may be indefinitely prolonged.And he (Mr. Layard) believed that that would be infallibly the case. Russia might fairly say to us, "You have taken Sebastopol and you wish to impose on us certain conditions which will prevent our again fortifying Sebastopol. If such be the case stay where you are." If such were the case, could we consent to a joint occupation? A joint occupation would be impossible; and if you abandon it altogether, where would be the fruits of all our sacrifices? Could we blockade Sebastopol continually? He believed that to be impossible. Russia would suffer far less by waiting and then by giving up what she conceived her legitimate rights in the Black Sea. Well, it was owing to this indefinite policy, to our not knowing exactly what this war was intended to effect, that the present state of things was owing. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) had justly commented on that subject, and asked what was the end of this war? He (Mr. Layard) asked the same question. Then what was to be done with regard to Austria? They had allowed her to occupy the Principalities. Supposing that she had not occupied the Principalities, the allies might in them have raised 50,000 or 60,000 men—indeed, he believed we might have raised 100,000 men—who, when officered, either from this country or France, would have helped to fight our battles, and would have imbibed a spirit of independence which would have admirably qualified them for, the defence of their country. By the admission of Austria they had been precluded altogether from taking advantage of the national feeling of the Principalities. He had been told in that House that if Austria had not occupied the Principalities, the Turkish Government would have been compelled to keep up a large army there; but the fact was that, by the admission of the Austrians, Russia had been enabled to withdraw her armies from the banks of the Pruth and to send them to the Crimea, which she would not otherwise have been able to do; and if the Turkish troops had occupied the Principalities they would have had this advantage, that they would have been able to harass the enemy beyond the Pruth, and to return to the Principalities under the safeguard of the Austrian troops, 1831 Austria, by the treaty of the 2nd of December, being bound not to permit any Russian troops to cross the Pruth. Consequently Austria would then have been acting to us the part of an ally, and would have been forced into the position which we had all along desired, of taking an active part in the war. Now, however, we were sending to the Crimea Turkish troops to oppose the Russians who had been withdrawn from the Pruth. And then we might have availed ourselves of the Italians. At the last moment we were enabled to do so, but the time had gone by when the Italian troops might have been of essential importance to us. Another result of this indefinite policy was the state of things in Asia Minor. He did not wish to go through the Eastern question. All he wished to show was that the Government had no expansive views on that subject. He did not contemplate throwing English troops on an almost unknown part of Asia, but he would have enabled the Turkish army to succour Kars. At this moment the Turkish army was locked up in Kars, and unless they obtained speedy assistance, they must yield to the Russian army. He did not suppose that the Russian Government would attempt a demonstration against Constantinople, but he believed that they would hold a material guarantee in those provinces. When those provinces were once in the possession of Russia, it would be exceedingly difficult to redeem them. It was very well to talk of pouring troops in, through the forts on the Black Sea coast, but from the nature of the country the Russians could easily close up the few passes which led from the sea coast to the interior. And if Russia had any success in Asia Minor, which she was very likely to have, it was impossible to say what would be the effect of it in our Indian possessions. The effect on Persia would be immediate, and Persia would at once declare for Russia. He could see no hope of Persia even maintaining her neutrality, for Russia would then be in a position to force her to take part against us. He could not help also expressing his anxiety as to the condition of our own army. Although some improvements had taken place under the pressure of public opinion, that was only in particular instances, where great defects and mismanagement had been discovered. He saw no change of principle, and he believed there was a very general discontent among the officers of the army. The manner in which just 1832 claims had been disregarded, while those had been promoted who least deserved it, had caused almost a hopeless feeling amongst them. Within the last few days, we had seen rewards given to those who had really no claim to them, and even the highest honours of the State had been bestowed indiscriminately upon the successful and the unsuccessful in a manner little creditable to those who dispensed them. And what was the result? Why, that, after such a campaign, we could not find one man who was capable of the command, because we did not take care to look for merit and acknowledge it where it existed—no genius had been evoked—we had not yet found one man who had shown himself capable of commanding the army. How different was the case with our enemies. There, if we were rightly informed, the whole defence of Sebastopol was to be attributed to a young man who had been a captain of engineers and had been raised to the position of chief command for his extraordinary ability. Nothing of the kind had been done by us, and there was no symptom of military genius in all our operations in the Crimea. We seemed to be going on from bad to worse—there was no