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Opposition to Lord Londonderry's appointment as Ambassador to Russia

Debates, House of Commons. 13 March 1835. Vol 26 cc938-90.

Mr. Sheil rose to move, as an Amendment to the Motion, that the Speaker leave the Chair,"that an humble address be presented to his Majesty, praying, that he be graciously pleased to order that there be laid before the House a copy of any appointment made within the last four months of an Ambassador from the Court of London to St. Petersburgh, and of the salary and emoluments attached to such embassy. He believed, that with respect to the importance of the relations between Turkey, Russia, and this country (the principal question involved in the Amendment he had just proposed) there could be in that House no question whatever.

The illustrious individual, now at the head of Foreign Affairs, was, he believed, as sensible as — if not more so than — any man in the country, of the importance of the questions connected with the proposition he had made to the House. In the year 1826, notwithstanding the extreme inclemency of the season, and although the Duke of Wellington was, as he believed, then labouring under ill-health, he thought it was his duty to the country and the public to proceed to St. Petersburgh with a view to the arrangement of the extremely difficult and complicated questions then pending between Russia, Turkey, and this country. The events which succeeded the negotiations into which the Duke of Wellington entered, certainly could not be considered as being of a fortunate description. Before the year had elapsed, Russia declared war against Persia, and in the month of February, 1828, the latter power was reduced to the necessity of entering into an ignominious peace, of which one condition was, that she should pay twenty millions of roubles to the Emperor of Russia; another, that she should concede two very important provinces on her frontier.

Scarcely had the war with Persia terminated, before Russia directed her arms against Turkey, and upon the 23rd of April, 1828, that celebrated war began. It was much to be regretted, that the Duke of Wellington, at that time in office, did not see the importance of at once furnishing Turkey with assistance. True, the battle of Navarino had taken place; but notwithstanding that circumstance, the resources of Turkey were by no means exhausted, and at the conclusion of the campaign of 1828, in the judgment of military men, Russia had received a check; she had taken an unimportant frontier, but her troops were compelled to retire from before Shumla. The English Government, however, instead of interfering at that most important and most favourable juncture, omitted — and the omission was unexampled in the history of nations — to interfere, at least so far as concerned the blockade of the Dardanelles; and while Constantinople was deprived of provision, it was no exaggeration to say, that the British flag sustained some disgrace. At the commencement of the year 1829, Russia poured in her forces upon Turkey; the events which then took place, were too notorious even for recapitulatory reference. The Treaty of Adrianople, dated in September, 1829, was then signed; and it was with justice, that in the House of Lords, in the month of February, 1834, Lord Grey, on being taxed by the Duke of Wellington with relinquishing the interests of Turkey, replied, that to the Treaty of Adrianople much of the mischief that had since ensued was to be referred; for, that by the existence of that Treaty, Turkey was in some measure laid prostrate before the feet of her antagonist. He was one of those who thought, that the late Ministry, in their conduct with reference to Turkey, had committed great and almost irreparable errors. He thought it was a mistake, not to have stopped the progress of Ibrahim Pacha; he thought it was a mistake, to allow 20,000 Russian troops to land on the Asiatic side of the Bosphorus. On the 8th of July, 1833, the Treaty of Constantinople was signed; it was followed by the Treaty of St. Petersburgh, in January, 1834. By that Treaty, not only were large privileges given to Russia, with reference to the Dardanelles, but the passage was almost closed against the English. He had taken upon himself to bring the matter before the House in the last Session of the short-lived Parliament, and the right hon. Baronet then stated, that although he did not agree with him in his construction of that Treaty, he feared the interests of England were affected: and he added, that a negotiation had been opened between Russia, Turkey, and this country.

Beyond all doubt, taking the three articles of that Treaty together, Russia had gained a new treaty of alliance, offensive and defensive; it followed from thence, that if Russia went to war with England, Turkey must of necessity do the same; and not only were the Dardanelles closed against vessels of war, but against merchant vessels. He adverted to these circumstances, for the purpose of showing the importance of the relations, that now existed between the kingdoms. Here, in the case of Turkey again, they found Russia, as on the frontiers of Persia, with a large army, only waiting for a pretence of invasion. He need hardly remind the House of the manifest influence Russia possessed in every Cabinet, or of the mode in which it was exercised — a mode tending to counteract the great principles which every Englishman in that House was bound to maintain. It therefore seemed manifest that the appointment of an ambassador to St. Petersburgh was not an unimportant question, and the question at once arose, when Lord Heytesbury was removed in August 1832, and, in October 1832, Sir Stratford Canning was appointed, what was the reason why Sir Stratford Canning never proceeded to the court of St. Petersburgh? The question was brought by Lord Londonderry, before the House of Lords. That noble Lord gave notice, that on the Monday succeeding that day on which the notice was given, he would bring the matter forward. The matter, however, never was brought forward, nor had there been any satisfactory explanation of the reasons why an Ambassador did not then proceed, and had not yet proceeded, to the Court of St. Petersburgh. No objection, as far as he could exercise his humble judgment, could reasonably be entertained to the appointment of an Ambassador. A question next arose, as to the character of the individual who, under circumstances so peculiar, ought to be appointed. It was clear, that he ought to be wise, sagacious, firm, discreet; that he ought to be firmly and inflexibly attached to those principles to which the great mass of the people of this country were devoted; that he should be qualified to protect the commercial interests of the country; that he should represent, in his own calm dignity, the honour of his country; and, perhaps, let him add, in favour of neglected and unfortunate Poland; the English Ambassador ought to raise the voice of healing remonstrance. Whether such a person had been appointed or not, it was for his Majesty's Ministers to state. Rumours had been spread abroad concerning the appointment of an individual of very high rank in this country, respecting whom he for one would not concur with any of those who had spoken of him as an individual, in language of disrespect.

