Page images


Prince Regent's Message on the landing of Buonaparte in France: Address and Debates.-Lord Wellesley's Motion respecting the Escape of Buonaparte from Elba, and Debates on the subject.-Discussion of the Treaty with America.-Motions and Debates respecting the Transfer of Genoa to the King of Sardinia.-Mr. Whitbread's Motion for an Address against a War with France.


ARLIAMENT had hitherto been chiefly occupied with matters of internal policy, when the extraordinary event of Buonapart's landing in France, the particulars of which will be found in the chapter relating to the concerns of that country, called its attention to different objects, and in fact gave a new turn to the public history of the year. On April 6, a message from the Prince Regent was delivered to each house, communicating the information that "the events which had recently occurred in France, in direct contravention of the engagement concluded with the allied powers at Paris in the course of the last year, and which threatened consequences highly dangerous to the tranquillity and independence of Europe, had induced his Royal Highness to give directions for the augmentation of his Majesty's land and sea forces; and that he had deemed it incumbent upon him to lose no time in entering into communications with his Majesty's allies for the purpose of forming such a concert as might most effectually

provide for the general and permanent security of Europe."

The consideration of this message was entered upon in the House of Lords on the 7th, when the Earl of Liverpool rose to move a corresponding address. In his introductory speech, he began with observations on the treaty of Fontainbleau, concluded in the last year by the sovereigns then at Paris, with Napoleon Buonaparte. He affirmed, that Lord Castlereagh, when informed of its contents, had expressed a strong disapprobation of it; but that the representations of the allied sovereigns having at length convinced him of its necessity, he had consented to accede to it in part, namely, as far as concerned the possession of the isle of Elba by Buonaparte, and the sovereignty of the Italian duchies conferred on his wife. He then denied that any breach of this treaty had been committed by the King of France, as the first payment of the annual sum stipulated for Buonaparte had not become due, nor had he made any representations to the allied powers on


that head; and his own proclamations proved that he had meant to violate the treaty on the first opportunity, and to resume his power. This resumption was therefore a positive and undeniable violation of the treaties of Fontainbleau and Paris, and gave this country a just cause of war against Buonaparte wielding the power of France. His Lordship, however, did not mean to say, that because a war was just, it should therefore be entered upon. The policy of it was another part of the question. It was impossible to conceal the dangers with which this event threatened the country, but he did not wish that the House should be pledged to any inconsiderate declaration. Between the two alternatives of armed and defensive preparation, and actual war, he requested that there might be no immediate decision, since it was not merely a British, but an European question; and nothing more was at present called for than what the message required. He then moved the address.

The following speakers, who were lords Grenville, Wellesley, and Grey, all approved of the address, but made various remarks on the circumstances which had brought on this awful crisis. The address was then agreed to nem. diss.

On the same day the message was taken into consideration by the House of Commons, where the subject was introduced by Lord Castlereagh. He took in general the same ground with his colleague, but more at length, as having been personally engaged in many of the previous transac

tions. With respect to the situation of Buonaparte in Elba, and the imputed neglect of a precautionary security against his future enterprises, he said that the powers who had concurred in the treaty of Fontainbleau had never intended to exercise a system of police or espoinage with regard to him. He was invested with the sovereignty of the island, and had a sort of naval equipment under his flag, which the British officer on that station had no power of visiting. Col. Campbell, who had been one of his conductors to Elba acccording to treaty, had indeed been suffered to remain between that island and Leghorn, for the purpose of conveying occasional intelligence to government, but his visits had latterly been discouraged by Buo. naparte; and a sort of English vice-consul who resided on the island, was placed under the inspection of two gendarmes at the time he was making his preparations. With respect to the pension allotted to Buonaparte and his family, his Lordship said, that having heard, whilst at Vienna, of some complaints on that head, he had inquired concerning the circumstance, of the French minister, who had addressed his government on the subject. The reply was, that Buonaparte had manifested a spirit of infraction of the treaty on his part, by recruiting for his guards in Corsica and other places. Lord C. afterwards being told that he was under certain pecuniary embarrassments, he spoke to Louis XVIII. on the subject, who caused a person to be dispatched to Elba for the purpose of affording him


some present aid, but not to pay his entire stipend, until a satisfactory explanation were given of some suspicious points of his conduct. If, however, he had any ground of complaint in this matter, it should have been made to the allies, who were parties in the treaty. After some remarks on the precautionary measures now proper to be pursued, he concluded with moving an address corresponding to the Regent's message.

Sir Fr. Burdett then rose to declare his reasons for refusing to concur in the proposed address, which turned upon his conviction that Buonaparte was the choice of the French nation, and that any attempt to re-establish the Bourbons by force would be equally unjust, and hopeless. He regarded the address as the first step towards a war of which no man could foresee the termination.

Mr. Ponsonby said he should support the address, not considering it in the same light as the hon. baronet, since it did not bind the House by a single expression on the question of peace or war. With respect to what was said of the contravention of the peace of Paris, he interpreted it (as Lord Grey did in the House of Lords) as referring to the circumstance, that more favourable terms having by that treaty been granted to France on the ground that she was to return to what was called her legitimate government, that condition no longer subsisting now that the government had reverted to Buonaparte, the allied powers stood in the same relation to France that they

did before the treaty. He said he should never give a vote on the principle of imposing a specific government on any nation; and that he would to the last moment cherish the hope that peace might be continued, especially when he recollected that the noble lord himself had been engaged in the negociations at Chatillon, when France was not under the government of the Bourbons, but of Buonaparte.

