HL Deb 19 July 1861 vol 164 cc1147-61

rose to move— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for, Copies or Extracts of all Correspondence which passed in the Years 1831 and 1832 between the Government of Great Britain and those of Russia and of other Countries on the Subject of Poland. The noble Earl proceeded to say that the interest of England in the State of Poland, which had long slumbered, had been awakened by recent events, and people had begun to ask whether the present position of affairs in that country is such as was contemplated by the great Powers who were parties to the Treaty of Vienna. All were aware that at that time the restoration of Poland as a part of the great European system was considered as a matter of the utmost importance by the statesmen of the day. The question was not one of sentiment actuating persons who sympathized with outraged rights and nationalities; but persons who were the last to be suspected of enthusiasm—such statesmen as Lord Castlereagh and Prince Metternich —considered the Polish nation as a most important element in the European system on the practical ground that it was essential that there should be a sufficient barrier between Russia on the one hand and Germany on the other. The feeling on this subject was so intense that, as their Lordships were, no doubt, aware at one time England, France and Austria were so much alarmed at the prospect of Poland falling into the hands of Russia that they bound themselves by a treaty to declare war against Russia in order to prevent such an occurrence. It was only the arrival of Napoleon from Elba that put an end to the discussions of the Powers, and for the time suspended proceedings on the question of Poland. Afterwards, when the Powers saw that it was impossible to establish Poland as an united and independent State, they took the next best means of forming a barrier against Russian aggression by dividing the country between three of the Powers, under peculiar and stringent obligations, which were intended to prevent them from absorbing any of the territory confided to them, and to keep together the severed nationality. It was stipulated that there should be facilities for intercourse and commerce between the various parts of Poland, and provisions were also introduced for the purpose of maintaining national feeling and the enjoyment of national liberty. In one of the treaties on the subject it was specially provided that the Duchy of Warsaw which was to be made over to Russia and erected into a kingdom was to receive a representative and national constitution. The 14th Article of the General Treaty recognized the same principles. Their Lordships would see that this was not a common case of partition, but a case of partition necessitated by the circumstances of Europe, and guaranteed by the other Powers in Congress by special precautions to prevent it from having the effect of destroying Polish nationality. Looking to the provisions which were made by treaty for preserving their nationality, and securing them good government and liberal institutions, and to the assurances which were given at the time that those provisions should be observed, the present condition of Poland could not be the natural and intended result of such a treaty. It might well be asked—where was the constitution? where were the restriction of appointments to natives, the freedom of commerce and navigation, the enjoyment of political liberty and representation which were guaranteed, and upon the faith of which Europe handed over to those Powers their several portions of Poland? The grievances under which the Poles had suffered were inconsistent with the conditions made on their behalf in the Congress of Vienna, and might well excuse or even justify the insurrection of 1830 and 1831. The breaches of engagement of which their rulers had been guilty deprived them of any right to make the insurrection a ground for depriving the Poles of their stipulated liberties, and he, moreover, maintained that the engagements of Vienna was not between the Poles and Russia, so much as between Russia and all the Powers of Europe. The preservation of those liberties was not only an object of interest to the Poles themselves, but of European importance; and, in 1831, when Russia pleaded the insurrection as a discharge from the solemn compact which had been made, England, through her Government, as he had reason to believe, held the same language which he was using now, and said that the guarantees were not to the Poles alone but to Europe, and that Russia was still under obligation to fulfil them. The petitions which he had presented was one evidence of that sympathy that the English people were accustomed to express with any people who were suffering oppression. The burst of national feeling could never be forgotten when the people of this country saw that there was a prospect of the Italians achieving their liberty, even though in the pursuit of it they had to overthrow treaties, instead of appealing to treaties in their behalf. But in the case of Poland these sympathies were not only excited on behalf of a free nation struggling for its natural rights, but they were additionally excited because liberties, which were the natural rights of all men, had been specially chartered to the Poles by Europe, and were, in fact, the title deeds by which alone the country was held in subjection. Poland was not held in subjection by the consent of the inhabitants, or by conquest, or by ancient inheritance, but by treaty; and by treaty alone all other rights were superseded, were abrogated by that transaction. The conditions of that treaty had been violated. All title to continued possession had been fortified. The only remaining title—if title that could be called—was the sword of the stronger. The correspondence which he called for was that which had taken place on the subject of the effect which the insurrection of 1831 had or ought to have upon the rights guaranteed by that treaty to Poland. He did not wish to call upon the English Government to renew the protest which he had reason to believe had then been made against the doctrine advanced by Russia, that these rights had been forfeited by the insurrection. But he wished that that protest should now be placed on public record, which it had not been at the time, and that the Russian Government, which had of late shown no inconsiderable sensitiveness to the action of public opinion, and desire to earn a character for itself among the civilized nations of the West, should have an opportunity of learning by the expression of feeling from Members of your Lordships' House the right in which their proceedings in regard to Poland was looked upon by those whom that Government could not but esteem as no mean exponents of the general sentiment. He could not but hope for some good to arise from such an opportunity. The Russian Government would see that these sentiments were entertained not merely by men whom it could afford to treat as revolutionists and enthusiasts, but by experience statesmen, who felt no interest in revolutions, who were no enthusiasts for nationalities, but who had regard for the common interests of humanity, for the maintenance of treaties, and the stability of the European system. He could not but hope for the expression of such opinions for at least some mitigation of the present tyranny. For himself he should, whatever his interest in the subject might be, have, perhaps, hardly broken through the rule still impressed upon him by prudence against taking a part in their Lordships' discussions, but in his desire to gratify the dying wishes of that distinguished man, that venerable patriot, Prince Czartoryski, who had, indeed, since the notice of this Motion had been given, closed a life far protracted beyond the ordinary limits of human existence, a life of the greatest private virtue, of the highest devotion to his country's service, which even the historic rolls of Poland can display, leaving behind him a name upon which the enemies of his country could never affix a stain, but which would remain as a standard, and he (Lord Harrowby) hoped a model, by its moderation as well as by its constancy, to his admiring countrymen. If his spirit be still conscious of human transactions it will be soothed and gratified by their Lordships' interest in the welfare of his country. The noble Earl concluded by moving for the papers.


