HC Deb 08 April 1864 vol 174 cc696-719

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to a telegraphic despatch which appeared in The Times newspaper of the 6th instant, relative to the bombardment of Sönderborg by the Prussians without previous intimation, and to ask the First Lord of the Treasury, If Her Majesty's Government have received information whether the account given in that despatch is substantially correct; and, if so, what steps have been taken by Her Majesty's Government to recall the Prussian Government to a sense of the necessity of carrying on war in accordance with the usages of civilized nations? He should endeavour to disassociate the question of the bombardment, to which his question referred, as far as possible from that of the war which had unfortunately broken out between the allied Powers and Denmark. So far as the war was concerned, he did not wish, on the present occasion, to come forward as the advocate of one side or the other, further than to say, that, in his opinion, the Danes by not fulfilling the conditions of the Treaty of 1852 gave the Prussians the first cause of quarrel. At the same time, he could not help thinking that the demands of the Prussians on Denmark had been prosecuted in a violent and unjustifiable manner—a view of the case in which he was supported by no less an authority than that of the First Lord of the Treasury. He entertained no doubt that the existing feeling throughout the country was one of sympathy with the Danes, and detestation of the conduct of the Prussians. Indeed, he believed the feeling of the country would have been much more strongly expressed on the subject had it not been for the assurances of the noble Lord, as well as those of the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, taken in conjunction with the near relations which existed between the Prussian Court and the Royal family of this country. Had not the country thought that the arbitrary course of Prussia would have been stayed by those considerations and the brave words of the noble Lord, there would have undoubtedly been a stronger feeling of sym- pathy with the Danes. As it happened, however, the noble Lord had hardly condemned the conduct of Prussia when it became more outrageous and violent; and this state of things had been going on so long, that a strong feeling was arising throughout the country in favour of taking a more decided part in favour of the Danes. There had been a good deal said indeed, of late, about a Conference; but, for his own part, he did not much believe that it tended to good results. The country generally, however, entertained the hope, that if the great Powers were to enter into a Conference with the avowed desire of peace, the Prussians would in all probability become more amenable to the ordinary usages of civilized nations. That expectation had now been very rudely dispelled by a telegram which had appeared in The Times newspaper of the 6th of April, which was dated Ulkebol, April 4, and which came from the special correspondent of that paper, whose information was usually correct, and to which, therefore, the country at large attached great importance. The telegram to which he alluded described such a state of proceedings as had never been, he thought, laid before the House, and it was to the following effect— The Prussians have bombarded Sonderborg for forty-eight hours without any previous intimation. Eighty townspeople, women, and children, have been killed or wounded. Fifteen hundred shells have been thrown into the town, which is deserted. The cannonade suddenly and completely ceased this morning; it has, however, recommenced. The Danish position is uninjured. Now, he did not know that an account of so dastardly an outrage—for he could call it by no other name—had ever been read in that House before; an outrage perpetrated by one civilized nation upon another, with whom they were not even at war, but whom they had professed to have taken under their protection. After that outrage, he would like to know, if the opinion of the people of Sönderborg could be taken, whether they would prefer to be under the dominion of the Prussians to that of the Danes. The concluding portion of the telegram was very significant, for it stated that the Danish position was uninjured, which showed that the attack could not have been made for any military purpose. The destruction of the town, in fact, could neither be looked upon as a military operation nor as the result of accident, because the Danish position, so far as he could make out from the map, was about two miles from the town of Sönderborg. Now, he thought that both our interests and our honour required that we should enter a most energetic protest against the conduct of a war in the manner to which he had drawn the attention of the House. We had a vast seaboard, and it was most assuredly our interest to recall to the mind of other countries the necessity of waging war in accordance with the usage of civilized nations. If we were not prepared to accept that principle, France or any other nation with which we happened to have a quarrel might send a fleet to bombard Brighton or any other of our towns which was exposed. Our honour was also to some extent involved. Our Government had made representations to the Danes which they had accepted and acted upon, and we were therefore bound to protect them against utter destruction. The allies had invaded Jutland upon one pretext, and, as they would never want a stick to beat a dog, they would probably soon find another, and cross over and attack the other Danish provinces. It was difficult to say what we ought to do. No man was more anxious to avoid war than he was; but he desired to see some measures adopted to prevent the rest of Denmark being swallowed up as Schleswig and Holstein had been. It was vain to hope that we should go to war to recover those Duchies. He supposed that Prussia meant to keep them for herself, but he should be sorry to see the rest of Denmark fall into the clutches of that unprincipled Power. What was the use of our Ambassador at Berlin? The noble Lord at the head of the Government had condemned the conduct of the Prussians in the strongest language, and they could not doubt that his condemnation was followed by remonstrances addressed to the Ministry at Berlin. If our remonstrances, instead of doing good, operated directly to the contrary, we had better recall our Ambassador, and with all his heart he wished that such a step might be taken. He should also like to see a portion of our fleet sent to the Baltic to help the Danes to protect their territory. He was for peace, but that would not be an act of war. We were told that Prussia was not at war with Denmark, she was only carrying out a little friendly intervention; and if that was so, it certainly could not be art act of war on our part to send a fleet to assist the Danes to protect their territory against an uncalled-for aggression without the excuse of war. He did not see how any one could say that that would be an act of war. At all events, it would not be half so hostile a measure as the invasion of the Danish territory by the Prussians. It was high time that the question was brought before the House, and he, for one, should be prepared to back the Government in any measures however strong to prevent the further decimation of the unfortunate Danes.


