HC Deb 16 June 1856 vol 142 cc1499-513

On the Motion that the House resolve itself into Committee of Supply,


It appears to me, Sir, that the House of Commons ought not to go into Committee upon the last remaining military estimates of the year without asking the Government for some explanation as to the position in which we at present stand with regard to the Government of the United States of America. If there were negotiations going on at the present time the Government would rightly say—and, according to all former practice, the House would listen to them—that, during the continuance of those negotiations, it would be inconvenient to the public service to raise anything resembling a discussion on the subject. But the question now is, whether there are to be any negotiations with the United States Government or not? The state of facts, I conceive, to be this:—Despatches have been received by Her Majesty's Government, declaring, according to the explanations given in both Houses of Parliament, upon the authority of our Minister (Mr. Crampton), that with respect to the question of recruitment the Government of the United States are satisfied with the explanations of Her Majesty's Government, to the effect that they had no intention whatever of violating the laws of the United States, and that they had heard with great regret that anything which could be construed into a violation of those laws could be alleged against them. The question, therefore, with respect to the recruitment appears to me to be at an end. But the Government of the United States, not giving the same credit to Mr. Crampton which they have given to Her Majesty's Government, state that his conduct has been such that they cannot usefully, in regard to the maintenance of amicable relations between the two countries, recognise him any longer as our Minister, and they have accordingly declared that they can no longer transact the business of the nation with him. They have accompanied this communication with various declarations, and very positive declarations, of their wish to continue on terms of amity with this country. The United States Government have, with regard to a second question, which has for a long time been the subject of negotiation between them, this country, and various States of Central America, professed their willingness to enter into direct communication with Her Majesty's Government upon any points of difference which now exist; and, having gone through those points in great detail, they have declared their opinion that, with respect to some of them, an arbitration might be resorted to with a view to the attainment of an amicable result. Now, Sir, I do not ask for any explanation with regard to one or other of those questions. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Inverness-shire (Mr. H. Baillie) has given notice of his intention to bring the recruitment question before the House, on Thursday next. If the hon. Member should think proper to bring that question forward, and if the House should entertain it, then any Member of this House, and I among the rest, may declare our opinions on that question. With respect to the second question—that relating to Central America—the real point is, whether negotiation is to be entered into or continued on that subject. If such negotiations be broken off, then, no doubt, it would he necessary to bring that question before the House, and I should expect some Member to do so; but, if negotiation is now to take place, I think, then, upon that question, and I should also say on the other, that it would be most desirable that no further discussion should take place until Her Majesty's Government could inform us of the result of that negotiation. But, Sir, there are two other very important points, independent of any detail of the merits of the two great questions I have just alluded to, on which I think the House of Commons ought to receive information. The first is whether, as the American Government have desired Mr. Crampton to cease his relations with the United States, it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government, after the mature deliberations they have now been able to give to the subject, to desire that Mr. Dallas should likewise withdraw, and thus put an end for a time to any diplomatic communications between the two countries. The second point is, whether that course is pursued or not, pending the negotiation respecting Central America, and until the negotiation should be Drought to a close, what are the intentions of Her Majesty's Government with respect to any force that either now may be stationed or may be sent to the coast of Nicaragua and Costa Rica? Sir, to these two questions I shall shortly apply myself. With respect to the first point, it appears to me that Her Majesty's Government may have means of judging which neither I nor any Member of this House may be in possession of; that, besides the ostensible despatches, there may be ground, on which their judgment has been formed, on which they can give intelligence to the House, but which we are not at present possessed of. It certainly appears to me that their Resolution should be formed in this respect, that if they have reason to believe that the removal of Mr. Crampton is a wanton and determined insult on the part of the Government of the United States, Her Majesty's Government can adopt no other course than to resent that insult by breaking off all communications with the Minister of the United States in this country. If, however, there are no circumstances which lead them to that