HC Deb 15 March 1861 vol 161 cc2065-75

said, he rose to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether Sir Charles Wyke, who was appointed on the 23rd of January, 1860, Minister Plenipotentiary to the Republic of Mexico, has as yet proceeded to his mission; and if not, when he is likely to do so; and whether the Foreign Office has received any official intimation of any measures adopted by the present Mexican Government to carry into effect the engagements entered into with the holders of the bends of the Republic? He would remind the House, that though Sir Charles Wyke had been appointed as our Minister to Mexico more than a year ago, he had not till lately, if at all, left Europe, and yet during that time events of great importance had occurred. An arrangement had taken place in 1846, and again in 1850, by which a portion of the revenues of Mexico were pledged to the British creditors. But that pledge, he need hardly remind the House had not been fulfilled, though he believed that that pledge gave our Government a right to interfere in the matter. There was, indeed, scarcely a spot in the globe where it was more important that Britain should be represented than in Mexico, at the present moment, and that from reasons independent of the pecuniary question to which he had alluded. Since President Comonfort had been driven out of Mexico a dispute had been going on as to his successor. Miramon had been lately driven out of the country, and Juarez, his successful competitor, had called a Convention with a view to the establishment of Constitutional Government. It was, therefore, of the greatest importance that our Minister should be on the spot to sustain the Government by the moral influence of England against the reactionaries on the one hand and the revolutionists on the other. It was also said that General Juarez had promised Captain Aldham, of the Valorous, an officer who had ably supported the interests of this country in the absence of the Minister, that he was prepared to renew the pledge of the revenues of Vera Cruz and Tampico for the payment of the dividends of the British bendholders. He would be glad to know if any information of that kind had reached the Foreign Office. He should also wish to ask the noble Lord whether there would be any objection to lay on the table copies of any dispatches that would put the House in possession of the facts relating to the events that had lately taken place in Mexico?


said, he cordially concurred with much that had fallen from the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Robert Peel) who had called attention to the conduct of Spain. At the same time it should be remembered that the House had only heard the facts on one side, and therefore it ought to suspend its judgment until it had the Spanish Government's version of the matter before it. He rose, however, to inquire of the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary whether he had instructed Mr. Odo Russell to ask Cardinal Antonelli whether the Papal army would act on the defensive against the Sardinian invaders, or would attempt to regain the Romagna? There was a despatch from Mr. Odo Russell, stating that he had spoken to Cardinal Antonelli and asked him certain questions respecting the Papal army. He wished to know whether that was done by the noble Lord's orders, Perhaps the noble Lord would also answer another question. There was a despatch of the noble Lord's calling the attention of the Court of Austria to its having spoken of Lombardy as the Lombardo-Venetian Provinces, which the noble Lord stated to be inaccurate and a violation of the Treaty of Zurich. He would, therefore, like to know whether the noble Lord had also asked for an explanation from the Sardinian Government relative to the much more flagrant violation of the Treaty of Zurich in the assumption by King Victor Emmanuel of the title of King of Italy?


The House, Sir, will perhaps think that I have now to answer a good many questions, almost as many in fact, as are contained in what on the other side of the Tweed is called The Shorter Catechism; and certainly they are as multifarious in their nature as they are numerous.

The hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe) began by stating many reasons why he thought my conduct in the Foreign Office had been unduly partial to Austria. A few minutes afterwards the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck) rose on the other side of the House, and gave what he thought conclusive proof that I had acted very unfairly towards Austria, and in a manner anything but that to which a friendly nation was entitled. These are the inconsistent accusations to which we are exposed through pursuing a policy which we think is impartial and tending to preserve the peace of Europe. In reply to those hon. Gentlemen I have only to say that without adopting any violent interference, there are occurrences from time to time which appear to us calculated to lead to a rupture between the different Powers of Europe; and in those cases I hardly think anybody will deny that it is very desirable to preserve the general peace. In the next place, when those occurrences come to our knowledge, it is a friendly as well as useful act to point out the facts to the Powers concerned, and ask for such an explanation or for such a change of conduct as the circumstances may seem to require.

The hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe) has heard of a great many things that did not happen, and appears very ignorant of many that did. He supposes that Her Majesty's Government have communicated or indicated to Sardinia that if any expedition should leave the coast of Italy for that of Dalmatia, which is Austrian territory, it would be opposed by the naval forces of Her Majesty. Now no such intimation has been given. The hon. Member seems to have been crammed with many unfounded tales of that kind. There was one thing, however, in regard to which I did put a question to Sir James Hudson, but in regard to which the answer he gave was a very different one from what the hon. Gentleman supposes. I had heard from persons in the City of London that a contract was about to be entered into for a railroad through the Sardinian territories, the first clause of which provided that a large sum of money should be paid to M. Kossuth. It was conjectured, and naturally so, that if that large sum was to be paid to Kossuth in the Sardinian territory it would be used for purposes of aggression against Austria. Now Austria might have said—I do not say that she has said, but she might have said—that if hostile preparations were made in the Kingdom of Sardinia, and these resulted in troops, ships, men, and money being employed against her, the expedition so prepared would not be regarded as the act of mere individuals, but she would think herself justified in asking for explanations and redress from the Power on the soil of which these aggressive measures had been matured. Of course that principle may be just or unjust according to the mode of its application. But it is evident that circumstances like these, whether there be negligence on the one side or too great suspicion on the other, may lead to a disturbance of the peace of Europe. I, therefore, directed an inquiry to Sir James Hudson, to ascertain whether he knew anything of this contract, and whether it was true that a large sum of money was to be paid to Kossuth by Sardinia in connection with it. As far as I can recollect, the reply of Sir James Hudson was that such a contract had been in contemplation, but had since been entirely abandoned. I must say that so far from Sir James Hudson returning to my inquiry such an answer as the hon. Gentleman supposes—an answer, that is, of very indignant virtue—as an honest and faithful servant of the Crown he gave me every information which his great intelligence and knowledge of Italy enabled him to afford. With respect, then, to any ominous omission of the despatches between the month of August and the 27th of October, I looked over the chief of them to-day, and found that they were mostly upon very trifling matters—such, for example as that an English ship had been seized by some Garibaldians and carried to Malta, and that the question was how compensation was to be obtained for that violent act. Then, again, there was a question about the Irish Legion—how it was to be brought back, and what had become of Major O'Reilly. There was another relating to the expediency of establishing a consulate at Florence; and also another respecting an English gentleman who, being in very embarrassed circumstances, was thrown into prison at Milan for a debt to his tailor. These are fair samples of the contents of those despatches. And I may observe that, having before the Session to settle with my noble Friend the Under Secretary of State as to which of the papers in the Foreign Office should be printed, I remarked at the time:—"It often happens that, if a bulky volume is presented, Members of Parliament are almost as much at a loss for information as if no despatches were given at all. Therefore let us endeavour to extract all that is most interesting, all the despatches that turn on the great points in dispute, without giving such a voluminous mass of documents as are sometimes laid on the table of the House." That is the explanation of the absence of any despatches between the two dates to which the hon. Gentleman referred. The hon. Member next asked me what I could mean by saying that the British Government have interests in the Adriatic. Well, I must inform him—although I suppose all the rest of the House are quite aware of the fact—that there were treaties made in 1814 and 1815, by which the protectorate of the Ionian Islands was given to Great Britain; that a British garrison is kept in Corfu; and that at the time when there was a great discussion whether the whole of the provinces neighbouring to Greece might not rise in insurrection, and an attempt be made to set up a great Greek Empire, a Greek Minister told me that his Government had no means of preventing any public manifestation of that kind. I say, then, it is obvious that we have such interests; and, although the hon. Member may never have heard of Corfu, let me tell him that it is a very important position, and one not to be wholly neglected by the person charged with the foreign affairs of the country. The hon. Gentleman opposite asked me several questions to which I fear I cannot give him so very satisfactory an answer.


I asked the noble Lord whether he did not send a despatch desiring Sir James Hudson to keep his eye on Kossuth; and also whether, in his despatch relative to the railway concession by Sardinia, he did not direct that an intimation should be made to the Sardinian Government that it would displease our Government if Kossuth was made a director of the line?


I never remember desiring Sir James Hudson to keep his eye on Kossuth, or anything of the kind stated by the hon. Member. I did say that the payment of a large sum of money to Kossuth, to be used for purposes of war against Austria, might be very inconvenient to Sardinia, and therefore I hoped he would make some observations upon it. I must repeat that I do not think it is for the interest either of Sardinia or of that new Italian kingdom which I should regard without those feelings of apprehension entertained by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hennessy) that she should send out an expedition of Hungarians, not to take part in any struggle in Hungary, but to act against the coast of Dalmatia, and thereby, perhaps, to involve her in war with Austria. I do not deny that I wished to prevent this. I should be very sorry to think that either Austria should have a just cause of war against Italy, or that Italy should have a just cause of war against Austria; and, in consequence of my feeling on that subject, I do not know that I ever let pass a week, during a considerable period from the last recess without impressing upon each not to give any such cause to the other.