Sir, when I first read the notice of the very proper question which has been put by my hon. Friend, I had no idea that it was about to lead to such warlike results. The question is a natural one for a Member of the House of Commons to put with reference to what appears to be an outrage on humanity, and I had hoped that my hon. Friend, although he was somewhat confused in his argument, because he began by saying that he was against Denmark, but that, somehow or other, he was opposed to the Prussians.


explained that he had said that he thought Denmark was wrong in the first instance—in the first quarrel—but that the conduct of Prussia was unjustifiable.


I was under the impression that the hon. Gentleman would have contented himself with a simple protest; but, like the lion lashing himself into a fury with his own tail, he has imitated the example which was set him in another place, to the horror of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was thinking of his surplus, which we disposed of, or shall dispose of, I hope, last night [Laughter]—or shall dispose of on a future evening; though I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman's speech last night would have convinced any one that we might have passed the Budget the same evening. But what was my astonishment to hear the hon. Gentleman, who had announced himself as a Dane, calmly propose that we should send our fleet to the Baltic for the protection of Denmark, without any discussion whatever having taken place in this House. The House will recollect that at the meeting of Parliament—and I must beg the attention of the junior Lord of the Treasury, the hon. and gallant Member for Kidderminster (Colonel White), who has lately addressed his constituents upon this question, and who has such confidence in her Majesty's Government — at the meeting of Parliament there was no sub- ject of such absorbing interest as the complication of affairs in the North of Europe. Various skirmishes occurred upon this subject, and enormous interest was taken in it by the leaders of the great party that I see opposite. But what has happened since? The House sat for six weeks, and no opinion whatever was expressed as to the policy of Her Majesty's Government; and to this day the House is liable to be led away by the raw head and bloody bones statements made by my hon. Friend. I contend that it is positively necessary that this question should be examined fully and calmly by this House in the face of the country. At first it was said, and said with great truth, that it was impossible to discuss this Dano-German question in the absence of the papers hearing upon it. It was complained that those papers were most unaccountably delayed. I have since seen the reason, and am able to give an explanation of that. Negotiations having been going on for months, it was not too much to expect that at the meeting of Parliament papers would have been immediately laid upon the table of this House. No such course was adopted by Her Majesty's Government. After a considerable interval had elapsed, a bulky volume was produced—Nos. I, 2, 3, and 4; but when a debate was about to take place upon those interesting papers, the noble Lord interposed with that specious plea which we so often hear from the Treasury Bench, of its being prejudicial to the interests of the country—and for "country," we may sometimes read "Ministry." The noble Lord deprecated any discussion, and announced to the House that a Conference—in which even the hon. Gentleman who has so much confidence in the noble Lord has no confidence—was about to take place upon the subject. Well, Sir, I yielded to the appeal of the noble Lord. On the re-assembling of Parliament after the holydays, other papers were laid upon the table—volume No. 5. These papers have issued from the press like the novel of Sir Charles Grandison, which was published in separate volumes. They are as lengthy, and certainly, on the whole, I may say as dull. But on reading No. 5 I perfectly acquit the Government. I quite understand the reasons for the delay in presenting the previous volumes. In fact, I will go further. I think the hon. Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs deserves great credit for his assiduity in revising, suppressing, and clipping these papers into a state in which they shall be fit for the Parliamentary mind. I believe there never was an instance where so many important papers have been subjected to such a clipping process as in this Dano-German correspondence. All the important documents—and they must have caused my hon. Friend a great deal of trouble—have been what is vulgarly called "through the mill," until they assume the shape of "elegant extracts." Well, Sir, and what is the present position of this matter? These papers strongly remind one of the character of the month which has just passed. The correspondence in Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 was conducted by the Foreign Office with leonine vigour; No. 5, Sir, has concluded with most lamblike bleating. In studying what I may call the early style of the Foreign Office, I was impressed with fear lest the Government, in their hysteric fussiness and irritating industry in rending lectures to Germany and the Great Powers generally, might anticipate the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, and immediately send a fleet to the Baltic. Luckily, No. 5 has been produced, and I am relieved, at least, of that anxiety; for in those papers their new style is perceptible, and I must say that a more striking contrast to the first four volumes, or a more remarkable avidity for feasting on humble pie, has never been displayed by any Government or any Ministry which has swayed the foreign destinies of this country. Let the House, before I put the question I am about to do, calmly consider the matter, and not be led away by the exciting statement of my hon. Friend; but let the House, I say, calmly consider what have been the results, I will not say of our policy, because it would be an affront to the word, but of our bungling diplomacy. We are told that we are to have a Conference, and the extraordinary thing is that, directly this Conference is announced, the war, which had hitherto languished, has became most sanguinary; so much so that in the same telegram announcing that M. Quaade and another Danish Minister are about to start to attend the Conference, the intelligence is continued that Sönderborg has very nearly been laid in ashes. The immediate effect of the approaching Congress upon the North of Europe, which we seek by its means