conclusion, then I should say that not only former examples, but the present peculiar circumstances of this case, make it most desirable that they should accede to the invitation of the Government of the United States, and enter into negotiations upon any points of difference which, though not serious at the present time, may lead to most serious results. With respect to former examples there are many, I think, on this subject. There are cases in which both France and Great Britain have found that the Ministers they have appointed were not acceptable to the Government of the United States. There is the well-known case in 1793 of M. Genet, the Minister sent by the Republican Government of France, who not only fitted out privateers, and had the prizes brought to New York, and thus violated the neutrality of the United States, but likewise in a most offensive and improper manner endeavoured to raise seditious attempts against General Washington's Government. General Washington, who was then President of the United States, acting with that wisdom for which he was remarkable, and joining to it calmness and firmness, which likewise formed part of his character, in declaring to the French Republic that the conduct of M. Genet was intolerable, and that he could not any longer be permitted to continue as Minister from the French Republic to the United States, did not break off diplomatic relations with France. General Washington, through his Secretary of State, set forth the details of M. Genet's conduct, and stated that he was not acceptable to the American Government. Upon this the French Government disapproved the conduct of M. Genet and recalled him, appointing another Minister who might be acceptable to the Government of the United States. Thus the diplomatic relations between the two countries were not interrupted. Again, in 1809, Mr. Jackson, the Minister for Great Britain at Washington, made himself personally unacceptable to the President of the United States, and he was informed that no further communication could be held with him. Mr. William Pinckney was then the American Minister in London, and he continued at his post, so that there was no interruption of the diplomatic intercourse between the two countries; Mr. Maddison at that time being President. Then, so lately as 1850, M. Poussin, the French Minister at Washington, having used language in one or more diplomatic notes which was considered disrespectful to the Secretary of State, had his passport sent to him, but there was no interruption of amicable relations between the two countries. Mr. Rush, the American Minister at Paris, was at the time en route to the United States, but his successor, Mr. Rives, was received without obstacle, and a new French Minister was sent to the United States, General Zachary Taylor being at that time President. These examples show that the dismissal of Mr. Dallas need not, according to usage and international practice, immediately follow the course pursued by the American Government in respect to Mr. Crampton. I now come, Sir, to the question, in which negotiation is practicable. That question is one of very considerable difficulty, being involved with ancient obligations on the part of this country, and ancient and what we consider honourable relations between us and certain tribes of Indians on the coast of Central America, and being involved likewise by various interpretations in respect to a recent treaty, and by matters relating to Nicaragua and other States. I may mention likewise that an Act of 1851, carried into effect by the Government in 1852, is likewise matter upon which a difference of opinion has arisen. In regard of these matters, involving, as they do, most important consequences, it appears to me, from the hasty perusal I have been able to give it in the newspapers of this day, that Mr. Marcy has written a very dispassionate despatch, maintaining, as he was sure to do in opening a negotiation of that kind, all the positions which the American Government have hitherto maintained. Yet he seems to admit that each of them might be discussed, and to assent that these points, on which arbitration would be useful, should be referred to arbitration. Now, Sir, it has been suggested that, though Mr. Dallas were to receive his passports, and all diplomatic communication were to be suspended, yet that negotiation on all these various points might be carried on in some other place and by some other means. Sir, I cannot think that such a course would be either befitting the dignity of this country, or that it would tend to conduce to any satisfactory results. I cannot think it would be befitting the dignity of this country, because, if we are to negotiate with the United States, I hardly think it would be right to commence an indirect negotiation, or that it would conduce to any good end. If the negotiation is to be carried on, I cannot conceive that it could be better carried on than by Mr. Dallas, a gentleman universally respected, and who, during the short time he has been here, has received the good will of all classes, and by the noble Earl at the head of the Foreign Department, who is acquainted with all the circumstances of the case, and whose talents would in such a negotiation be of the highest service. I hope, indeed, that he, who has recently signed the treaty of Paris, will be the person to bring to a termination these disputes with the United States. With respect to the second point to which I alluded, the present state of affairs in Central America, it is but too obvious that an accident might occur, a