said, that nothing could be more natural than the noble Earl, who had always taken an interest in the Polish people, should have brought this subject before their Lordships, particularly at this moment, when the attention of Europe had been especially directed to Poland by the events which had lately taken place at Warsaw. Though he could not add anything to the statement of the opinions of the Government which had been made in "another place," he felt personally extremely glad to have the opportunity of saying a few words on a subject in which he took a great interest. The destiny of Poland must always be a matter of interest to all Europe, not merely on account of the sympathy excited by her misfortunes and the gallant efforts of her people to recover their independence; but, also, because it was intimately connected with considerations of the greatest importance to the welfare of Europe. The extinction of Poland as an independent Power had perhaps had a greater effect on the general position of the European nations than any other event which had taken place in modern times. On the position of Germany, in particular, it had had a very great effect; because, as any one would immediately perceive by looking at a map, that portion—by far the greatest portion of Poland—which was in the position of Russia, lay like a wedge between the two great German Powers, and what would otherwise have been an outwork of Germany and a bulwark to Western civilization had become an outwork of Russia and a dangerous menace of Germany. This danger was increased by the construction of a system of fortresses in Russian Poland, which in strength and extent was only equalled by the famous Quadrilateral. Practically speaking, he could not but feel that we must regard the resuscitation of Polish independence as impossible, because, whatever might be in store for that nation in future times, at present this was not a question of practical politics. Poland was divided among three very strong States, and whatever efforts the Poles might make to recover their liberty they could scarcely be expected to succeed against such over-whelming force as might be brought against them. For this reason it was a matter of great congratulation to those who felt an interest in Poland to remark the calmness and moderation shown to the Poles during the late events at Warsaw. Their attitude, while it showed that the whole patriotic spirit was yet alive, and as strong as ever, also proved that the events of past years had not failed to teach them political wisdom. He could not help thinking that there was some reason to hope for a better day for Poland from the events which were taking place in Russia itself. His period of service in that country had naturally led him to pay special attention to what was taking place, and it was only due to the Emperor of Russia to say that the measures which he had adopted, and which were likely to lead to a new era in that country, proceeded primarily and principally from himself. The great measure of the emancipation of the serfs—a change in those relations which lay at the bottom of the whole social system of Russia—could not fail to produce great results hereafter. As more liberal ideas spread themselves through that country—and that such would be the case no intelligent Russian would deny—the Russians themselves would find it would be for their interest to allow the Poles greater freedom of action, and to give them those institutions to which they were undoubtedly entitled under the Treaty of Vienna—as the noble Earl would see the English Government maintained in the correspondence to which he had referred, and which there would be no objection to produce as regarded Russia, the other countries being omitted as in the papers moved for in the House of Commons. The vital importance of the Polish question to Russia had, perhaps, scarcely been sufficiently estimated, for we were apt to look upon Poland as merely what was known as the Kingdom of Poland, whereas the Polish provinces belonging to Russia constituted a very large and important part of the Russian Empire. Any one looking at the map would see that if Russia were to part with all the Polish provinces belonging to her she would be reduced to a position of great inferiority in the European system. The old Polish feeling existed—as he had been told by Russians themselves—not merely in Poland, but in those provinces of Russia which had formerly been Polish. While this must make any Russian statesman careful in dealing with this question, no doubt it would be found, when the time came for the Poles to receive those institutions to which they were entitled, that occupying so large a space of territory they would have a great influence on the destinies of the whole empire. Then, though there might be no practical possibility of the restoration of the independence of Poland—a consummation which Russian statesmen would naturally do their best to prevent—yet the day might come when Russian statesmen would find in the Poles themselves a great aid in the increase of civilization, and in the establishment of institutions more in conformity with the general system of Western nations. The question as regarded that portion of Poland which belonged to Prussia was very much affected by the number of Germans in those provinces. He had been told that the increase of the German population in these provinces had been much more rapid since 1815 than that of the Polish population, and that the Germans, including the Jews, were not far from equal to the whole Polish population. He had not the slightest fear that the discussion raised by the noble Earl would lead to any inconvience; on the contrary, such discussions would do good, as showing that, while there was no wish to disturb existing arrangements, we still felt that interest and sympathy for the Poles which their position must naturally excite.