The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck) asks me whether information was received from Sir James Hudson, previous to the 31st of August last, to the effect that the expedition of General Garibaldi was secretly assisted by the Sardinian Government. Neither before the 31st of August nor since have we been informed—have ever had any official, or indeed any reliable, information whatever—that the expedition of Garibaldi at its first setting out was in any way assisted by the Sardinian Government. Count Cavour in his despatch of the 30th of May says, and I think with great fairness and candour— The irresistible impulse which has caused so many subjects of Her Britannic Majesty to testify with such noble generosity the sympathy they feel in the misfortunes of Sicily manifests itself in a far greater degree in the States of the King. Without being in any degree more desirous than the Government of Her Britannic Majesty to violate in any manner the principles of the law of nations, the Government of the King is, as well as the British Government, unable to prevent these proofs of sympathy. As a free Government it could not punish acts which international feeling may disapprove, but which do not come under the sanction of any positive law; as an Italian Government it cannot oppose itself to the current of public opinion, which is openly pronounced in favour of the population. Now, whether Count Cavour or the Sardinian Government did not exceed what they might fairly do according to international obligations is a question into which I do not think it necessary to enter. I am not bound to defend all the conduct of the Sardinian Government; but certainly I did not receive any information, nor do I believe that the Sardinian Government was concerned in fitting out the expedition of General Garibaldi. The subsequent conduct of that Government it is not for me to criticise, for it is not the duty of the British Government to defend the acts of a foreign government, The hon. Gentleman further asks me whether previous to the 11th day of September we received official information that the Sardi- nian Government contemplated the invasion or seizure of a portion of the Papal States. The only information which we received on the subject was that contained in the despatch of the 7th of September, which is on the table of the House. Of course, ever since I entered on the duties of the office which I have the honour to hold, I have received various intimations that portions of the Papal States were very much disaffected towards the Pope. Various missions were sent from Umbria to Turin asking Sardinia, through deputations, to take that province under its protection. We were always told that those deputations were discouraged, but at the same time disaffection continued to prevail. When it was likely that this disaffection would break out was not, of course, in our power to foresee. The hon. Gentleman also asks a question with regard to the mercenaries employed by the Papal Government. Now, I stated, in the despatch so often alluded to, of the 27th of October, that Her Majesty's Government did not propose to dilate on the question of whether the Pope was justified in defending his authority by means of foreign levies; but I must say that I think the enlistment of those foreign levies was a subject which naturally excited great attention on the part of the Sardinian Government. As soon as it was decided, after the peace of Villafranca, to reduce the Austrian army, Austrian soldiers in great numbers went to Ancona. They were enlisted by a Papal envoy at Venice, and sent to Ancona. Many of them were in Austrian uniforms when they engaged to serve the Papal Government. At that time we pointed out to the Austrian Government what might be the effect of this, and said— No doubt you are able to allow your men to engage in foreign service. Nobody denies your right to do so. But with respect to expeditions of this kind, recollect that if great numbers of Austrians should be formed into battalions on the Papal territory on the one side, and Austrian troops and an Austrian garrison should occupy Verona and Mantua on the other, nothing is more likely to induce Sardinia to believe that she is not safe, and that she must rid herself of a force of that kind. Therefore, I think, although that is not itself a case of war, yet it is one of those circumstances which might produce a collision with Sardinia. With regard to all the circumstances which then took place, I must say that I have no complete information, but they were in that state that at any moment the Piedmontese Government might think their safety was compromised and begin to arm. That is what Sir James Hudson pointed out. He said that if Garibaldi were to proceed from Naples to the Papal States an insurrection would follow, and the Piedmontese would throw their arms into it. Of course, I am not entering into the general question, as I have no official information. Well, the hon. Gentleman asks me what answer was returned by the Austrian Government to the Despatch 96, addressed to Lord Adolphus Loftus. There, again, was another circumstance which we have pointed out to the Austrians. It is no doubt very difficult, some will say impossible, for the Austrian Government to reconcile to their rule the subjects of Austria in Venetia; but this, I think is quite certain, that the arrests made from time to time, not during the last year, but during the last twelve or thirteen years, and the confinement of persons without open trial, or their being secretly condemned, or kept without trial, is one of the circumstances that has worked most strongly on the minds of the people of that country, and induced them to refuse to be reconciled with Austria. We pointed out this to the Austrian Government, and observed how very likely it was to incite revolution. The Austrian Government replied that, as no doubt was too true, there were secret societies meditating insurrection. I do not think it necessary to produce that correspondence, but if the House thinks it would be desirable we have no objection to do so. I may observe that we made a further statement, recommending open trial.