improvement—even in the administration of the army. He could state facts to prove this if it were necessary. In the Kertch expedition, as he was informed, there was great mismanagement quite incredible; he was told that the animals of the land transport were sent in one ship, and their harness in another, and that two days elapsed before both those vessels had arrived, and the army could not have moved many miles into the interior. He said the other night, in asking a question, that upon one occasion, he was informed, the Commissariat was left without funds for nearly a month, and the reason alleged for it was, that a ship with l00,000l. on board of her had broken down and was detained four weeks to be repaired—as though the money might not have been sent on by another ship! One agent of the Government stated that, in consequence of this, bills to the amount of nearly 5,000l. were dishonoured, and that he had to pay the Bashi-bazouks extra, to keep them from pillaging the town, as it was now said they had pillaged some villages of the Dardanelles. Unless some change took place in our management, he could see nothing before us but a repetition of all the disasters of the last campaign. But 1833 if there was any one thing which would make the prospect of peace more remote than ever, it was the course taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford. Such a speech as the House had just heard from him was calculated to destroy almost every hope of peace. Although he (Mr. Gladstone) complained that he was unable to find various documents of the Russian chancery in the English Press, he might find them printed in a paper which the right hon. Gentleman no doubt took in, Le Nord, published at Brussells, the Russian organ in Europe. If he and the other right hon. Gentlemen near him read that paper, they might see there what was the effect of their speeches—that they were looked upon as the advocates of Russia in England. He did not wish to impute to them that they wished to play into the hand of the enemy, or that they were traitors to their own country, but that such was the effect of their speeches could not be doubtful. Now could any speech have been made more calculated to damage our cause, to render peace more difficult, and encourage Russia to persevere and to reject every reasonable proposition, than the speech of the right hon. Gentleman this evening? He (Mr. Layard) believed that no Russian could have made a speech more thoroughly calculated to have that effect, and nothing, could raise the spirits of the Russian soldiers more than the eloquent if not exaggerated picture drawn by the right hon. Gentleman of their courage, endurance, and patriotism. But should not such a statement prove to us the necessity of checking and controlling a power like Russia, if she commanded such implicit obedience on the part of her soldiers, and possessed a million of armed men so devoted to the interests of her Emperor? Were not the allies warranted by such a representation of the Russian system in striving, at any sacrifice, for the attainment of their object? He was astonished to hear the right hon. Gentleman, one of those who had plunged us into this war, now pointing out what he called a disaster and a reverse, and urging us to retire from the contest. Were those the words of an English statesman? Were they the words of an Englishman? Was it thus—because we had suffered what, after all, was only a slight reverse—that we should abandon the national character which it had cost our country centuries of honourable toil, and frequent warfare, to establish? Was the 1834 honour of England nothing to the right hon. Gentleman?—were the words "national honour" expunged from his vocabulary? Surely it was something to which much from us was due. We ought not, for a small failure, to give up a great and glorious cause as if it were hopeless. Why, had not we in the Peninsular war failures ten times greater? And did Wellington throw up the contest then because of those difficulties? They were but episodes in a great war, which ended in a complete success. He (Mr. Layard) believed it would be impossible to make any peace, while the question of Sebastopol remained unsettled; for it was not the character of England only that was at stake—it was a great national question with the military empire of France; and France could not submit to the loss of her military reputation. Some gentlemen said the feeling of the people in France was not in favour of the war—They might think so, if they only chose to go to Paris and converse with the cliques which were opposed to the Government upon every subject as well as upon this. But he believed, on the contrary, that there was in France a much stronger feeling in approbation of the war, as had been shown by the ardour with which, upon two occasions, the whole nation had, as it were, responded to the demand made by their Government, and had subscribed to the national treasury an amount that far exceeded all anticipations. It appeared to him that one of two things must happen; either the people of this country, angry with the mismanagement of the war, would interpose, and compel their Government to conduct it more efficiently; or else they would, hopelessly and utterly disgusted, change their feelings towards the war, and oblige the Government to accept terms inadequate to the sacrifices which they had made, and which ought to be compensated by some results very different from those Four Points. If those Four Points had been accepted he believed it would only have been a short and hollow truce, to be followed by a renewal of war. He would urge it, therefore, upon the Government to carry on the war with all possible vigour, and so to fulfil that trust which the country had, with so much generous confidence, hitherto put in them.
