HL Deb 10 July 1849 vol 107 cc89-100

rose for the purpose of asking the question of which he had given notice, with respect to the pacification of the countries bordering on the River Plate. He felt it was unnecessary to trouble their Lordships with any obser- vations on the subject, as this matter had been so recently brought before the House by the noble Earl on the cross benches (the Earl of Harrowby), when the state of the negotiations at the time had been so fully explained by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne). However, he considered it was of importance that the question should be brought forward from time to time for the purpose of obtaining information; and he, therefore, begged to ask the noble Marquess what progress had been made in the negotiations between Her Majesty's Govermnent and the Government of Buenos Ayres relative to the pacification of the countries bordering on the River Plate?


said, that he entertained a confident expectation that the negotiations were now in such a state as would lead to a speedy and satisfactory settlement of the matters in dispute in that part of the world. Indeed, he bad hoped that by this time he should have been enabled to communicate information of the settlement of the treaty between the hostile parties; but, for reasons which would be obvious to the House and to the public, he could not as yet give any precise information on the subject. The Government of this country had been engaged with the Government of France in negotiating such a treaty, and the two Governments were becoming joint parties to an arrangement which would insure tranquillity to that part of the world, and would be beneficial to its trade and commerce. We had already an extensive commerce on the River Plate; and that commerce would soon become much more extensive if security could be established in the countries adjacent to it. He did hope, that by the concurrence of the two Governments of England and France, that object would be accomplished; at the same time, if difficulties should occur on the part of the French Government, he would not say that it would not be our duty to adhere to the arrangement which we had made separately with the Governments on the River Plate.