My Lords, it is but natural that the noble Earl, who for so long a time had taken so deep an interest in the condition of Poland, should have availed himself of this opportunity of bringing the subject under your Lordship's consideration, and it is a matter of much satisfaction to me that your Lordships should have an opportunity of expressing your opinions upon the question.

Undoubtedly the present position of affairs in what was once the Duchy of Warsaw is one of deep interest, and likely to affect materially the state of Europe. I have always entertained—as, indeed, I apprehend all those who have the least regard for freedom must entertain—a very strong sympathy with the people of Poland. They have been suffering now for a period of sixty-five years under the wrong inflicted upon their ancestors, and during the whole of that time they have shown grandeur of mind under great adversity. They have at all times under their misfortunes maintained the dignity of their national character. They have made themselves respected even by those who trod them under foot, and, above all, on all occasions, on every field and in every service to which they have been drawn, either by voluntary disposition or compelled by force, they have maintained and extended their military reputation, and have placed it on a par with that of any nation in the world. It is impossible not to respect so great and noble a people. It is to me a subject of astonishment that every Sovereign of Russia should not have laid himself out in endeavours to conciliate them, that he should not have esteemed it amongst his highest privileges to draw his sword at the head of their noble chivalry.

I speak not merely as the friend of the Poles, but as the friend of Russia. I discard from my mind altogether the memory of our recent misunderstanding. I took only to that long friendship, now happily re-established, which has prevailed between Russia and England for so many years to their mutual advantage. I am old enough, unfortunately, to recollect as if it were yesterday the invasion of Russia by the French in 1812. I recollect the noble self-devotion with which the Russians repelled the invasion of their territory, and the great service which they performed to Europe in the re-establishment of the liberty of nations. I entertain personally for the Emperor, as we all must, the greatest respect, when I consider that he has bestowed upon his people the greatest boon which is recorded in history as bestowed upon subjects by their Sovereign, and I cannot but entertain the hope that the Sovereign who has shown such benevolence for salves will not be insensible to the claims which freemen have upon his consideration.