to pacify, has been to lead the Prussians to redouble their attacks, adding immensely to the slaughter. Let us go a little further, and se6 what this Conference is. We are told that the attendance of all the signataries to that remarkable Treaty of 1852 has been promised; and, what is more, that a Plenipotentiary of the German Diet will attend—a Power, by-the-by, which has been treated by the Government of the noble Lord heretofore very much in the light of a poor relation—that is to say, not taken into account at all. Suddenly—and let the House mark that it was at the suggestion of the French Government, which declined, if there be any truth in the papers contained in No. 5, to be present without a plenipotentiary from the Diet attended—we have a statement that a plenipotentiary from the German Diet was also invited. Whether that plenipotentiary will attend or not we do not know exactly, but From the nature of the German Diet I think that we can foresee that, whatever day the noble Lord has named for his Conference, the German Diet, by reason of their sluggish mode of proceeding, will not be in a position to send an answer to the noble Lord's invitation for some weeks, if not for some months later. They will have to refer the matter to the 37 States which they represent; these will refer it back again, and the subject will then be entertained by a Select Committee; so that at the end of the Session, probably, the noble Lord will have an answer from the German Diet. The French Minister, with more foresight than our own, suggests that the protocol might be left open for the German plenipotentiary; and that, perhaps, might be the best course to pursue. But suppose the Conference meets, I want the House calmly to consider what it is to do. It appears to me that this Conference is nothing more nor less than a means of escape for Her Majesty's Ministers from their bungling proceedings and uncalled-for meddling in the North of Europe. It is, in fact, a political pic-nic given by the noble Lord, to which every country will be allowed to bring its basket of suggestions, with no pi`ce de resistance provided in the shape of a basis, but with perfect freedom—and indeed agreement—on the part of each one present to differ upon every point from everybody else. All this time, when the noble Lord is sending out his general invitations for an "At home" on a certain day—I want to know what the Foreign Office are about to do with the London Treaty of May 8,1852? We hear a great deal about this treaty in the early style of the Foreign Office; but by some extraordinary transmutation in No. 5, as laid upon the table of the House, the Treaty of 1852 has vanished altogether from the consideration of Her Majesty's Government. So thoroughly is this the case, that having put upon the paper a Motion for the 19th instant, relating to the Treaty of 1852, I now am seriously at a loss to know whether that treaty any longer applies to the treatment of this Dano-German question. It is really a curious study to trace what is the main thought running through the mind of Her Majesty's Government in their handling of this subject. In their place in Parliament I find them speaking what my hon. Friend called brave big words of menace to Germany, and clinging with desperate tenacity to what I call that ill-omened, unfortunate, and unjust Treaty of 1852; a treaty which I shall prove was made at the instigation of Russia, which compromised the interests of Denmark, and which, I think, compromised the honour of this country, in ignoring the liberties and rights of a free people. That treaty, however, as I will endeavour to prove, has been entirely laid aside. I will not inflict upon the House a passage from the blue-book, but if they will turn to page 732 of Part No. 5, they will perceive that in despatch 1,040, of February 23, the Foreign Minister, running away from his previous promises, wrote to Lord Bloomfield at Vienna, proposing a Conference without a basis. He had first insisted on a basis, but in that despatch he gives it up. I leave it to any sensible man to say, in the present state of feeling between the Powers, whether there is any likelihood of their coming to an agreement at such a Conference, even though the anxiety of the noble Lord to get them all into one room, like the Kilkenny cats, may be gratified. The despatch to which I have referred was dated February 23, and on February 26 a proposal in accordance with its terms was first made to the Danish Ministers by Sir A. Paget; and what was the state of things in the Danish Cabinet when that proposal was made? Why, so great was the consternation created among those unfortunate Danes, whom we have been leading astray all through with false hopes, and then deserting them in their extremity, so great, I say, was the consternation among them, that they said to Sir A. Paget, "For God's sake don't call on us for any immediate answer." Like gallant men, who do not think of themselves merely, they said, "If we agree at once to a Conference without a basis, not merely will our places be at stake, but probably the dynasty which you have taken so much trouble to set up." That is the feeling created at Copenhagen among the Danish Ministry by this proposal of a Conference without a basis. On the 9th of March—I go on to page 706—a fresh pressure was put on Denmark. It appears to have been felt that affairs had come to such a point in this House, that Her Majesty's Government could no longer resist taking action and putting a fresh pressure on Denmark. On March 15, Austria declares to our Ambassador, that though she had formerly agreed to the basis of the Treaty of 1852, she will now no longer be satisfied with the fulfilment by the Danes of the engagements of 1851–2; and that if she meets in Conference she will demand further engagements. On March 16, Denmark still asserts that she will only meet in Conference on the basis of the engagements of 1851–2; but she takes very little by this, for on the 17th of March, Sir Andrew Buchanan, at Berlin, announces to M, Bismark, that Her Majesty's Government had altogether given up the engagements of 1851–2 as the basis for the meeting of the Conference. But what happens after that? It is a most extraordinary thing, and it must strike every hon. Member with astonishment, that whenever we want any real information on foreign affairs we are not furnished with it by our own Government, who, while they do not pretend to legislate for home affairs, yet appeal to us for our support on account of the vigour and foresight of their foreign policy. Well, when anything remarkable