said, he was aware that he was somewhat irregular-in rising on the present occasion; but as he had been personally alluded to in a former debate, he threw himself on their Lordships' consideration while he addressed to them a few observations on the subject to which their attention had been called by his noble Friend. Although his noble Friend had received information from a Member of the Cabinet which it was neither in his (Lord Howden's) province nor in his power to give, yet as he had been personally alluded to, and as he was not in the House when this question was under discussion some mouths ago, he now begged to make a few remarks respecting it. When the subject was previously under discussion, many strong and severe animadversions had been made on his proceedings. He had not, and might not have again, an opportunity of meeting them, and therefore he appealed to their Lordships' kindness, and in some degree to their sense of justice, that he might be allowed to occupy their attention for a very short time. By stating a few facts he wished to prevent a recurrence in that House to a subject which had become threadbare and exhausted, and must, he was convinced, be unpalatable to the majority of the House. To him had been assigned the subordinate task of carrying into effect the instructions of others. The defence of those instructions when attacked would fall into other and abler hands than his; the execution of them was performed by him to the best of his ability, and he would leave the appreciation of his conduct to the candour and kindness of their Lordships. He would not refer back to the entire history of the intervention. He had never been able to ascertain whether it originated in France or England, for both countries appeared to him rather to reject than claim the honour of its parentage; but be that as it may, its result, like the result of all equivocal measures, had not been satisfactory or successful. Their Lordships were aware that at the first blockade of Buenos Ayres General Oribe was deposed because he refused to allow Argentine prizes, made by the vessels of the French blockade, to be sold in the ports of Monte Video—that is, he objected to the confiscation of the ships of an ally in his ports; but his successor. General Ribeira, was not so scrupulous, and he was made President through French influence. After a blockade, in which we blockaded nothing but our own commerce, and after an action in the middle of what we called profound peace, things were precisely in the same state, without presenting any prospect of amelioration what added greatly to the practical difficulty was, that there was no legality on either side. The president without the town, President Oribe, who had with him the immense majority of the Oriental population—of that there could be no sort of doubt numerically—had no right to the title, because he had solemnly renounced it; and the President within the walls had been elected in a packed assembly totally unknown to the constitution. Therefore, the attempt to settle their differences was, in fact, not an attempt to do justice to any party, but merely an attempt to make something out of nothing. At that time a confidential agent (Mr. Hood) was sent from this country with instructions that were to servo as the basis of a reconciliation. That basis was accepted, but to it were appended certain addenda required by the Government of Buenos Ayres. Mr. Hood was not of sufficient professional calibre to make head against the Plenipotentiaries of France and England, who were both opposed to him in their views. In the spring of 1847, he (Lord Howden), being then Her Majesty's Minister at Rio de Janeiro, was ordered to proceed to the River Plate to try to effect a settlement of this question. Pie was the bearer of a tripartite convention that was to be signed conjointly; but the idea of that conjoint arrangement engendered difficulties in limine, because the Buenos Ayrean Government refused to assent to anything in the shape of an arrangement conjointly with Monte Video. The English and French Plenipotentiaries were therefore obliged, on their own responsibility, to make three separate conventions, to be signed separately by the respective parties. There were at that moment two circumstances which most injuriously affected that mission. The first was, that the blockade, which was supposed would be a valid means of coercion, had turned out a complete failure; the second was, that General Ribeira and his party had been completely beaten, and things appeared in a very fair way of settling themselves in a more speedy and far more agreeable manner than could be effected by the unpopular agency of the foreigner. The preliminaries of the convention being settled, the negotiations proceeded favourably until they came to the clause relating to the River Parana. General Rosas, smarting under a most unjustifiable attack upon the territory of the Argentine Confederation without any declaration of war—and labouring—perhaps naturally—under an exaggerated susceptibility—required something more categorical and formal than what was offered in the clause as agreed upon by the Foreign Ministers in London and at Paris; and the Plenipotentiary of Her Britannic Majesty—seeing that the River Parana ran between two hanks, both of which were Argentine, and that whatever might be the imperfect rights of the countries above, yet certainly as far as that river did run between two hanks that were Argentine, it was as much a part of the Confederation as the River Thames was English or the River Seine French—made no objection to admitting the proposition made at Buenos Ayres about that river; but the Minister of France did not think himself at liberty to do so. He (Lord Howden) was not at liberty to state what the views of the French Minister were with regard to this subject; but he must say, that, while employed on preliminaries at Paris, he plainly saw the failure of the negotiation under that head. Had the admission been made with regard to the Parana, the question of the Uruguay would have been allowed to stand over for reference to the two Governments at home. Suffice it to say, that the discussions at Buenos Ayres were broken off upon the subject of the Parana. The great object of the mission having failed, the next object was to avoid the useless effusion of blood; and the two Plenipotentiaries proceeded to the other side of the Plate to endeavour to arrange an armistice between the two belligerents, till an answer was received from England and France at Monte Video. The armistice was offered to the two parties; at that time the military situation of General Oribe was infinitely superior to that of the Monte Videan Government; and it was supposed that Oribe would be the person to refuse the armistice, if it was to be refused at all. He (Lord Howden) begged particular attention to the circumstance that it was stated to Oribe by both the Plenipotentiaries, that if he agreed to the armistice, the blockade should be raised. General Oribe did agree, and the English Plenipotentiary felt it his duty to perform his part of the agreement, and he forthwith directed the blockade, so far as England was concerned, to be raised. He (Lord Howden) believed that few of their Lordships were aware of what the nature of a blockade of the River Plate was, as regarded Buenos Ayres, of what was the reasoning by which it was justified, or the manner in which it was carried on. In the first place, you did not blockade Buenos Ayres—you do not obstruct the small light vessels of the country that can sail in shallow water, but you blockade the fine square-rigged vessels of London and Liverpool, and you blockade also the vessels belonging to the United States of America, which was becoming a very serious question. The mode, too, in which the blockade was carried on, made it the most extraordinary blockade