§ MR. COBDEN
It is not my intention to delay the House for more than a few minutes, because I think that, after the able and exhaustive speech of the right 1835 hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford, to do so would be presumption on my part. I have listened to the remarks of the right hon. Member for Aylesbury with that attention with which I always listen to him upon Oriental subjects, as being well acquainted with the affairs of the East; and I suppose it must be from want of reasoning power on my part, but at the end of his speech I was at a loss to conjecture what is the purpose of the hon. Gentleman, what his policy, and how he proposes to carry out his ends—if, indeed, he have any ends in view. But when the hon. Gentleman gets up, having no intelligible policy, and advancing no arguments which we can follow, and speaks in slighting and discourteous terms of the magnificent oration of the right hon. Gentleman near me (Mr. Gladstone), he shows, I think, an undue appreciation of the most eminent orator in this House. He has accused the right hon. Gentleman of praising Russia and encouraging her to prolong the contest by pointing out our own defects and short-comings; but if to point out defects be a sin, the hon. Gentleman is himself the greatest sinner;—because, has he ever made a speech in which he has not found fault with everything connected with the management of the war? He has complained of the mismanagement of the army, and he has prophesied that Russia would overrun Asia Minor; and are we, who also point out what we consider to be defects to be on that account stigmatised as partisans of the enemy? What I have risen, however, to touch upon is quite a different subject, and is of a somewhat personal character; and as this is probably the last opportunity which I shall have this Session of referring to it, I trust that the House will permit me, for a very short time, to occupy its attention while I make a few remarks upon a subject which concerns hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House. We have been discussing the weight of authority of public men in reference to the policy to be pursued with regard to this war, and we have been told that the great negotiators at Vienna were in favour of negotiating a peace on the basis of the Four Points, and we have been also told the weight of authority to which they are entitled, and how much is due to their judgment. I attach much weight to the influence which high authorities upon such matters have upon the public mind; and when I find an individual holding so high an office as that of a Cabinet Minister 1836 coming forward and uttering unmeasured denunciations against a large body of Members of this House for their conduct in the House, I think that the matter is not one which ought to be treated lightly by the House or by the country. I allude, of course, to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies (Sir W. Molesworth) and I think that I shall be able, before I sit down, to show the necessity of his affording to the House some explanation of his conduct. The right hon. Gentleman attacked three or four parties. He attacked the Opposition; he attacked the right hon. Gentlemen who sit near me; and he attacked the party to which I belong. There was what he called "the unscrupulous Opposition"—there were the followers of the late Sir R. Peel—and there was "a nefarious and unpatriotic body" who were carrying on a war against the Government by means of ambuscades. When I find that such language is applied to me and to the peace party by a Gentleman who holds himself up as par excellence the advocate of war, I think I am performing my duty to the peace party—not the peace-at-any-price party, but the rational peace party—if I endeavour to show that the right hon. Baronet is not entitled to much weight when he comes forward as an advocate for war. I want to know when the right hon. Gentleman first adopted sentiments contrary to those which I profess? Two years and a-half ago, when Lord Aberdeen was forming an Administration, the right hon. Gentleman was offered a seat in it, and it was intimated to him that he might have the office of Secretary at War. The answer made by the right hon. Gentleman was, that he had no objection to accept office under Lord Aberdeen, that he did not even require to have a seat in the Cabinet; but he thought that in a Government that professed to embrace all shades of Liberal opinions the sentiments which he professed ought to be represented in the Cabinet. The rejoinder made to him was—"Whom do you consider a fair representative of your opinions?" and to that interrogatory the right hon. Gentleman replied, "Mr. Cobden." Now, this is no secret communicated to me in friendship by the right hon. Baronet, but the conversation which I have related was communicated to me, before he knew whether I was going to have the offer of a seat in the Cabinet, in the Reform Club on the very evening after it had taken place, and in the presence of at 1837 least half-a-dozen persons. I want, therefore, to know when the right hon. Gentleman became converted from my opinions, and became so great a champion of the war. Don't let the right hon. Gentleman answer "It is true we agreed upon general and home politics, but not on the subject of peace and war." Let me remind the House that my opinions were then known on that subject, and I had attended large meetings and had identified myself with the agitation which had for its aim to try to imbue the minds of the people of this country with sounder views with reference to peace and war, foreseeing as I did that the great prosperity which arose in this country in consequence of the adoption of free-trade policy—just as Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked—would be likely to lead the nation into war. The right hon. Gentleman knew of this when he offered to make me his representative in the Cabinet. We had been for many years acquainted with each other's views on foreign politics; and, much as we may have agreed on home affairs, if there was one subject upon which our views were identified, I venture to say it was on foreign policy. My very first début in public life was in writing a pamphlet, and in answering Mr. Urquhart upon the subject of