is to be learnt respecting foreign policy, we do not find it in this blue-book. No. We must go to the foreign papers, and in the second edition of The Times published yesterday there appears a despatch from the French Minister for Foreign Affairs to the French Ambassador in London, which is not to be found in the blue book, though the despatch is dated as far back as March 20. The contents of that despatch are of so extraordinary a nature, that I think that some detailed statement is due from the noble Lord the Prime Minister, as to whether the Government are agreed to take the suggestion contained in that despatch as the basis of the Conference. The proposition of the French Minister involves such a serious principle, that I think the House should take it into consideration if the Government does not. M. Drouyn de Lhuys says he wishes to acquaint the Cabinet of London with the course intended to be taken by the French Government in reference to the Conference; and he goes on to say that, if the French Plenipotentiary attend, he thinks it his duty to inform Her Majesty's Government that he will propose as a basis, for the consideration of the Conference, the propriety of consulting the wishes of the population of Schleswig and Holstein, as to who should be their Sovereign. I take it that this is really a bonâ fide despatch, and that is the purport of it. I want to know, then, why it is not given in the blue-book, and whether the Government will lay a copy of it on the table of the House? I wish, too, that the noble Lord will tell the House whether he, or the representative of the British Government at the Conference, is prepared to concur in that basis laid down by the French Minister? In fact, the further we look into this question of the Conference, it appears impossible to hope that any good will result from it. None of the representatives about to enter the Conference, with the exception of the representatives of Austria and Prussia, who will of course be together, appear to have any setled ideas of any sort or kind, and they seem to have given up all previous pledges to abide by the Treaty of 1852. The Conference, therefore, so far from settling the peace of the North of Europe is more likely to embitter matters, and instead of localizing the war, is likely to extend it even over a larger area. I would wish to draw the attention of the House to the remarkable answer given by the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary to this country to the invitation to attend the Conference, which was proposed by the Emperor of the French to be held at Paris. The very reasons given for refusing to attend that Congress apply with equal force to the assembly of the Conference which is shortly to meet. I will only read two passages from the despatch of the noble Lord, but they are of so much importance that I am sure the House will excuse the time I shall occupy in doing so. At the same time, I must say that I shall always lament that the invitation to attend the Congress was not accepted; and I think, also, that it might have been responded to with somewhat more courtesy, without the answer being first published in The Times newspaper. But what were the reasons given for not attending that Conference? Earl Russell stated in last November to Earl Cowley that the British Government would feel more apprehension than confidence from the meeting of a Congress of Sovereigns and Ministers without fixed objects, ranging over the map of Europe, and exciting hopes and aspirations which they might feel themselves unable either to gratify or to quiet. But the noble Lord goes further. Let the House remember that the present Conference is to be held during a state of war and without an armistice or basis, and then consider how applicable to it are these words, used in reference to the Congress proposed by the French Emperor. The noble Lord, the Foreign Secretary, wrote, in November last, to Earl Cowley— Indeed it is to be apprehended that questions arising from day to day, coloured by the varying events of the hour, would give occasion rather for useless debate than for practical and useful deliberation in a Congress of twenty or thirty representatives, not acknowledging any supreme authority, and not guided by any fixed rules of proceeding. That language held by the noble Lord in refusing to join the Congress for the pacification of Europe, and for lessening our armaments, is, I am afraid, more applicable on this occasion than when it was addressed to the Emperor of the French. I am very much inclined to believe that this whole Conference will only turn out a Parliamentary hoax, and it would have been much better, instead of meeting on the 12th of April, if the noble Lord had postponed it till the 1st of April next. But I really wish to know when this Conference will assemble? At present, it stands for the 12th of April, but I see by the foreign newspapers that it has no chance of meeting then. I want only to know what prospect there is, if it does meet at all, of any report of its proceedings being made before this House is dismissed for the long vacation. I can well understand that if this case is brought before the House In any shape, the plea will be urged that it would be prejudicial to the public service to discuss the question while the Conference is sitting; but, in my opinion, and in the opinion, I believe, of a great many Members of this House who take the trouble to rend the papers on the subject, we should be strengthening the hands of the Government by having a proper discussion on these questions. I want to know, and I hope the noble Lord at the head of the Government will give some proper account to the House, as to what has become of this Treaty of 1852. Does Her Majesty's Government intend to abide by that treaty, or are we to have another state of affairs by which there will be a temporary patching up of this system on the Continent, condemning these poor unfortunate Schleswig-Holsteiners to what the noble Lord calls the sway of their lawful Sovereign, but whom they do not acknowledge as their lawful Sovereign. It certainly is surprising that any man who pretends to lead a Liberal party should endeavour to force a Sovereign on a people who have never been consulted as to their choice. I hope the noble Lord will give an explanation, and not evade any of these points; but of this I am sure, that, whatever may be the present opinion of the country, in ignorance of the transactions which have taken place, it will hereafter regret that Germany has been irritated, Denmark cajoled, and England humiliated.