ever imagined. It was stated, by diplomatic authority at Monte Video, that it was a political and not a commercial blockade. Now, what that meant he would leave entirely to their Lordships, for it had always been beyond his comprehension. He could never understand why a measure intended to cripple the trade, and injure the resources of General Rosas—why a measure intended to be a means of coercion against a refractory Government, was to be all at once deflected from its original purpose, and made to become, against all precedent and all public law, a means of bolstering up the decaying finances of Monte Video. In order, however, to carry out this idea, it was arranged that all vessels willing to pay a certain sum for the support of the custom-house at Monte Video, which maintained a bevy of foreign speculators, should be allowed to proceed to Buenos Ayres. That was, "blackmail" (for he could use no more appropriate word) was to be exacted from English vessels belonging to English merchants, to enrich a company of loan-mongers who devoured the resources of the State, and battened upon its miseries and misfortunes. The garrison of the town at the time was almost entirely composed of Frenchmen and Italians, although there were also a few manumitted slaves; and it was commanded by a person to whom he was glad to be able to pay this tribute—that he stood a disinterested individual among those who only sought their own personal advantage—he meant a person of great courage and military skill, who had a great claim upon their sympathies, considering the unjustifiable intervention of the French, and the recent extraordinary and unnatural events that had taken place in Italy. He alluded to General Garibaldi. But since the blockade had been abandoned, our trade was gradually regaining its former healthy state, and was now in a satisfactory condition. And this fact was attested even by what appeared every month in the newspapers, almost all of which, were in the pay of the Monte Videan contractors. On one sheet, containing the political article, were to be found the most violent and unscrupulous diatribes against the policy of the English Government, whilst on the very next sheet, in the money market article, were to be found the most ample accounts of the revival of trade. With regard to the independence of Monte Video, an error very widely spread, and, he admitted, very honestly believed, though not so honestly circulated, prevailed on this subject. It was said that in the negotiations of 1828, at Rio Janeiro, between the United Provinces of La Plata, and England, and Brazil, that England was a party to guarantee the independence of Monte Video. Now it happened that the fact was precisely the reverse of this. The Argentine Plenipotentiary, General Guido, wrote a letter during the negotiations, categorically asking Lord Ponsouby if he would guarantee the independence of that State; and Lord Ponsonby stated as categorically that he was not authorised by his Government to enter into any such guarantee. But knowing as he did the exaggerations in which the organs of the Monte Videan contractors so unscrupulously dealt, he wished to say that his own opinion was, broadly and decidedly—and he was glad of an opportunity of declaring it in the most public manner—that it ought to be the undeviating policy of England to maintain the independence of the Banda Oriental, and not allow a country so unequalled in extent, climate, and fertility, to be annexed to any Government, whatever it might be. He heard with satisfaction from the noble Marquess the President of the Council, that there was a chance of a favourable termination of this much-vexed question. He (Lord Howden) had never for one moment abandoned his belief in the possibility of Great Britain making a convention with General Rosas. His noble Friend, who was best able to judge of the general policy of the Government, said that the negotiations now going on were likely to load to a favourable issue; but he (Lord Howdcn) must be allowed to say—merely as a private Member of their Lordships' House, and, without at all compromising the Government, or wishing to say anything disrespectful to France, the advantage of whose alliance he prized as much as any one—that he believed the objects, the interests, and the necessities of this country were so idiosyncratic, and, from the complication of its internal interests, so peculiar to itself, that it was with a feeling of regret that he saw us embarking in company with Other nations in political voyages which he was convinced we could effect much faster, and with far more safety, if we prosecuted them alone. He had also a word which he must say about General Rosas, against whom he knew there was a very great feeling in this country, from the stories that had been circulated with regard to him; but with which, whether true or false, we had no concern. Wherever he (Lord Howdon) had the honour of being employed by Her Majesty's Government, he should always look at persons and things just in the relation in which they stood to the honour and interests of this country. He cared nothing of General Rosas's general administration, or his alleged private delinquencies. If he was a tyrant, let the people immediately concerned get rid of him or retain him, as they thought fit; but what he (Lord Howden) knew was of more consequence, and it was this—that in whatever way General Rosas treated his own fellow-citizens, foreigners were invariably protected by him, even when they were attacking him in his own territories; and he believed that there were few men more convinced that it was to his interest to maintain a good and advantageous connexion with this country, than was General Rosas; and nobody was more willing than that individual to preserve such an understanding with Great Britain. The interests of England and France in the Plate, in many important respects, did not concur; all that England wanted for her trade was—all that the trade of England ever did want—that it should be allowed to flow quietly and uninterruptedly in the channel that it had scooped out for itself. The trade of France, on the other hand, was very inconsiderable, and she was endeavouring to extend her dominions, as well as her trade, by means which would certainly be resisted. There was no real cause for dissension between us and Buenos Ayres; but there was one feeling always fermenting in the Governments of South America which deserved some attention, and that was, a deep-seated hatred of the intermeddling of transatlantic Powers; and General Rosas, not unnaturally, experienced this feeling. The noble Marquess (the President of the Council), in 1824, was the first to move in that House that the States of South America should be formally recognised by this country; and he would ask the noble Marquess what sort of independence that was when those States were constantly exposed to the action of coercive measures which no Minister would ever dream of applying to the most insignificant Governments of the Old World? He (Lord Howden) believed that whilst it was our best policy to leave all other countries to manage their own affairs without our interference, it was especially so when the people in question were a people of Spanish origin, possessed of an innate and hereditary hatred of foreign interference; to which was added the jealousy of newly-acquired independence, and all the weakness arising from social disorganisation and the precarious tenure of power. He wished further to say—and he only said it because it had been somewhat pertinaciously doubted—that he bad received the highest approbation from Her Majesty's Government for every part of his conduct in connexion with this question—and he thanked their Lordships for the attention they had given to a statement which he could not conceal from himself was made under circumstances of irregularity.