My Lords, the situation of Russia at the present moment is one calculated, I think, to excite anxiety in the mind of every statesman who takes a fair view of the state of Europe. The opposition to the Russian Government, which now exists in Poland practically prevents the forward action of Russia—prevents her advance under any circumstances beyond the Vistula — and would make it extremely difficult for her, if attacked, to maintain her position upon that river; while all the country behind her would be in flames and occupied by a hostile force. Practically the action of Russia in Central Europe is paralyzed by her position in reference to Poland. Such a state of things cannot exist without causing very great anxiety. The balance of power in Europe is so extremely delicate that no one of the great States can be temporarily disabled without affecting the position of all. We may view with jealousy the power of France, and perhaps distrust her policy; but if at any time, owing to any unfortunate circumstances, by means of civil commotion and internal disturbances, the action or influence of France were temporarily paralyzed, the injury which would result to the several States of Europe would be greater than any which might be expected to be derived from her aggression in the pursuit of her ambition.

My Lords, in what manner can Russia re-establish her position and again obtain the means of action? I know no mode in which that can be accomplished save by a frank reconciliation with the Polish people. Nor will I despair of that happy result being attained. I do not despair of it when I look to history and see that great States have had similar dependencies, and have maintained, with mutual satisfaction and advantage, the connection existing between them. I see that in distant times Naples, Lombardy, and Flanders gave their troops, their Generals, their most cordial co-operation, and their most devoted loyalty to the Emperor charles V. And why? Because they enjoyed self-government — because they were happy under his administration—because he loved them as he loved the rest of his subjects—and because when he went among them he appeared as one of themselves. I see that at a more recent period the Hungarians, not only during the early times of Maria Teresa, but down to a late date, supported with devotion the House of Hapsburgh. Why? Because they, too, had then a separate self-government, and their position was rather that of and allied State than of a dependency. The Hungarians contributed to Austria for offensive operations 66,000 men, whose expenses they defrayed. Further assistance was always forthcoming in case of need, and when the enemy approached the frontiers of Hungary every man rushed to arms. Again, I see in the history of this country that the English Sovereigns of Hanover, though generally absent from that kingdom, and though absent altogether during the last sixty years of their reign, could always count on the loyalty of the people, because Hanover was well governed and was treated as an independent country.

I cannot but think that the application of the same principles to the connection between Russia and Poland would produce the same results. Nations do not changes their character—individuals may; and it is the change in the cha- racter of individuals which, I fear, had effected the difference in the Government of these countries, and has produced the present feelings of the Poles, so different from those existing in the other countries I have mentioned towards their Sovereigns. I do trust, however, that the time will come when Russia will desire to act in a totally different spirit, and that when so acting her advances will be frankly received by the Poles.

We know that the Romans always considered that their most powerful enemies were those who became their best allies, and why? because those enemies when subdued were well treated. It would be well that Russia should remember this in her treatment of the Poles. Nor let her suppose that a poor people must on account of their poverty be easily kept quiet. It is quite the reverse. There is no position more perilous than that of a Sovereign in the midst of a people which has nothing left to lose but its honour. Poverty is always dangerous. Poverty always desires a change. Poverty conspires. Wealth is quiet. Wealth never conspires. Wealth only requires that things should continue as they are, and that it should retain the advantages which it possesses; and if Russia gives to Poland self-government and the wealth which follows it, I cannot but hope that perfect tranquillity will reign there.

My Lords, I have said that I hope there will be on the part of the Emperor of Russia a frank offer of friendship to the Polish people. I am sure that in no other manner is it possible for his authority to be re-established amongst them. Generosity emanating from superior power is of all qualities the most influential in the government of a subject people, and never could generosity have a greater effect than when displayed towards this, one of the bravest and most generous of nations.

In the event of conciliatory propositions being made to the People of Poland, I do trust that they will be received in the spirit in which they are made. The Poles must bear in mind that that which they desire, and which we, too, may desire—the re-establishment of the Polish monarchy,—is an object which it is impossible to attain otherwise than through the disruption of all the States of Europe. A disruption of that character more than fifty years ago brought the first Napoleon to the Vistula. He held out promises to the Poles. He used them. He drew from them their hearts' blood. And he deceived them. Do they hope that under any circumstances which may convulse Europe the France of the present day would act with greater candour and with greater fidelity than the Napoleon who then behaved so faithlessly?