Sir, it is difficult to satisfy my hon. Friend, for he finds fault with the past, with the present, and with the future. I shall not, therefore, attempt to alter his opinions, but shall simply answer the questions which have been put to me. Now, Sir, my hon. Friend accuses Her Majesty's Government of having misled Denmark, and of having excited expectations which have not been fulfilled. I utterly deny these allegations. There is not a syllable in the blue-books with which my hon. Friend pretends to be familiar, but which I cannot believe he has read, which bears out the assertion he has made. Our policy, Sir, has been plain and simple from the beginning, and, as I think, honourable throughout. Our object has been first of all to prevent war, and, hostilities having commenced, to restore peace. My hon. Friend says we have thrown over the Treaty of 1852. No such thing. Again, I say my hon. Friend has not read a word of the blue-books, for there is not a syllable in them to justify such a statement. On the contrary, not only do we maintain the Treaty of 1852, but every one of the Powers who concluded that treaty equally maintains it. Therefore my hon. Friend must have been in a dream on this matter, and comes down here to expound his illusions, instead of telling us what he would have discovered if he had perused those documents which seem to weigh so much on his mind, but to dwell so little on his memory. My hon. Friend has fallen into some of those contradictions which men of his genius and imaginative powers are occasionally apt to stumble into. He has critized the Conference, and very naturally, being of an inquisitive turn of mind, he wants to know what the Conference will do when it assembles. I am not able to gratify his curiosity. If he wishes to know the past I furnish him with the blue-books. If he wishes to know the future he must apply somewhere else. My hon. Friend ridicules the Conference, which, by the way, he has invested with a function which I was not aware naturally belonged to it. He says a Conference cannot meet without a basis. When two Powers—two nations—two Governments begin to treat for peace it is, no doubt, essential that the plenipotentiaries should settle the terms on which they are to negotiate, and agree whether it is to be on the principle of uti possidetis or the status quo ante bellum. It is not, however, the peculiar function of a Conference to have a basis. A Conference is an assembly of plenipotentiaries of different powers, who meet for the purpose of ascertaining what is the state of things, and how they can be set right. That is a Conference. My hon. Friend objects to the Conference, which is to meet for the purpose of endeavouring to put an end to the hostilities that are raging, but which he says will only create more mischief. He pledges his political sagacity—and I beg you to bear that in mind—that the Conference can lead to no good result. I can only say I trust that next year on the day he has mentioned—namely, the first of April, he will remind us of what he has now predicted. My hon. Friend says we are wrong to agree to the Conference, but that we were equally wrong not to have agreed to the Congress. He thinks the reason we gave for not going to the Congress was absurd, I said there was no object for the Congress to deal with. Well, there was no object for the Congress, because there was no war which it was to bring to a close, and there was no particular subject to which the Congress was to direct attention. Here, however, there is a distinct object—to endeavour to reconcile parties who are differing, and to put an end to hostilities now raging. The cases are utterly different, and my hon. Friend would, I think, have shown more discrimination of mind if he had not drawn this distinction, which was exactly the wrong way. I repeat that all the parties who concluded the Treaty of 1852 agree in holding that they are bound by it to acknowledge King Christian as the Sovereign of Denmark, and to respect and maintain the integrity of that kingdom. You may say that is not a basis; at least it is an agreement. The Powers have all agreed that that is the condition on which they enter into the Conference with a view to reconcile the differences which hare arisen between Denmark and Germany. My hon. Friend confounds two things which are in themselves entirely separate—the agreements of 1851–2. and the Treaty of May, 1852. There are differences between Germany and Denmark as to the agreements of 1852, the main facts of which were that whereas, on the one hand, the German Powers agreed not to require what had formerly been demanded, namely, the administrative and political union of Holstein and Schleswig; on the other hand, the Danish Government agreed not to do anything which could tend to incorporate Holstein with Denmark. But these agreements are totally different and distinct from the Treaty of 1852, and it is quite essential to our understanding of the matter, that the distinction should be borne in mind. The agreements of 1851–2 may be settled either way, without at all infringing the Treaty of 1852, and the Treaty of 1852 may be adhered to by those who entertain different opinions as to the engagements which preceded it. Then my hon. Friend asks when the Conference is to meet. We have the assent of all the Powers who concluded—I do not say of those who acceded to the treaty—France, Austria, Prussia, Russia, Sweden, and, Denmark, The German Confederation was not a party to that treaty. [Mr. BERNAL OSBORNE: The Confederation was not asked.] No; and some of the Powers of Germany objected to proposing to the German Diet to become a party to the treaty. At one time Prussia was against it, although she afterwards changed her mind, and wished the treaty to be communicated to the Diet. The other Powers, however, would not consent to that, because they considered the questions which were to be settled by this treaty, namely, the succession to the Danish Crown, and the integrity of the Danish monarchy, to be European and not German questions. We have asked the Diet to send a plenipotentiary to the Conference. Whether they will be as long in giving an answer as my hon. Friend imagines, I cannot say; but in deference to the desires of Austria and Prussia, who are anxious to give them a little more time to consider their answer, the meeting of the Conference will be postponed from the 12th to the 20th of April. France, it is true, wishes the Diet to send a representative to the Conference, but does not make that a sine qua non. Even if the Diet does not appear in the Conference, it will still be possible to proceed with it, as the protocol may be left open for the Diet to accede to it. My hon. Friend alluded to a despatch from the French Government to the French Ambassador here, containing the suggestions of an appeal to the populations of Holstein and Schleswig. That is not, however, put forward as a basis, but is thrown out merely as a suggestion. There are obvious objections which may be raised to any such proceeding, and it is not likely that the other Powers will fall into the suggestion; nor, indeed, does France require it. The French Government state distinctly that they stand on the Treaty of 1852, and hold themselves hound by its engagements. Well, Sir, that is the state of the case. My hon. Friend has his opinions, but I do not think they are partaken by the country at large. Although my hon. Friend is very abundant in his criticisms, I am really quite at a loss to understand what he would have done if he had had the management of affairs. [Mr. BERNAL OSBORNE: Let it alone] My hon. Friend, therefore, would have been a party to a treaty—[Mr. BERNAL OSBORNE: I would not have made it]—by which this country was bound to acknowledge a certain