collision might happen on some unforeseen question, or in some unexpected case, which would seriously compromise the amicable relations of the two countries. We have hitherto had a question which has rolled on for a long time, and for a great part of this century has been, as it were, in abeyance, without any active participation of our arms or of those of the United States in the dispute. The States of South America, so far from realising the anticipations of Mr. Canning, that he had created a new world to restore the balance of the old, have hardly been able to maintain order within their own limits. Still less have they been able to attempt any great conquests; nor has the stronger among them been able so completely to vanquish the weaker as to form any great and powerful State in Central America. The State of Nicaragua, great as her pretensions were to the dominion of the Mosquito coast, and little as she regarded the obligations with us which had descended to her in consequence of our former treaties with Spain, has not been able either to fix herself upon the Mosquito coast or to overcome that colony of various Europeans—Englishmen and others—and citizens of the United States, which has been established at Greytown. We see now, however, that an enterprising military chief of considerable energy, who is likely to attract many followers to his standard, by taking the part of one faction against another, has obtained very considerable power in the State of Nicaragua, and it is very possible that President Rivas, having his assistance, may make an incursion on the Mosquito coast, and may attack the inhabitants of Greytown. The question, therefore, is, what will be the course of Her Majesty's Government in such a contingency? I have no doubt, Sir, that they would think it their duty to protect the persons and property of British residents in such a case; and I cannot wonder, therefore, that they should wish to have a sufficient force in the neighbourhood of Greytown for that purpose. Whether they would think fit to interfere with respect to Nicaragua and Greytown, I know not, but I think that it is a question upon which we ought to have some information. I say this the more because the reports on this subject are very conflicting. I saw in a newspaper to-day that the ships of the United States were allowed to carry men and even military stores, who, no doubt, were going to swell the forces in Nicaragua. It seems to me that such a course would not be consistent with the respect which is due to the flag of the United States. I have also seen what was stated to be a telegraphic despatch, to the effect that Her Majesty's ship-of-war Eurydice was in the habit of interfering with the ships making for the port of Greytown, and of overhauling them before allowing them to enter. Some explanation, I have no doubt, can be given on that subject, but I think it is right that the anxiety which exists with, regard to it should be as far as possible removed. These are the two questions, then, upon which I should wish to have some explanation from my noble Friend at the head of the Government—first, whether it is the intention of the Government, after the course which has been taken with respect to Mr. Crampton, to pursue a similar course in regard to Mr. Dallas, and to break off all diplomatic intercourse with the Government of the United States; and next, whether, supposing that should not be the case, measures have been taken, after due deliberation, by the Government, in order to prevent, as far as possible, any collision between the ships and forces of Her Majesty's Government and the ships and forces of the Government of the United States. For my own part, I should hope that the commanders of the ships-of-war of this country and of the United States will receive such orders that they will act completely in concert; and that they will not allow the miserable States in Central America, with their rivalries and their squabbles, to commit these two great nations to hostilities with each other. Sir, I need not dwell upon the misfortunes which would flow from a war between the two countries. They are obvious, and must be felt by everybody. If these dissensions should lead to any serious quarrel, or, still more, to active hostilities between this country and the United States, the miseries which would arise to both nations are incalculable; they are of such a nature as no man in this country, and I should hope no man in the United States, could contemplate without the utmost fear and repugnance. The power of the two countries would, no doubt, be very signally displayed if a war were unhappily to arise, but it is obvious that the cause of humanity, the cause of peaceful commerce, and the cause of civilisation would greatly suffer from such a course. It is equally clear that throughout all the continent of Europe every man who has a feeling for liberty, every man who desires to see the cause of freedom flourish, would deplore such a contest between the two great free States of the world; and it is equally clear, I think, that all those who wish oppression to continue in those countries of Europe which are oppressed, would rejoice at the breaking out of a war between England and the United States. Such being the feeling which I know must animate every one, and having heard from my noble Friend at the head of the Government similar sentiments at an earlier period of the Session—sentiments which did him the highest honour—I cannot doubt that everything which can be done consistently with the position of this country, with