foreign policy. About twenty years ago that Gentleman was agitating throughout the country against Russia, and was the cause of an increase in our navy of 5,000 men, and of our putting Yarmouth in a state of defence to meet a Russian invasion. I confess, now, that Mr. Urquhart has been too much for me. I have watched his agitation and that of some of his friends ever since, and I say that great injustice has been done to my original adversary, for Mr. Urquhart ought to be the Prime Minister of this country at the present moment to carry out what is his own policy. But the right hon. Gentleman, a little while ago, when I alluded to him in this House in a very jocular manner (and nobody who knew what provocation I had will think I treated him very severely)—the right hon. Gentleman, I say, came down the next evening, when you, Sir, were not in the chair, or you would not have allowed it to be done, and brought down an extract or two from a speech he made at Leeds in 1840, to which I had referred, in order to show that his speech then was quite consistent with his present conduct, and that he had then advocated precisely the same policy as he was doing 1838 now. I could not follow the right hon. Gentleman on that occasion; and so little disposed was I, if he would have allowed me to do otherwise, to have brought our political differences to this extremity, that I would not even have done myself the justice to refer to that subject again. However, the right hon. Gentleman would not give me the chance of passing it by. It seems to me that that old malady which they say the gods afflict us with previously to our destruction had befallen him. What could I do? I could not allow the influence of a Cabinet Minister to go forth throughout the country in favour of the war without doing justice to the advocates of peace, and I must show how the right hon. Gentleman acted in the garbled extracts he made from that speech. I thought that such a perfect logician as the right hon. Gentleman would not condescend to sophistry in order to make out his case. But he read extracts from his Leeds speech on the occasion to which I refer, and what I should like would be that the right hon. Gentleman should be compelled to read the whole of his speech. He read some extracts to show that his present conduct was quite consistent with his speech in Leeds, at the meeting to which I refer. Now, I must remind the House under what circumstances this meeting was held. We were on the verge of a war with France respecting the affairs of Syria. We were acting in conjunction with Russia, and every day we were under the apprehension that the noble Lord now at the head of the Government would lead us into a war. The right hon. Gentleman accordingly called a meeting in the streets of Leeds, and although his Whig partisans refused to support him, he held the meeting to denounce any war with France in support of the Turks, and in alliance with Russia. He began by laying down a hypothetical case, and if he had read to the House what he said at the commencement of his speech it would have been seen that in what he read afterwards as his own arguments, he was merely following out his hypothesis, which he takes care to repudiate as utterly absurd. Here is what he said—The sole pretext that has ever been assigned, or that can be assigned, to justify our interference in the affairs of Turkey, is lest Russia should interfere alone and take possession of Constantinople. I will assume that the possession of Constantipole would be as great a calamity as some persons suppose. I will suppose that, despising every law of human interest, Russia shall prohibit our commerce, refuse all interchange of commo- 1839 dities with us, and exclude us from the ports of the Black Sea, and that when, by these strange means, it has rapidly acquired a high degree of wealth and prosperity, it shall seriously commence the conquest of civilised Europe. All these, and many other suppositions equally absurd, I will take for granted as being the inevitable consequences of the acquisition of Constantinople by Russia; and I now ask—have we adopted the wisest course to defeat the views of Russia? On the contrary, is not our policy the absurdest that human ingenuity could have imagined? We have formed an alliance with Russia, whose interests are hostile to our own. We have lost the alliance of France, &c.[Sir W. MOLESWORTH: Hear, hear!] Well, I say the right hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten his ancient powers of logic, for the whole of his subsequent argument is governed by his original argumentative assumption, and when he talks, as he did in the extracts he read in this House, about the advantage of joining France as against Russia, it was merely following out this thesis which he then branded as utterly absurd. What he says is, that all this supposition as to the power of Russia consequent on the possession of Constantinople is utterly absurd; but if he will refer to the speeches of Lord Clarendon he will find that his Lordship justifies the war, by assuming all those things which the right hon. Gentleman denounces as utterly absurd. But is it possible that I could fail to know the sentiments of the right hon. Gentleman on this subject? Let me remind him that at this time (in 1840) I was doing at Manchester precisely the same as he was doing at Leeds, and I repeat that there was no subject upon which the right hon. Gentleman and I were so thoroughly agreed up to the last eighteen months. I say "up to the last eighteen months," because the right hon. Gentleman cannot deny that until he joined the Cabinet of Lord Aberdeen, he entertained precisely the same opinions upon this question as he did for fifteen years before. Now, I do not deny to anybody the right of changing his opinions. It was a saying of Harvey, the discoverer of the circulation of the blood, that he never found an honest convert to his opinions after the age of forty. The right hon. Gentleman may, however, change his opinions, if he likes, up to the age of fifty. All I stipulate for is, when he has to deal with a question like this, if he does denounce those with whom he once acted for the opinions which, during fifteen years, were his own, that he shall at least condescend to tell us what are the reasons upon which he founded this 1840 change in his views. At all events, it is very hard that he should begin by denouncing us as nefarious and unpatriotic. In conclusion, I will say that in dealing with the right hon. Gentleman I have done as I would wish to be done by. If ever I am found on great questions of policy to be systematically holding one language to my friends in private, and then denouncing them in public for holding those opinions, I shall expect from those friends not private remonstrance—for I shall expect private friendship to be then at an end—but I shall expect from them that in the most public place, in this House or elsewhere, they will denounce my conduct and declare me in a political sense utterly unfaithful and utterly unworthy of the confidence of any political party.