Sovereign as King of the countries under the sway of the Danish Crown, and to respect the integrity of the Danish monarchy; and in spite of the general opinion that this country was hound in honour and in interest to endeavour to maintain that treaty, he would have done nothing but sit still with his hands in his pockets as he is doing now. I do not think that such a course would have been to the credit of the Government or to the satisfaction of the country at large. We may be wrong and he may be right, but such, at least, is our opinion of the matter. We endeavoured to persuade other countries to fall into our views, and we trust we have accomplished, or are about to accomplish, a considerable step in assembling a Conference with the object of restoring peace. That is the answer to my hon. Friend, and at this late hour I cannot go into the other matters to which he referred. My hon. Friend who opened the question to night, referred to a transaction at Sönderborg, which I am afraid there is no reason to doubt really took place. We have no official or authentic information, but we have reason to believe, without knowing the extent to which lives were sacrificed, that a bombardment of Sönderborg did take place, and that some of the citizens were killed. The invasion of Danish territory was, in our opinion, unjust and unjustifiable, and I am sorry to say that circumstances have occurred in connection with the conduct of the German troops during the invasion which are not in keeping with the practice of civilized nations in modern times. We have made an inquiry at Berlin, but we have not yet got an answer — an inquiry, first, as to whether the thing did take place; and next, by what authority, and under what orders, the bombardment was carried out. I do not think the British Government can presume to dictate to the Prussian army the manner in which they should conduct their operations, but there are opinions which men may express as to conduct pursued in violation of ordinary rule and humanity, though I hope we shall be allowed to determine what we shall say when we get an answer from the Government of Berlin.


said, he thought that if it should turn out that the Prussians had been guilty of bombarding Sönderborg in the manner described, and that the bombardment had taken place without provocation, they would find no defenders either in the House of Commons or in any part of the United Kingdom. But he would take leave to say, on the present occasion, something analogous to what he took the liberty of saying when the House was dealing with the affair at Kagosima. He then said that before passing a censure upon Admiral Kuper, it would be well for the House to hear in the first instance what Admiral Kuper might have to say for himself, and he thought the result in that case, which he now knew, entitled him to hold that the course thus suggested was the proper one to take. Certainly, he should be sorry to abandon the hope that the Prussians might have something to say either in disproof or in extenuation of an act which at present seemed to be highly discreditable to them. He could not agree with the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Bernal Osborne), in endeavouring to pass a censure upon the Government for refusing to enter into the Congress proposed by the Government of France; nor could he concur with him in thinking that there was any analogy between that case and the present, because the objection which the Government took to going into a Congress was founded upon the supposition that the parties invited to send representatives could not see clearly what the objects sought to be attained were; whereas here, though he admitted that there was the greatest difficulty as to the bases of negotiation, yet on one point all Europe was agreed, because all Europe desired to see the restoration of peace. He presumed it was almost part of the duty of the noble Lord at the head of the Government to, in some manner, misunderstand the arguments and statements of the hon. Member for Liskeard; but what the hon. Gentleman endeavoured to convey to the House was this—That in the earlier stages of the negotiation the Government had, in the most earnest and persistent way, put forward the first Treaty of 1852 and then the integrity of the Danish monarchy as conditions without which nothing like a successful negotiation could take place. Then the hon. Member, perceiving that in the later portion of the papers the language used by the Government in this respect was moderated—and, perhaps, the House would think, properly moderated — permitted himself to quarrel with the change in their policy. He could not follow his hon. Friend in this, because the change, if any, was one which he hailed with great satisfaction. No doubt Her Majesty's Government had obtained the assent of foreign Powers to a Conference, but almost every Power which had so agreed, had annexed a distinct condition, and, therefore, the hon. Member for Liskeard very much understated his case when he said that there was an attempt to go into a Conference without a basis. The difficulty in which the Government were placed was not that there was no basis, but that there were three or four different bases, totally dissimilar the one from the other — nay, absolutely inconsistent one with the other. In language anxiously employed for the purpose of preventing any such misrepresentation, as was from time to time attempted, the Danish Government had declared that under no circumstances would they go into a Conference except upon the condition that the basis of the Conference was the arrangements of 1851 and 1852. On the other hand, both Austria and Prussia had said in terms equally distinct, that they would not go into the Conference if the arrangements of 1851 and 1852 were to be made the basis. It was, therefore, clear that no two parties agreeing to differ in terms as precise as possible, could find any language more perfectly representing the impossibility of their coming together than the language used by the Government of Copenhagen on the one side and by the Governments of Berlin and Vienna on the other. The matter consequently stood thus: That the Danish Government insisted that the basis should be the arrangements of 1851 and 1852, that the two great German Powers insisted that the Conference should take place without any such basis, and that England was proceeding upon the principle, or, at all events, in the hope, that the Conference was to have ultimately for its basis, though not as a preliminary, an adherence to the Treaty of 1852. Certainly the noble Lord at the head of the Government had to-night put that view of the case in a way which he ventured to say would tend to inflame the anger of the whole of Germany, for he had said, in terms as distinct as could be used, that the King of Denmark was the only lawful Sovereign of the two Duchies. There was going on what was virtually a war of succession — for he did not care for the pretences put forward by Austria and Prussia—and in the midst of that war, it being the avowed object of Her Majesty's Government to restore peace, they arrayed themselves, heroically it might be, on the side of one of the disputants, declaring in language which must be extremely displeasing to the German Powers, that the King of Denmark was the only lawful Sovereign of the Duchies. To hear the noble Lord one might imagine that he was a representative of Lord Liverpool's Government, announcing to the House that a congress of Sovereigns had disposed of nations and peoples by an arrangement which they had determined should last fur ever. It so happened that within a few minutes from the moment when the noble Lord made that rash statement to the House there was put into his hands a paper