, who was very imperfectly heard, said, if he understood the noble Lord, the armistice which he proposed had been accepted by General Oribe, and rejected by the Government of Monte Video; but he would ask the noble Lord whether the armistice at first proposed by himself and the French Minister did not contain a stipulation that the town of Monte Video should be opened to the country during the armistice; and whether Oribe had not objected to that condition, and the noble Lord in consequence had withdrawn it? He would further ask the noble Lord whether it was not in consequence of the rejection of that stipulation by Oribe, that the armistice sought to be imposed without it was rejected by the Monte Videans?


was understood to say it had not been withdrawn.


certainly understood that the terms of the armistice proposed by the noble Lord had been modified to suit the convenience of the besieging general; indeed, he had seen in print the conditions of the armistice as originally proposed—to which Monte Video made no objection. Under these circumstances, he (the Earl of Harrowby) did not think the statement of the noble Lord that the armistice proposed by him had been accepted by Oribe, but rejected by the Monte Videans, was quite a fair one; and yet upon the armistice thus modified by Oribe in a most material and essential point, not being immediately acceded to by the Government of Monte Video, his Lordship immediately sailed away, and, without notice to the Monte Videan Government, or communication with them or with his French colleague, raised the blockade of Buenos Ayres, thus throwing all the weight of England into the scale of that party which had rejected all our overtures, and effectually ruining the party whom we came and were bound to protect. Reference had been made to the individuals who advanced the loan upon the security of the custom-house at Monte video, and they had been termed loan-mongers; but the fact was, they were British and French merchants of high character, who had come forward to advance money to the Government of Monte Video very much against their wishes, but at the urgent instance of the Ministers of their respective Governments, for a public object. In fact, these parties had been sacrified to their reliance upon the faith of their own Governments. With respect to the independence of Monte Video, it was certainly too much to say that England had guaranteed it; but that State had been created under British mediation, and we had the deepest interest in its independent existence. He was glad to see that the noble Lord fully admitted that principle, and seemed to be fully aware both of the importance of the resources of the River Plate and its adjacent countries; and that there could be no security that these resources would be fully developed if these waters fell under the sole control of one Power, He hoped that he might accept these expressions of the noble Lord as an indication of the principles which would guide the Government in the pending negotiations.