Had I the opportunity of approaching the Emperor of Russia I should most earnestly counsel him to adopt a policy of clemency and generosity towards the Poles. I should with equal earnestness entreat the Polish people to meet his advances frankly and fairly. But I would caution both that, in whatever engagements may take place between them, the most absolute fidelity must be observed by both. Insincerity is the one crime which can ever be forgiven in a Sovereign. Ingratitude in a people is a crime of no less magnitude—it is one which, committed by the Poles, would deprive them of all the sympathy which they now possess throughout Europe.


My Lords, although I feel the disadvantage under which every one must labour who follows the noble Earl, I cannot help saying a few words on this subject, even if their only their only effect is to show your Lordships that the feeling which has been evinced in favour of the Poles on the other side of the House is equally sincere on this. Having been for some time concerned in the management of foreign affairs, I should have thought I was hardly discharging my duty if I were not to say how entirely I concur with what has been said on the other side of the House, and more especially with the valuable advice which has just been given by the noble Earl. With regard to the Poles, I would say that, although this is a moment in which they may be grieved, it is one in which they need be disheartened. I would ask them to consider fairly and generously in what a different position they now stand as compared with their position seven or eight years ago. Then they had an absolute Sovereign, whose only idea of maintaining his power was to curb the liberties of his people by the employment of military force. They are now ruled by an Emperor who has done great things for the promotion of liberty—greater than have been attempted by any contemporary Sovereign. Sufficient justice has hardly been done by the public to the Emperor of Russia for the great boon which he has conferred, or is in the course of conferring, to his empire by the liberation of the serfs. It is im- possible to suppose that such a man has not a sense of the advantages of a milder system. And, indeed, I have information on which I believe I may entirely rely, that such are the sentiments of the Emperor of Russia. And he has near him men, in whom he himself places confidence, who are urging him to take they very course on which your Lordships have to-night expressed your opinion. But, as a matter of course, like every other Sovereign in his position, he has also advisers who urge him in the contrary direction. Still, when we know the natural turn of his own mind, and know that some of the most influential councillors around him are disposed to give him the only advice that can tend to strengthen his throne, I think the time is not far removed when a milder rule will be adopted in that country. I should be sorry if anything should be said in this or the other House of Parliament—and nothing has been said—that could encourage the Poles to take a course fatal to their own welfare. There are parties among them who look on the subject in different ways. There is the moderate party, the leader of which was that most respected nobleman Prince Czartoryski, who has just died at Paris, who look only at the improvement of the condition of Poland under the sovereignty of Russia; there is another party whose patriotism goes to the extent of wishing to re-establish an impossible monarchy—a monarchy which was crushed out of existence seventy years ago. But in neither House of Parliament, as far as I have observed what has passed in "another place," has anything been said to encourage any section of the Poles to attempt impossibilities that can only result in bringing them under a more stringent tyranny than that to which they are at present subjected. But there is one thing that no statesman in this country need be afraid boldly to state. It is, that the present rule of the Polish nation is a breach of the Treaty of Vienna. No one can deny, though some may excuse it. But I cannot accept the excuses, because I believe the Polish rebellion of 1830 and 1831 was entirely the result of the most flagrant violation of that treaty, carried out in a most cruel and inexcusable manner. Therefore, while I say nothing can excuse the breach of that treaty by the Emperor Nicholas, neither can anything excuse the present Emperor for continuing to violate it by imposing on the Poles a rule from which the Treaty of Vienna protects them. But I would entreat them to consider at this moment only how they can obtain what that treaty promised them—how they can obtain a constitutional Government such as their fellow-countrymen possess in Prussia, and at once to dismiss from their minds any dreams of reconstructing the Polish monarchy. The attempt would convulse Europe, and could only end in retarding still longer the attainment of those liberties to which they are justly entitled.


was surprised the noble Earl (the Earl of Ellenborough) should have expressed the sentiment that "wealth never conspires." Was there ever manifested to the world a greater conspiracy of wealth and power than the spoliation of Poland? Was there ever a greater crime committed by power against right than had been committed against that unfortunate country? He believed that wealth conspired as well as poverty; and he should be sorry if, on this occasion, he did not protest in his place in that House against the great political crime of which Poland had been made the victim.