which showed that the King of Denmark, the "lawful Sovereign" of the noble Lord—had not only very difficult subjects to deal with, but had also a very disloyal Parliament. The Parliament of Schleswig-Holstein—if so he might term the estates—had by a unanimous vote determined to protest before Europe against the notion that they were to be handed over by foreign Powers to any Sovereign whom the Powers assembled in London might please to select. He deeply regretted that the noble Lord had used that language, for he had looked forward to the proposed Conference in the hope that if it could ever turn out of any use at all, it might be useful as furnishing a graceful mode of retreat for Her Majesty's Government, enabling them to recede from a long and persistent adherence to the Treaty of 1852, which, in his judgment; had been the cause of the disturbance; an adherence which was not required by the terms of the treaty itself, because the way in which the treaty was put forward was founded upon a misinterpretation of it. Be that, however, as it might, he thought it was very unfortunate that a policy most English—a policy which he should have thought most acceptable to the Liberal party in this country, had been recommended, not by Her Majesty's Government, but by a foreign Sovereign. He could only trust that the Conference might be found a mode of enabling the Government to retreat from the petition into which they had got, because he believed that to put forward the Treaty of 1852 in the way they did, and to endeavour to force it upon those who had never been consulted, was a policy entirely inconsistent with the principles which they themselves had loudly proclaimed.


I rise merely to say that the subject before the House is not a fit subject for ridicule. There is no portion of it at which the British House of Commons has any reason to laugh. The hon. Member for Swansea asked whether it was true that Sönderborg was bombarded without notice, and eighty of its inhabitants killed. He was followed by the hon. Member for Liskeard, who asked very proper questions, some of which have not been answered at all. Then the noble Lord got up, and the world will hear of the House of Commons being convulsed with laughter. I say that is adding insult to injury. The noble Lord at the head of the Government said there was nothing in the blue-books that could lead the Danes to believe they might expect assistance from this country. I am afraid there is a great deal that will not be found in the blue-books; but I well remember the words used by the noble Lord himself at the end of last Session, when he said, that if the Duchies were invaded Denmark would not stand alone. I thought at the moment that that was a very indiscreet declaration for the Prime Minister to make, but I entirely relied on it. I was abroad during the recess, and when I heard Germans talk very angrily about enforcing their claims against Denmark, I used to say, "Take care; we are bound to resist it." But their reply was, "Oh, no; you will not resist. Denmark will be left alone." And it appears they knew the noble Lord much better than I did. My only object in rising is this. I do not think that upon a question being asked on a Motion for going into Committee of Supply, whether a telegram addressed to a newspaper is true or not, is the proper time for entering into a discussion of a great question of this kind. I thought the omission of an assurance of our friendly relations with foreign Powers in the speech from the Throne at the opening of the Session very significant, and that that circumstance made it absolutely necessary for this House to inquire why the usual assurance was left out. Is it because Her Majesty's Government was no longer able to declare that they had received those friendly assurances? And has that arisen from any one act of the Government, or is it the natural consequence of the whole of the foreign policy which they have adopted since they came into office? These are questions which the House has a right to know, and I venture to promise the Government that they will get an opportunity of answering them.


said, he would not presume to give any answer to the question which was addressed to the noble Lord with respect to the bombardment of Sönderborg. He feared that the reply had been by no means satisfactory. He wished, however, to give an explanation which he had seen as to the cause of that bombardment. He had seen it stated in a Hamburg paper, that there was an understanding between the Danes and the Prussians that there should be no bombardment of Sönderborg or of West Dybböl, as the latter contained the sick and wounded of the Prussians, and the former was full of women and children. But, subsequently, a Danish officer was sent with a flag of truce to say that the Danes were going to bombard West Dybböl, and the reply was, "If you do so we will bombard Sönderborg." He did not defend the bombardment, because he believed it added to the horrors of war, but he was merely giving the account which he had seen in a paper from Hamburg, and there was one circumstance which made him hope that account was true. Hon. Gentlemen would recollect that about a month ago a shot was fired at a Danish vessel, and it went into Sönderborg. Immediately a flag of truce was sent by the Prussians to say that it was a mere accident, and the Danes were asked to take care that their vessels should not come in a line with Sönderborg. The noble Lord said be would stand upon the basis of the Treaty of 1852, but that treaty reserved the rights of the German Bund. One of those rights was, to reject any one who proposed to come into the Bund, and, therefore, they had the right to reject the King of Denmark coming into it as Duke of Holstein. His hon. Friend had said, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite (General Peel) repeated, that Her Majesty's Government had been making representations to Denmark, the effect of which had been to induce the Danish Government to rely upon the assistance of England. But he would ask any hon. Gentleman who had read the blue-books, whether the representations of Her Majesty's Government to Denmark had not been over and over again to this effect, "Perform your promises." The patience of Earl Russell, and the earnestness with which he had addressed these representations to the Danish Government, were beyond all praise; and his own opinion was that the despatch of September, 1862, was one of the wisest and most moderate of despatches, and really contained the basis of an arrangement which might have settled everything. But this country was not entirely without blame, for he believed the Danes would have acceded to the proposal of September, 1862, had they not believed there was such a strong Danish party in this country and the House of Commons that they might refuse the proposition of Earl Russell without exposing themselves to danger. But whatever they felt with regard to the war—and he did not defend the conduct of Austria and Prussia in the matter—they were bound to recognize the fact that it was caused by the Danes. There was one party, however, against whom nothing could be said, and that was the German inhabitants of Holstein. They had been the victims of oppression, and he trusted, that whatever they did, they would not lend themselves to a policy which would lead to the infliction of greater oppression and injury upon them. It appeared to him that the proposal of the Emperor of the French was more likely to lead to a happy result, and he must press upon Her Majesty's Government to give an answer to the question of his hon. Friend behind him, and state whether they would produce the despatch of the French Government. If not, he should feel it his duty to move for its production.