§ SIR WILLIAM MOLESWORTH
As I am called upon at this late hour of the night to reply to this most unexpected burst of attack, I hope the House will bear with me for a few minutes. The hon. Gentleman has called me to account, in the first place, for the speech I delivered the other day to my constituents of South wark. I cannot say that I either regret or retract one single sentiment I uttered on that occasion, because I believe that in that speech I expressed not only the opinions of the 11,000 electors of Southwark, but also the opinions of a great portion of the thinking and reflecting men of this country with reference to the conduct of hon. Gentlemen on the subject of the Turkish loan. Sir, I had found that a strong feeling of deep anxiety and alarm pervaded many classes of my constituents, lest by some party movement the alliance of England with France should be disturbed and the war brought to a disgraceful and discreditable termination; and in order to tranquillise and allay their alarm I felt it my duty to tell them that if ever such a result were brought about it should not be by the Government of my noble Friend Lord Palmerston, of which I am a Member. This opinion I expressed, Sir, and in so doing I denounced the conduct of the three parties who I considered had united a short time before for the purpose of surprising the Government on the subject of the Turkish Loan. I repeat that there is not a single sentence I then thought it my duty to express to my constituents which I in any way regret or feel disposed to retract. The hon. Gentleman the Member for the West Riding, has referred to certain conversations which he 1841 says took place between himself and me about the period of the formation of the Government of Lord Aberdeen. No doubt it is true that very friendly relations have existed between the hon. Gentleman and myself during a long period of years. On many subjects, it is true, I have agreed with him; but on many subjects it is also true that I have totally disagreed with him, and I have disagreed with him in his extraordinary views with regard to the possibility of universal peace. His views on that subject I considered so extreme and extravagant, that I doubted, indeed, whether his fine intellect had not become aberrant on that particular question. The hon. Gentleman says I told him I was going to be appointed Secretary at War, and that I would have accepted that office without a seat in the Cabinet. I have no recollection of having ever made such a statement. I was never asked if I would hold that office, and I never was offered any situation in the Government without a seat in the Cabinet. I have, however, a recollection of, during the intercourse of private friendship, talking over with him at the time the various combinations of parties which it was expected might take place; and it is perfectly true that I said that in many respects I agreed with him in opinion, and that it would he a very great pleasure to me, should such a combination of parties as was then the subject of general rumour take place, if he should be a Member of that Cabinet; and referring to the consonance of our views on the subject of free trade I said, "Your opinions would represent mine very much in that Government." I say that was the case at the time, for I agreed with the hon. Gentleman on many subjects; but I say I never agreed with him in his views respecting peace. The hon. Gentleman knows that I never would consent to attend any meetings with reference to it, or to join him in any way or to take any part in any agitation concerning it; and he must also recollect that very recently I stated to him, in a confidential conversation, that I thought that his views on that subject endangered his reputation in the eyes of the people of England. I have certainly been on very friendly terms with the hon. Gentleman. I have received him at my house, and we have had many conversations together on different subjects; but of these conversations I never took any notes in order to repeat them afterwards to the House of Commons. I have read care- 1842 fully over the speech which I made at Leeds. It is true, that in the course of fifteen years a very considerable change may take place in a man's views on a particular subject, and in that speech, it is true, I underrated the ambitious designs of Russia; but I said that if Russia had those designs, then France and England ought to unite to prevent her carrying them out. I admit that, in respect to the ambitious designs of Russia, for several reasons I have changed my opinion in the course of the last fifteen years. One of these reasons is the knowledge I acquired as a Member of the Government of the secret correspondence which took place between Russia and the British Government about Turkey—I was then induced to believe that the ambitious design of Russia, to which I had not previously attached much importance, were of a more serious character than I had anticipated, and I freely acknowledge that these and other circumstances which came to my knowledge as a Member of the Government were the motive causes in bringing about the change in my views. I do not know that I have any more to say upon the subject. I merely rose to say to the House that, with the alterations, if any, which have taken place in my views on this subject, I have never expressed, either in this House or to my constituents from the hustings, any opinions which I am not prepared to reassert at the present moment.