said, that the entirely courred in the opinion which had been expressed upon this subject by those noble Lords who had preceded him, and it was not his intention to go at any length over the ground which they had traversed; but having from an early period of his public life felt an interest in this question, he should be sorry to allow the discussion to close without expressing his sentiments. Everybody who was interested in the subject must have been gratified to find that justice had been done on both sides of the House to the character of the Polish nation, and more particularly to the character of that illustrious man who had lately been taken away from the world after a life spent in devotion to the interests of his country under the most adverse circumstances. He had himself had an opportunity in the course of last year of conversing with that illustrious Prince, and all that he had heard from him convinced him of the justice of the view which had been taken of his character and conduct in the course of that discussion. He was very glad to hear his noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Malmesbury) state frankly and fairly his opinion with regard to the breach of the Treaty of Vienna. He believed no one could look at that treaty and compare with its provisions the conduct which had since been pursued towards Poland without feeling that a very serious violation of public law had been effected by the events of 1834, and that those who had been immediately concerned in that transaction owed more to the forbearance of Europe than to the justice and moderation of their own conduct. One result was, that that small but interesting city (Cracow) which was the last refuge of the nationality of Poland, and which the treaty guaranteed should have a free and independent constitution, had become a part of the Austrian Empire. He should say that if the convenience of nations, if the interests of this country and the prudence of the British Parliament, did not permit our taking a more serious notice of those questions, and impose upon us the necessity of adopting corresponding measures, it was, at least, a satisfaction to know that the voice of Europe could be heard in the British Parliament, and that those who had so far succeeded in carrying out their ambitious designs had, at all events, to encounter the reprobation of the British Parliament—a body which more than any other in Europe was entitled to express the opinion of England and of the civilized world.


said, that with what had been said in favour of the rights of Poland he entirely agreed; but he thought some points in the condition of that country had been omitted by the previous speakers. One of the greatest grievances under which the Poles at present suffered had not been at all alluded to£it was the great religious grievance. He had been assured that at the present moment there were nearly 5,000,000 Poles who had been forced to abjure their religion, and adopt—of course, only in appearance—the Greek form of worship. Statesmen must be ill observers of the feeling of the present time if they expected to produce a reformation of public opinion by such means as this. He had also heard that within the last few years there had been attempts to convert all Jewish children to the Christian faith; hundreds and thousands of children had been carried away by force to be baptized and educated in the principles of the Greek Church. Their Lordships had heard a great deal of the Mortara case—a case which, indeed, fully called for their sympathies—many of the Governments of Europe interfered in that case—he should like to know whether the Emperor of Russia interfered also— but for that one instance of this greatest grievance there were hundreds, if not thousands, in Poland. Every one must feel deep sympathy in the great experiment that was now taking place in Russia—one of the most arduous, dangerous, but beneficial changes ever contemplated. He could not suppose that there was any idea of stifling the aspirations of Russian Poland for the acquisition of representative institutions. While wishing well to the Emperor of Russia in the great experiment he was now making, they could not but feel that he would derive the greatest assistance in carrying it to a successful result from having the support of those Polish provinces where serfage had been abolished since 1791. He trusted that they should not hear of papers being circulated by the police among the Polish peasants urging them to rise against their landlords, for such a course would lead to the greatest danger, not only to Russia but also to Europe. Such a ruse had been practised before with the most fatal results. Apprehensions had frequently been felt at the danger that would arise to Europe from a too powerful despotic monarch, but dangers would also arise from an extended system of jacquerie such as they were told had arisen in some Russian provinces. If the Polish provinces were well organized and fairly treated they would feel no sympathy with such a movement, but they would act as a great breakwater to preserve Europe from the flood of dangers arising from the domination of an ignorant and savage peasantry. He was gratified to find on both sides of the House so unanimous a feeling of sympathy with the just claims of Poland.


said, he would adopt the suggestion of the noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and confine his Motion to the Correspondence between Great Britain and Russia.

Address for Papers, &c., agreed to.