said, he believed that the country had been deeply disappointed that the House had so far abdicated its functions as not to have raised a discussion on that question since it met in February. He was extremely disappointed at the tone adopted by the noble Lord that evening, and also on a former occasion. The noble Lord told them that Austria and Prussia had commenced a most aggressive, unjust, and unnecessary war. The noble Lord also said that he considered we were bound, as parties to the Treaty of 1852, to guarantee the integrity of the Danish monarchy. Now, if the opinions of the noble Lord were that it was the duty of Her Majesty's Government to guarantee the integrity of the Danish monarchy, and if he believed that Austria and Prussia had commenced a most aggressive and unjust war, he (Mr. Peacocke) was very much surprised that the noble Lord did not, in opposition to his policy as displayed in the blue-book, give active aid to Denmark. He (Mr. Peacocke) did not advocate a war policy, for this reason—because he believed that Denmark was originally in the wrong, and that she had never put herself in the right. But he thought it most impolitic that the noble Lord should come down and use such strong and aggravating expressions towards Austria and Prussia at the very time that he was about to meet them at the table of a conference, with a view to settle the dispute in an amicable manner. If the noble Lord's language towards those Powers had been more conciliatory, it would have rendered more likely the attainment of a practical and pacific result. He believed that these Conferences would have no result at all, and for this reason. In the papers before the House, Denmark distinctly told them that she would make no concessions whatever—that she would agree to nothing like a union between Schleswig and Holstein until she was utterly exhausted. On the other hand, the German Powers distinctly told them that they could not consent to treat on the basis of the engagements of 1851–2. He regretted that the noble Lord had not felt it his duty to state whether it was true or not that the French Government had communicated to Her Majesty's Government the fact, that it intended at the Conference to advocate that which was virtually the principle of an appeal to nationalities by universal suffrage? The noble Lord stated that all the Powers which had accepted the Conference had agreed to the mainte- nance of the integrity of the Danish monarchy; but how could a Power which advocated the application of the principle of universal suffrage to the Duchies be said to agree to the maintenance of the integrity of the Danish monarchy? Was it to be believed that the answer of the population of Schleswig and Holstein would be in favour of the integrity of the Danish monarchy? He thought it was the duty of the Government to endeavour to maintain the integrity of that monarchy, but in doing so to call upon Denmark to fulfil the promises she mode to the German Powers in 1851 and 1852. The difficulties of that question were indeed great, but they would not be lessened by the irritating language which the noble Lord habitually employed.


said, that the noble Lord had talked of delusions; but when, at the end of last Session, he told Denmark that in case of the invasion of her territories she would not stand alone, he imparted to Denmark what she had since found out to be a delusion. He agreed with what had fallen from the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Kinglake), and had hoped that they would that night have heard from the noble Lord something to indicate that he meant to represent the feelings of what ought to be the Liberal party on that question—something to indicate that he desired to consult the wishes of the people of these States before giving additional authority to treaties which had been the cause of so much disturbance in Northern Europe. It was difficult to get accurate information as to the state of feeling in Schleswig and Holstein; but, if they read the official papers before them, they could not help seeing that the people of those Duchies had substantial grounds for discontent with their "lawful Sovereign." He thought there was a great deal to be said both for Denmark and for the German Confederation on that question. It seemed to him that a country like Denmark, having attached to it two provinces under subjection to foreign Powers, occupied a very unfair and anomalous position; and he was not surprised that Denmark, with the spirit and courage which she had exhibited, should wish to free herself from a burden that was almost too much for her to bear. And if the noble Lord, instead of seeking to give further authority to treaty stipulations which had produced so much confusion, had sought to withdraw Denmark and the German Confederation from their un natural relation, he would have better deserved the thanks of the country than he now did. He had hoped that something might have come from these Conferences, but from what had been said that night he feared, with the hon. Member for Liskeard, that when the House sat there on the 1st of next April it would have nothing to do but make speeches over their decent burial.

Question put, and agreed to.

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