its honour, and with its engagements to other nations, will be done to preserve peace between the two countries. Let me only add, Sir, that if the Government are about to enter into these negotiations, I do hope that from the moment that declaration is made, this House, imitating the example which it set itself (and it can imitate none better) during the last war, of forbearance with regard to negotiations, will abstain from any party discussions, from any rival imputations, and from doing anything which can induce any party in the United States to think that, if at last we should fight, and if negotiations, instead of leading us to an amicable settlement, should only lead us further from peace, this country would not be united in resisting pretensions which might be deemed inconsistent with our national honour. I believe such must be the universal opinion. We are, however, Sir, in such a position that some explanation is needed from the Government, and I wait anxiously to hear what my noble Friend has to say. There is imposed upon him a great responsibility, but I trust that the issue of this will be conducive not only to the interests of this country, but also to the maintenance, for a long period to come, of the relations of amity between us and the United States. I have seen that after former negotiations new questions have arisen between the two countries. I have been very much grieved to see that, although the question of the north-western boundary line and the question of the Caroline were amicably and skilfully settled by diplomacy, others speedily arose, from which it was sought to create dissensions and bad blood between the two countries. I am convinced that there are no two countries whose interest and duty it is more to cultivate friendly relations with each other. There is room for us both on the globe. We have a great empire to rule and great duties to fulfil; the United States are no doubt destined to great empire and to great duties, and let us both use the power which God has given us for the benefit of the human race.


It is perfectly natural, Sir, that in the present state of affairs between this country and the United States, this House should expect from Her Majesty's Government at the earliest possible moment, an explanation of the condition in which our mutual relations stand. I cannot, therefore, feel any surprise that my noble Friend the Member for the City of London, whose position in this House so well entitles him to be its organ on such an occasion, should avail himself of the present opportunity to require from Her Majesty's Government an explanation in regard to our present position with the United States. Indeed, Sir, if no hon. Member had expressed a wish to hear such an explanation from the Government, I think it would still have been our duty not to allow a day to pass without putting the House in possession of our intentions on the subject to which my noble Friend's questions relate. Sir, it is unnecessary for me to enter into any explanation whatever of those communications which my noble Friend at the head of the Foreign Office received a few days ago from the American Minister at this Court. These communications having been presented to Congress, and having already been published in the newspapers, every hon. Member is as fully in possession of them as is the Government of Her Majesty. To lay them upon the table of this House officially, it would be necessary that we should be able to accompany them with such answers as—upon full consideration—and upon due deliberation, such as the importance of the subject-matter requires—we should have thought it fitting to return to them. Sir, we have not yet been able to frame those answers, and therefore we are not in a position to lay these papers officially before Parliament. But, Sir, I am ready to answer the question of my noble Friend as to the intentions of Her Majesty's Government with regard to the diplomatic arrangements between this country and the United States. Now, it is to be observed, Sir, in the first place, that, although the United States Government have thought fit to intimate to Mr. Crampton that they cannot continue their relations with him, in consequence of which he has left Washington, that intimation did not go to the extent of suspending diplomatic relations. On the contrary, it was accompanied, in another despatch, by the expression of a desire to continue, through the American Minister at this Court, diplomatic intercourse upon another matter. Now, Sir, Her Majesty's Government, duly considering all the various bearings of the matter, and attending to those considerations upon which my noble Friend has dwelt, have not deemed it their duty to advise Her Majesty to suspend diplomatic intercourse with the American Minister at this Court. We are, therefore, prepared again to enter into communications with him upon any matters which concern the interests of these two great countries. Sir, I think the House will feel that I am best performing my duty by abstaining on the present occasion from entering into any discussion beyond this answer to the question. My noble Friend (Lord J. Russell) has, however, expressed a hope that the instructions which Her Majesty's Government have given to the naval force which was recently despatched from this country to the coast of America, are not such as are likely to bring about any unnecessary collision between the American and British squadrons. Sir, I can assure my noble Friend, and I can assure the House, that it is the most anxious desire of Her Majesty's Government