§ SIR JAMES GRAHAM
Sir, I do not rise to prolong the discussion that has just taken place between my hon. Friend the Member for the West Riding and the right hon. Baronet; but the right hon. Baronet has said, with reference to the speech made by him at his late election, that he has nothing to retract. Having recently been the colleague of that right hon. Gentleman, I have still so much respect for his character that I am quite sure that when I show him that he has unintentionally stated what is not the case, he will immediately be ready to retract one of his statements. I understand him to have said that he considered the conduct of certain parties in this House to be dishonourable, unpatriotic, and discreditable to themselves, inasmuch as they devised and entered into a combination of parties in respect to the Vote on the Turkish Loan. Now, sir, I happened to have been sitting next to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ricardo) immediately before 1843 he arose to address the House on the occasion to which the right hon. Baronet has referred; and I asked my hon. Friend whether he was aware of what were the intentions of hon. Gentlemen opposite with respect to the discussion that was about to commence. My hon. Friend told me that he had no knowledge whatever of what those intentions were. I myself had not the least idea of the course which Gentlemen opposite meant to take; but an hon. Member known to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke—I mean the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Seymour Fitzgerald) —declared he had reason to know it was the intention of many Gentlemen opposite to support the Motion of the hon. Member for Stoke. Until that moment neither my hon. Friend who made the Motion, nor the hon. Gentleman who sits next me, had any knowledge whatever of what the course of hon. Gentlemen opposite might be. I make this assertion positively both for my hon. Friend and myself, and the right hon. Baronet will thus see that he had no grounds for making the assertion that he did of combination on the part of three of the parties in this House, and I therefore hope and expect that he will at once retract that statement.
§ SIR WILLIAM MOLESWORTH
When I used the words "combination of parties," I merely intended to describe the impression which was produced upon my mind by the events of last Friday week. On that occasion we were surprised, not, I must say, by the Peace party, because with them we have been at perpetual war, but by the sudden attack of the right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the benches behind us, and the simultaneous attack of hon. Gentlemen opposite. This attack was so simultaneous—
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, that the right hon. Baronet was not entitled to make another speech and was going beyond the bounds of an explanation.
§ MR. ROBERT PHILLIMORE
It seems that the right hon. Baronet has studied his favourite author, Hobbes, to some effect, and that he considers that when a man recants his opinions he has great licence of speech. Although I am one of the humblest individuals who voted in the minority on the occasion which has been referred to, I can assure the right hon. Baronet that I took that course with the conscientious conviction that I was 1844 doing what was best for the country. We were told that the independence of Turkey was at stake, but I conceive that the Turkish Loan was calculated to destroy that independence. When the right hon. Baronet prostitutes his high office at the hustings, and condescends to gross and scurrilous abuse of Members as honourable as himself [Order.] The right hon. Baronet accused us of a nefarious design, and, if I am called to order, I must request you, Sir, to call the right hon. Baronet to order for the language he has used.
§ MR. ROBERT PHILLIMORE
But the right hon. Baronet has adhered to that language in the House. I do not think you can be aware, Sir, that the right hon. Gentleman has adhered to that language in his place, and I say, with great respect to the Chair, that any person who accuses me on the hustings of nefarious designs utters vulgar and scurrilous abuse. [Order!] I hope to be in order when I say that he will do well on another occasion to acquaint himself with the facts before he makes such assertions.
