HC Deb 11 July 1867 vol 188 cc1393-5

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether it is his intention to take any steps to record the opinion of the House of Commons on the murder of the Emperor Maximilian and his Generals?


Sir, It is not the intention of Her Majesty's Government to ask the House to take any steps of the character proposed by the hon. Gentleman. I am sure we all sympathize with his feelings, and every one, I think, will agree in lamenting the violent and untimely death of a gallant and amiable gentleman, whose high spirit and enterprize, under happier circumstances, might have rendered him distinguished either on the battle-field or in the councils of Europe. But if we are asked to record a judgment of this House upon his execution I confess I see very grave objections to a step of that kind. I do not see how we could come to any such Resolution, or how we can even discuss it without entering into a general debate upon the merits and policy of the Mexican expedition — into the position and status of that unfortunate Prince, and the right by which he claimed the possession of supreme power in that country. All these circumstances it would be necessary to consider, and some of them would, I think, have a very material effect on our judgment. I do not think this would be the right moment to choose for a discussion of that kind, especially as it is one on which great difference of opinion might arise. Then, again, comes the question of precedent. We might, I think, if we accepted my hon. Friend's suggestion, set a precedent which might embarrass us very inconveniently on some future occasion. This is not the first case—and, unhappily it is not likely to be the last — when the triumph of one party, after a protracted civil war, has been followed by an unwise, a lamentable, and a sanguinary act of revenge. Are we in all these cases to take notice of such acts in this House, and pass a Vote of Censure upon them? If we are not to do so in regard to them all, on what principle are we to draw a distinction? That is a question which the House would have to consider. And lastly, Sir, I would say—though I say it with great respect—that, great as are our power and our influence, we are the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and not the Parliament of the world. We are in no sense responsible, directly or indirectly, for the lamentable event which has occurred; and I think it is very doubtful whether a habit of international criticism in Parliamentary debate would be found practically useful or conduce to a good understanding between nations.


wished to ask the noble Lord, whether Her Majesty's Minister accredited to the late Emperor of Mexico is not at present in England; and, whether, after the statement recently made by the Prime Minister that the execution of the Emperor Maximilian was "a base, cruel, and unnecessary murder," it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to advise Her Majesty to accredit, a Minister to the President of the Mexican Republic, or to withdraw her legation from Mexico?


It is true that Her Majesty's Minister accredited to the late Emperor of Mexico is now in England on leave. His duty is discharged during his absence by the Secretary of Legation acting as Charge d'Affaires. But that Gentleman was only accredited to the late Emperor, and with the death of that unfortunate Prince his credentials lapse. No question, therefore, has arisen, or can arise, as to his withdrawal. The gentleman left in charge had received, before this lamentable event occurred, instructions not formally or officially to recognize any new Government which might be formed in the case of the downfall or overthrow of the Mexican Empire, but to confine himself, pending the absence of official instructions, to looking after any matter which might arise affecting British interests. The question whether anybody shall be accredited to the Government of President Juarez is not, I think, one on which we are called to decide in haste or under the influence of temporary feelings. We do not yet know what is the real state of Mexico, how far Juarez is really de facto master of the country, or what are the chances of his power being permanent. Upon that ground—setting aside altogether what has lately happened—I should object to any precipitate decision with regard to renewing diplomatic relations with Mexico. But as to the permanent suspension of those diplomatic relations, the objection to that course is, I think, a very obvious one. It would do no hurt, or only very little, to the Mexican Government—for I believe the principal business of a British Minister in Mexico is to urge upon that Government various British claims, to which it is not, perhaps, very agreeable to them to listen. It would do no harm to that Government to suspend diplomatic relations with them, but it would be a very serious thing for British interests and for those British subjects who have claims upon it. They are not responsible for the late deplorable proceedings, and I do not think it would be fair to make them suffer for them.