wished to make a very few observations upon the state of this question as it existed at present, without going hack to former negotiations. Perhaps not unnaturally, the noble Lord opposite bad wished to enter into a statement of the cause of the failure of his negotiation; but they must recollect that others had failed before him, and had failed since, employed in the same manner. Whether we were now to arrive at a successful termination or not, remained to be seen. He was most happy to hear that the noble Marquess felt himself justified in expressing himself with the confidence be bad done upon this subject. At the same time, he (the Earl of Aberdeen) agreed very much with the noble Lord who spoke last, that the probability of success depended very much upon whether the questions to be resolved related to anything that was to take place between this country and France, or to anything still to take place between this country and Buenos Ayres. If the project of the settlement which had been sent to this country required to be considered by England and France, with a view to coming to an agreement, he felt confident—at least, very sanguine—that such would be the case; and the noble Marquess might be well founded in auguring such a result. But if, after England and France had come to such an agreement, that proposition was to be sent back to Buenos Ayres, he confessed his expectations would fall very much short of what he could wish. The whole matter, as far as the interest of this country was in question, rested entirely on the independence of the Oriental Republic being secured; and if that were the only object, whether General Oribe, or General Ribeira, or General Garibaldi, if the noble Lord behind him liked it, were in possession, was a matter of perfect in-difference to us, provided the independence of that State was secured. Now, the noble Marquess said, that the foundation, the basis, and, indeed, the substance, of the settlement which he expected to take place was that which he (the Earl of Aberdeen) sent out in May, 1846, which was commonly called the Hood basis. To any modifications of that he did not object the least in the world, provided the substance of that proposition was maintained; and in proportion as they adhered to that proposition, he ventured to say, they would adhere to the principles of justice. But those modifications might alter the character of the proceeding: for instance, he said the independence of the Oriental State was all they wished; but if General Rosas should think fit, instead of according to the Hood basis, and withdrawing his army from the Oriental State, should wish his army to remain in possession of it, he (the Earl of Aberdeen) should not call that a modification, but the entire destruction of that agreement; and he, therefore, could only hope that Her Majesty's Government would take care that in the modifications which they assented to they should go no further than was compatible with the independent existence of the Oriental State. The noble Lord opposite had explained, and most truly, that this country was not bound to guarantee the independence of Monte Video. Certainly not; but the creation of that State took place under the mediation of this country. He (the Earl of Aberdeen) was at the Foreign Office in 1828, when that State was created, and he knew that Lord Ponsonby acted on his instructions upon that occasion. No doubt there was no formal guarantee, but that would give an interest in the future independence of that State; and from recent transactions we were bound, in honour and in common justice, to see that that State did remain independent. That was all he had to express a wish about; and if when the noble Marquess announced the settlement of this question he should also announce that that State remained independent, he (the Earl of Aberdeen) should think that the Hood basis had been quite sufficiently fulfilled.


wished to explain an expression which he had used on a former occasion, and which he understood had given pain elsewhere, and to which the noble Lord on the cross benches had that evening alluded. Certainly, on a former occasion, in speaking of the question of the custom-house at Monte Video, he did describe the persons who had raised that loan as mere jobbers. He described them in a somewhat similar tone to that used by his noble Friend that evening. Since then he had had the opportunity of ascertaining who those gentlemen were: he had communicated with some of them; and he now felt satisfied that the persons who came forward were all respectable firms, and that their object was not so much their own pecuniary interest with regard to the custom-house as to keep the Monte Videan Government going—not so much from an extreme over-patriotic love of the Government (and he saw no reason for any)—hut that, whilst it was kept going, they might get in their outstanding debts. What he wished to say, therefore, was, that he believed, in what they had done, they had done nothing discreditable to themselves, and that they were most respectable and honourable men. He hoped that this was the last time this subject would come before their Lordships. For want of a better word he must characterise the commencement of these proceedings as extremely disgraceful. The commencement was not honourable to us, and the negotiations had been marked by an unexampled want of success.

Subject at an end.

House adjourned to Thursday next.

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