§ MR. BRIGHT
I wish to make an appeal to the right hon. Baronet the Colonial Secretary. He has been called upon by the right hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir J. Graham) to retract his statement, and I understood he rose for the purpose of explaining that he did not mean to say at his election that which the newspapers report him to have said, although it is quite evident that the speech was carefully written out, and it is believed that it was in the hands of the newspapers before it was spoken. You, Sir, no doubt very properly, called the right hon. Baronet to order, and he sat down in the middle of a sentence. I certainly think it would be an advantage, and would show some decorum on the part of a Cabinet Minister, if the right hon. Baronet was allowed to finish his sentence, and to make the retraction which he was called upon to make by the right hon. Member for Carlisle.
§ MR. WALPOLE
The right hon. Baronet has made a charge not only against members of the peace party, but against his former colleagues, and against, as he termed them, an unscrupulous Opposition. 1845 I feel that we have a right to call upon him to retract the phrase that all these persons were acting together in a nefarious design. I came down to the House to listen to that debate, and I did not even know until the debate had proceeded to a considerable extent the course which I should take. My impression when the debate commenced was that the proper course would be to press the Government to turn the Convention into a separate, instead of being a joint guarantee; but arguments which were never answered on the part of the Government convinced me that we had not the power of taking that course, and that we could simply require the Government to alter the Convention by negativing the Resolution. Unless this House is to be absolutely silenced on every question which in time of war is brought before it, every gentleman has a right to express his opinion on that occasion, firmly and temperately, without being charged with a nefarious combination. I am not aware that I have ever taken the part of active opposition against the noble Lord with any factious intention; but I have never scrupled, and I hope I never shall, to express my honest opinion upon any question relating to the war. The vote which I gave that night was as honest a vote as I ever gave; and I trust the right hon. Baronet will only do justice to those whom he certainly,—perhaps inadvertently, but I must say in my opinion most improperly—maligned, if he offers some apology. It is only due to us that some apology should be made for such expressions coming from a Minister of the Crown.
I confess I have listened with great surprise to what has taken place during this combination. I believe this conversation may just as well be called a combination—a term which I used inadvertently—as the concurrence of the opinions and votes which my right hon. Friend (Sir W. Molesworth) has chosen to adorn with that name. In taking notice of the right hon. Gentleman, I shall not forget what he appears to have forgotten—our former connection as colleagues in the relations in which we acted for a very considerable time. The language which the right hon. Gentleman used on the hustings was, I think, used with little consideration, notwithstanding the circumstances to which the hon. Member for Manchester 1846 has alluded. There can be no doubt as to the tenour of what he stated. I looked in several newspapers, and found precisely the same report. The right hon. Gentleman then stated that there had been a combination of parties to take Government by surprise. He now says two things, which appear to contradict one another. He says he does not make any retraction, and at the same time it was his intention to describe, not the actions of others, but the impression on his own mind. Now, it is perfectly plain that the language of the right hon. Gentleman did describe, not the impression on his own mind, but the actions of others. That is the whole question at issue. Does he mean to describe the actions of others or the impression on his own mind? I can only say that, if I had previously agreed to vote with gentlemen in whose opinion I concurred, I should not for a moment shrink from avowing it, because I see nothing improper or dishonourable in such combination or such concert. But, as I stated before, I learned the intentions of the hon. Member for Stoke while sitting on this bench, and at the time I had not the smallest idea of the course which would be taken by hon. Gentlemen opposite. As far as we are concerned, I wish to know what the right hon. Baronet really means. Does he mean to designate our conduct on that occasion by those offensive epithets which he used, or did he only describe the impression on his own mind? The right hon. Baronet is just as free to form impressions as any old woman who chooses to take anything into her head—who imagines she has seen a ghost or anything else. I wish to leave the right hon. Gentleman's liberty of imagination entirely intact, but I do hope he does not intend to cast on us the imputations which his language conveys.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
My right hon. Friend concluded his speech by charging the right hon. Baronet with having attacked hon. Gentlemen in this House with combination upon this question. ["No, no!"] I am not talking of epithets, I am talking of substantives. I beg pardon of hon. Gentlemen opposite. This is the question which is raised, and my right hon. Friend who last spoke put it distinctively on the ground that he was asking the right hon. Baronet (Sir W. Moles worth) whether what he stated was the impression on his own mind, or whether he asserted it positively as an actual fact. That is the question which the right hon. Gentleman the 1847 Member for the University of Oxford raised, and I shall not be carried off the scent by the "Noes" of hon. Gentlemen opposite. No Gentleman can state beyond the impression on his own mind as to any fact which has taken place. That impression was my right hon. Friend's impression, and, whether rightly or wrongly, it is also my impression; it was the impression, also, of every man who did not form part of the minority, and I believe that was the impression of every reasonable man in the kingdom who looked at what passed that night. The combination may have been fortuitous—it may have been accidental—it may have been without any previous concert; but combination it was in the strictest sense of the word, because a number of persons did combine to give a vote on that occasion against the Government. Whether they did so combine by previous concert or from conviction on their minds is for themselves to say; we cannot dive into their thoughts: but my right hon. Friend was perfectly justified in his conviction that there was a combination for accomplishing the object which he stigmatised as not reflecting credit on those who combined to obtain it. In that opinion, I believe, he will be supported by the opinions of the great majority of the country, and if Gentlemen are offended at that opinion being entertained, it is not only on my right hon. Friend the censure ought to fall, but also upon a great many thousands of persons who share that opinion with him.