Mr. Whitbread began a long and warm speech with saying, that they who should vote for the address unamended, would fall into the trap into which the ministers were desirous of betraying the country; and that he could not let the occasion pass without contending with all his force against any of the grounds hypothetically stated by the noble lord for commencing a new crusade for the purpose of determining who should fill the throne of France.

He would maintain that it was the clear interest of this country, and its allies, to fulfil the treaty which they had made with France when under the Bourbons. After a variety of observations on this point, among which he introduced some very severe animadversions on the unauthorised concurrence of the British minister at Vienna in the declaration of the allies on the landing of Buonaparte in France, (see State Papers), he concluded with moving the following amendment to the address: "And that at the same time we earnestly implore his Royal Highness the Prince Regent that he would be graciously pleased to exert his most strenuous endeavours to se


cure to this country the continuance of peace, so long as it can be maintained consistently with the honour of his Majesty's crown, the security of his dominions, and the faith to be preserved with his Majesty's allies."

This motion was followed by a number of speeches from both sides of the house, of which it is unnecessary to enter into the particulars. A passage, however, in Lord Castlereagh's reply may be worth quoting, as it affords a tolerably clear view of the real determination of the English cabinet at that period. He said, "It might be thought that an armed peace would be preferable to a state of war, but the danger ought fairly to be looked at: and knowing that good faith was opposite to the system of the party to be treated with, knowing that the rule of his conduct was self-interest, regardless of every other consideration, whatever decision they came to must rest on the principle of power, and not that of reliance on the man." It was scarcely possible after such a declaration to doubt that war would be the final result; but that, in the choice of evils, this was generally regarded as the least to be dreaded, was apparent from the division on Mr. Whitbread's motion, which was rejected by 229 votes against 37. The address was then passed without further opposition.

A direct attack on the ministers on account of the escape of Buonaparte from Elba, and the political circumstances which led to it, was made in the House of Lords on April 12, when the Marquis of Wellesley rose to call the


attention of the house to the treaty entered into with Buonaparte at the conclusion of the late war. He said, that regarding that person as the main spring of the system against which this country had waged war, he conceived that no controversy could be raised upon this proposition, that the two objects for consideration at the time when the allies were in possession of Paris, were the exclusion of that person from power, and the provision of adequate means against his return to powIt was then the duty of our ministry to have taken a leading part in the arrangement, and not to have passively acquiesced, as the minister on the spot had done, in the engagement made by another power before his arrival. The Marquis then proceeded to shew that the relative situation of the allies and Buonaparte at that time did not in any degree render it necessary to comply with his inconsistent demands; that the treaty was contrary to policy; that there was no necessity for concluding it; and that no due measures were taken to enforce its performance. He particularly censured the part we took in the treaty, by consenting to the most objectionable points in it, the granting to Buonaparte the sovereignty of Elba, and the settling of the Italian duchics upon his wife and son, whilst we refused to be pledged to the performance of the part relative to the payments to be made to him and his family, which, though highly improvident if brought to elect, gave a plausible ground of complaint when not fulfilled. With respect to his escape from


Elba, however difficult the entire prevention of it might be, more diligence ought to have been used in making use of such means of prevention as we possessed. The Marquis concluded with moving for an address to the Prince Regent for, "1. Copies, or extracts, or substance of any instructions which may have been given by his Majesty's government, to any of his Majesty's naval commanders respecting Napoleon Buonaparte and the island of Elba. 2. Copies, or extracts, or substance of any information which his Majesty's government may have received respecting the design of Napoleon Buonaparte to escape from the island of Elba, together with the date of the reception of such information."

The Earl of Liverpool began his reply with expressing his surprise at an attack now commenced upon a treaty which had been known to the public for twelve months past, and if so objectionable as now represented by the noble Marquis, ought long ago to have been brought by him before the notice of the House. He then proceeded to consider the situation of the allied powers and of France at the period of the treaty of Fontainbleau, and asked what would have been the sentiment of this country and of all Europe, if a great addition of hazard and bloodshed had been incurred for the sole difference between treating with Buonaparte, and making him a prisoner. He then took into consideration the choice of a place assigned for his retreat, and contended that wherever he had been, not being subject to personal restraint, it would have been

equally easy for him to have carried on intrigues with his adherents in France, and ultimately have effected his escape. Was the noble Marquis aware, that but for the continuance of the American war, the whole navy of England would not have had the power to search the meanest fishing vessel. The establishment of a naval police to prevent his escape from the island of Elba was then wholly out of the question. With respect to the remark, that by a breach of the articles of the treaty, a pretence had been given to Buonaparte for contravening it, his Lordship observed that he had never in his proclamations made use of such a justification, but had averred that he came to reclaim his crown, because summoned to it by the voice of the nation. Further, his Lordship assured the House, that previously to Buonaparte's escape, the allies had taken measures to fulfil the articles, not to the letter, but with a spirit of liberality becoming great powers; and that it was the intention of the court of France to have executed its part of the engagement with the greatest punctuality.

These topics were discussed more or less at large, but with little variety of argument, by several other speakers, who were chiefly the lords in opposition. On a division, the numbers were Contents 21, Non-contents 53. Majority against the motion, 32.

The same subject was brought before the House of Commons on April 20, by a motion from Mr. Abercrombie which was a counterpart of that of the Marquis of Wellesley. The debate which fol


« PreviousContinue »