Next, with respect to the question of the hon. Baronet the Member for Tam-worth (Sir Robert Peel), I entirely agree with him that punishment for religious faith totally unconnected with political opinions is in utter violation of those rights which every one of us ought to enjoy. The opinion of this House is, I believe, that every person, no matter what his faith, ought to be at liberty to profess his religious belief and express his religious opinions without being punished by the authority of the Government. That is an established principle in this country, and I have never failed in stating it to other nations when an opportunity presented itself for doing so with advantage. I may refer to the case of the Madiai family. In that case, knowing the opinions which prevailed in Italy, and know- ing likewise that, though they were not very numerous, there was a certain number of Protestants in Tuscany, I thought that a representation from the British Government might be attended with a good result. Accordingly, I made one; and we know that the family were subsequently liberated. Then I may mention a case which arose in Mexico. There are in that country two parties—one called the Church party, and the other the Constitutional party. The former have laid it down as an invariable rule that there should be but one religion, and that persons who did not belong to the Roman Catholic religion should not have the right of public worship. We were anxious—France was anxious—Spain was anxious to induce the parties who were engaged in civil war in Mexico to come to an agreement that would restore tranquillity; but we added that we could not advise such a peace without recommending to both parties that the principles of religious liberty should prevail. However, as to Spain, the right hon. Baronet may be right, and we may be wrong as to the effect of an official representation; but I confess that, seeing it written in the Spanish Constitution that there shall only be one religion, the Catholic; seeing the penal laws enacted for the punishment of all who shall attempt to worship in a different manner; and knowing that that provision in the Constitution and those penal enactments are strongly supported by the clergy of Spain, who have immense influence over the people, I, like others, thought that an official remonstrance would meet with an immediate negative. My opinion is that the public opinion which is growing in the various countries of Europe, together with the great improvement that Spain has lately made in wealth and commerce, will, before many years, introduce toleration into that country. Therefore, I did not interfere on that subject.

An hon. Gentleman (Mr. Butt) asks me a question with regard, to the affairs of Mexico, and especially with regard to Sir Charles Wyke. The answer I have to give is that our Government had engaged to give a sort of moral support to the late Government of Mexico—that is to say, such a recognition of that Government as would give some strength to those in authority in Mexico. But when the office of Minister from this country was vacant Sir Charles Wyke had gone to Central America to attempt to settle questions of great intricacy and difficulty that had arisen. I had no personal knowledge of Sir Charles Wyke. All that I knew of him was that he had rendered great public service to the country. He had served a great many years in tropical climates. I recommended him to Her Majesty for the appointment to Mexico. He did not come home from his duties in Central America till the month of May. I was in hopes before that period that he would have been able to go to Mexico; but when he arrived here his health was so entirely shattered by his public services in those tropical climates that he was unable to go, and he asked leave of absence for six months to recruit. For that purpose he went to Germany, and in the middle of winter I asked him to proceed to Mexico, but he said his health at that time was not restored, and he went to the waters of Carlsbad. Since that time his health has much improved, and he will be able to go by the next packet to Mexico. Sir Charles Wyke has been fifteen years in a tropical climate, and during that period he has been only one year and ten months at home, so that he was fully entitled to the short leave of absence he had obtained. I should say that the management of our affairs in Mexico has during this interval been conducted by Mr. Mathew, a gentleman who has great knowledge of the circumstances of that country. There were great difficulties to contend with there, for there was one Government at Mexico and another at Vera Cruz; and although he might enter into an agreement with the Government at Mexico he Could obtain no redress at Vera Cruz; and if he made an arrangement with the Government at Vera Cruz he could obtain no redress at Mexico. Now there is but one Government, and when Sir Charles Wyke proceeds there, he will have to deal with one Government only, and I trust he will be as successful there as he has been elsewhere. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said of the republics of South America. Those countries are possessed of great fertility, and much natural wealth, and it is to be hoped that in time better views will prevail among all classes of the people; but so long as they remain in the distracted state in which many of them now are, one consequence will be that the property of British subjects will not be safe. There is nothing which it is more difficult for a Foreign Minister to obtain than redress; and it is frequently found in South Ame- rica that a Government which commits an injury is dissolved and another in its place before redress can be obtained. I am sorry that it has not been in our power to send Sir Charles Wyke out earlier; but he is going in April.