§ LORD CLAUD HAMILTON
regretted, after what had taken place, that the right hon. Baronet had not honestly and fairly confessed his error.
THE MARQUESS OF GRANBY
did not know what the impressions of the right hon. Gentleman might have been when he had made the charge upon the hustings; but after what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlisle and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford, he could not help thinking that any erroneous impression of the vote of Friday week which he might have formed must have been removed from his mind. He, therefore, hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would get up in his place, and acknowledge that he had been mistaken.
§ SIR WILLIAM MOLESWORTH
I believe I can now speak on the adjournment. When I was stopped by you, Sir, I was proceeding to state how I came to 1848 use these words. In using them I expressed the effect produced on my mind by the events of last Friday week. I said that the sudden and unexpected attack of the right hon. Gentleman, simultaneously with that of hon. Gentlemen opposite, produced the impression that it was a skilfully combined movement. The right hon. Gentlemen the Members for Carlisle and for Oxford University have both declared in their places that there was no previous combination between them and the hon. Gentlemen opposite and the peace party. Without doubt, I firmly believe the correctness of that statement, and I can only consider that what I thought was a combination was an accidental union of parties for the purpose of an attack upon the Government.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I am very willing that this subject should be terminated, especially as, in the absence of the right hon. Gentleman, I made some comments which would seem to render it unnecessary for me now to address the House. But it appears to me that the issue is changed. I really thought the noble Lord rose to extricate his right hon. Friend and colleague from a disagreeable position, but the noble Lord entirely changed the question we are really discussing, and now the right hon. Baronet makes the explanation which his noble Friend has in a manner forced from him, and accepts the issue which the noble Lord has placed before the House; but which I say is a false issue. It was not that complaints were made because the right hon. Gentleman accused Members of this House of acting in "combination" on a particular question. "Combination" is a word to which many different meanings can be ascribed, although it is oftener applied in an odious sense than otherwise; and if severely tested it would, perhaps, have such a meaning as applied to this case. But it is the epithets which were affixed to the word "combination" which gave the great offence, and prevented any mistake as to the nature of the imputations cast on the right hon. Gentleman by the Secretary of State. But those epithets the noble Lord has entirely thrown over. He has raised an argument on the issue of the word combination. I do not at all agree with the noble Lord in the statement that it is the general opinion that there was some pre-arranged combination between the two sides of the House on that occasion. I have no doubt the noble Lord was very much astonished 1849 at the division which took place, and the feelings of a Minister obliged to speak against time, and who, even by speaking against time, could only secure a bare majority, should be viewed with some indulgence. But I am astonished that the noble Lord should defend his colleagues in the use of the epithet "nefarious," as applied to the course taken by many distinguished Members of this House, and that he should have encouraged the right hon. Gentleman in his refusal to express his regret for using an epithet which the facts do not warrant and which no circumstances could justify. There the matter might have rested; but I cannot say the apology of the right hon. Gentleman has been either a graceful or a satisfactory one; and although the situation of the right hon. Gentleman might be viewed with indulgence, as I explained on a recent occasion, I cannot but regret, for the sake of the right hon. Gentleman himself, that he should have treated the appeal that has been made to him in the spirit which he has evinced.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ The House adjourned at a quarter before Two o'clock.