to avoid anything which might bring about such a collision; that the instructions which have been given to the commander of that force relate to the protection of British interests, of British subjects, and of British property; and that there is nothing in those instructions which would tend to a collision between the British and American forces. We certainly have thought it right, considering the uncertain—uncertain as it then undoubtedly was—position of our relations with that great naval Power, that our force in those seas should be placed in such a condition that it might not be liable to any accidental disaster. We thought it right to be strong; but, being Strong, we shall not abuse our strength, we shall not be the aggressors. Upon that subject also—the question about Central America—I am sure the House will not at present wish me to go into any details. I concur with my noble Friend in the opinions which he has so well expressed, to which I also gave expression on a former occasion, that it would be lamentable in the extreme, if two countries which have so many interests in common should, through the perverseness of any man, be brought into a state of hostility with each other. With regard to the conduct of Her Majesty's Government, I think I may be permitted to say that, as on the one hand this country was never in a better position to carry on war, so, if war were forced upon us, that very strength and that very preparation of which we may boast is also a reason why we may, without derogation from our dignity, act with calmness, with moderation, and with due deliberation upon a matter of such great importance as one which bears upon the relations between this empire and any foreign country whatever, more especially one between which and ourselves there are so many causes of union and so many mutual interests as between Great Britain and the United States of America.


Sir, questions of this kind, bearing upon a subject so important as a misunderstanding in our relations with the United States, must impress upon the mind of every Member the expediency of treating them with the utmost moderation, and in a spirit of forbearance. Sir, the noble Lord who has just addressed the House has touched very lightly indeed upon the immediate cause of the retirement of Her Majesty's Minister from Washington; but I was glad to hear from the noble Lord that, so far as the Government of the United States was concerned, this could not be looked upon as a complete rupture of diplomatic relations. I could not help feeling, however, that, although the Government of the United States has drawn a distinction between the conduct of Mr. Crampton and the conduct of Her Majesty's Government, I trust the House of Commons will not follow in that respect the example of the States. I was glad to hear that the noble Lord himself does not by his authority sanction this distinction. I am, perfectly willing to accept as expressed the statement of Mr. Marcy that, so far as Her Majesty's Government is concerned, the Government of the United States is completely satisfied with the explanation respecting the assumed conduct of Mr. Crampton, and that of Her Majesty's consuls, with regard to the recruiting in the States; but I am quite sure that the House will not for a moment adopt the distinction which the United States Government has made upon that subject. I trust, Sir, that the House of Commons will hold Her Majesty's Government responsible, if responsibility has been incurred, and that it will not in a moment of extreme difficulty, if not of peril, announce to this country, to Europe, and to America, that the House of Commons is prepared to affix to Her Majesty's Minister at Washington—an individual who, at all events, attempted to do his duty to his Sovereign and to his country, and who has apparently acted upon the instructions of his superiors—a responsibility which should attach to the Government whose agent he was. I trust, Sir, that the House of Commons will not, on such an occasion, declare that Her Majesty's Minister to America is to be accepted as the scape-goat of ministerial sins. I have expressed myself ill if, in what I have said, I have seemed to offer any opinion upon the conduct of the Government. This is not the occasion on which I would express such an opinion; but I wish to guard myself against being supposed to accept without demur the distinction which the United States Government has made between the conduct of Mr. Crampton and that of Her Majesty's Government in this matter. Sir, I must distinguish between the two questions with the United States which have so much interested this country. Following the example of the noble Viscount, I am not about to enter into a discussion upon either of these subjects; but I must, to prevent being misunderstood, be allowed to make one or two observations. Whatever may be its ultimate decision upon these questions, I wish the House of Commons would take an opportunity of inquiring calmly what is the cause of these painful and frequently recurring misunderstandings between this country and the United States; because, Sir, I fully agree with both noble Lords who have addressed us, that between that country and ourselves there ought to be constant sympathy and cordial alliance. Sir, it is impossible to suppose that the actual recruiting, or the mode in which it was conducted—especially after the apologies which have been offered by our Government—can really be the cause of the misunderstanding of which it is said to have been the occasion. I want to know why the United States Government, even admitting their case to be a good one, is so prompt, if not eager, to insist upon immediate reparation? It will be well if we take this opportunity—I do not mean this evening, but before these great questions are settled—of arriving at some definite result upon this point. I think, Sir, it would be wise, if England would at last recognise that the United States, like all the great countries of Europe, have a policy, and that they have a right to have a policy. I observe in the papers which have been laid upon the table of the House, that the American Minister who was here, commenced his communications with Her Majesty's Government by saying, that he thought it right to announce that the President had adopted the Monroe doctrine as the foundation of his system of government. Now, Sir, the Monroe doctrine is one which, with great respect to the Government of the United States, is not, in my opinion, suited to the age in which we live. The increase in the means of communication between Europe and America have made one great family of the countries of the world; and that system of government which, instead of enlarging would restrict the relations between those two quarters of the globe, is a system which is not adapted to this age. In making that observation, however, I would say that it would be wise in England not to regard with the extreme jealousy with which she has hitherto looked upon it any extension of the territory of the United States beyond the bounds which were originally fixed. I hold that that is not a sound policy which is founded on the idea that we should regard with extreme jealousy the so-called "aggressive spirit" of the United States. I am of opinion that the treaty concluded by Lord Ashburton was one of the wisest diplomatic acts that has been accomplished in modern times, at least in this country; that it was the indication of a sound and liberal policy, and that those who opposed it are the supporters of a policy which is regarded by the Government of the United States as one hostile to the legitimate development of their power. Moreover, I am persuaded that it is the belief on the part of the United States that the British Government is animated by such senti- ments in their regard which has excited the feeling that has seized upon the enlistment question as a means of expressing their dissatisfaction and distrust. It is through no desire to introduce controversial questions on the present occasion that I venture to offer these remarks, but simply because I wish to impress upon the House my conviction, at least, that such is the feeling which prevails in America; and that, if it is always to be impressed upon England that she is to regard every expansion of the United States as an act detrimental to her interests and hostile to her power, we shall be pursuing a course which, while it will not prevent that expansion on the part of the States, will involve this country in struggles that may prove of a disastrous character. I remember what extreme jealousy existed a few years ago in this House, in consequence of the conquest of California by the United States. I remember that that was an event which was looked forward to with the gravest alarm, and one from which the most calamitous results were anticipated. Have any of those gloomy forebodings been realised? I would ask the House whether the balance of power has been injured by the conquest of California by the United States, and whether there is any event since the discovery of America which has contributed more to the wealth, and through the wealth, to the power of this country, than the development of the rich resources of California by means of the United States? These things are worthy of consideration; for, believe me, sooner or later we shall have to adopt clear and definite opinions on this subject; and, indeed, I cannot hesitate to express my belief that if sounder views with respect to it had prevailed in this country, Her Majesty's Government might not have felt themselves obliged to take a course with regard to the enlistment question which, whatever may be its immediate consequences, certainly has not terminated in a manner flattering to the honour of this nation, or grateful to the feelings of any class of Her Majesty's subjects. These are the two points to which the noble Lord to whom we are indebted for this discussion has particularly referred. For my own part, I look on all that has happened with regard to the enlistment question as indicative of a feeling of distrust in the United States, and which has its origin in the conviction that the policy of this country is hostile to the legitimate development of their power. Sir, it is my opinion that all that the United States have fairly a right to expect they may obtain, without injury either to Europe in general or to England in particular, and that it is the business of a statesman to recognize the necessity of an increase in their power, and at the same time to make them understand that they will most surely accomplish all the objects they propose to herself by recognizing those principles of international law which in civilised communities have always been upheld, and to impress upon them that, instead of vaunting that they will build their greatness on the Monroe doctrine, which is the doctrine of isolation, they should seek to attain it by deferring to the public law of Europe, and by allowing their destiny to be regulated by the same high principles of policy which all the European communities that have a political system have invariably recognised.