The first notice he remembered to have seen of the appointment of that Nobleman, was in The Times newspaper of the 2nd of January in the present year. The words were these: — "We notice, merely to discountenance, an absurd report, that Lord Londonderry has been, or is to be, named Ambassador to St. Petersburgh. The rumour is a sorry joke." On the succeeding day The Times newspaper said — "The Courier, in allusion to our yesterday's notice of the rumour, still to us incredible, that Lord Londonderry had been named Ambassador to St. Petersburgh, affirms that the nomination has really taken place, and that the gallant Marquess is engaged in preparing for his departure." The paragraph proceeded with some observations on the appointment, which might be very justifiable on the part of the editor of that newspaper, but which he for one did not think it necessary to repeat. It was not to rumours, however — it was not to newspapers — it was not to reports that might possibly be scandalous, and that were put into spurious circulation in the salons of this country, that he alluded. He would take the estimate of the Nobleman to whom he alluded, from a debate in the House of Lords; not, he would say, courted, but studiously avoided. In the Month of June, 1827, Lord Londonderry made a Motion in the House of Lords respecting the expenses of the Foreign Office; and with the manliness, which was unquestionably one of the characteristics of his temper, declared that, instead of wishing himself to shrink from investigation, he was anxious that every circumstance connected with his diplomatic services, should be distinctly and clearly made known. On that occasion, the noble Lord adverted, he (Mr. Sheil) would not say with intrepidity, for it required no courage, but with a disdain of all consequences, to the application made by himself to Lord Liverpool, respecting a pension to which he conceived himself to be entitled. The language used by Lord Liverpool in reference to that application had now become matter of history. On the 26th of June, 1827, Lord Londonderry made the motion which he had before mentioned; and in the course of his speech expressed himself as follows: — "The next return was that of the pensions to Foreign Ministers, on which there was an increase of about £5,000. With regard to this return he must state a case with respect to himself, which, under any other circumstances, he should have been unwilling to mention; but he must distinctly say, that he had been personally injured with respect to this particular return of the Foreign Office.

The right hon. Secretary had unnecessarily or wantonly brought forward charges against him which he felt himself bound to repel and deny. For that purpose he had entered into a correspondence with the noble Lord opposite; and if the noble Lord chose to give that correspondence to the public, or to disclose it in any other shape, he should have no objection to it, and by that correspondence he would be judged." Lord Dudley and Ward, then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, having been thus called on to give an explanation, after some preliminary observations, said — "another topic to which the noble Marquess had adverted, and challenged him to lay the particulars before the House, he must also mention. He had understood the noble Marquess to say, he had been calumniated and injured by the returns from the Foreign Office. He had alluded to a correspondence which had taken place on the subject of a pension to which he conceived he was entitled for his diplomatic services; and had said, that if he (Lord Dudley) would lay the papers before the House and the public, he would be judged by them. He must decline adopting that course, but the history of the transaction he would briefly state. The noble Marquess made an application on this subject, by letter, to the Under Secretary of State — a gentleman who had long filled that office, Mr. Planta — stating the grounds which, in his own opinion, entitled him to a pension. The letter thus written was, of course, handed to the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, who, not wishing to take upon himself the responsibility of deciding upon such an application, or of setting a value on the services of the noble Marquess transmitted to Lord Liverpool, then the First Lord of the Treasury. If he mistook not, the application was renewed; and then it was that Lord Liverpool shortly after returned the letter to the Foreign Office, in which he had made the remark in pencil, which had been communicated to the public through the medium of a newspaper. On the noble Marquess's application, Lord Liverpool had written, in pencil, the words 'this is too bad,' and he had seen them himself. There was no breach of confidence in stating this; he had no motive in so doing; but when he was told that the noble Marquess had been calumniated by the returns from the Foreign Office, he could not allow noble Lords to go away under the impression that something very unjust had been done to the noble Marquess." Lord Dudley and Ward then went on to say, that "he believed the noble Marquess had been in the public service about ten years, and for his services in that period he had received of the public money £160,000."*

Lord Londonderry, in replying to that statement, did not contradict the allegation as to his application for a pension; but he contended, that he had a right to it, and on that ground he took his stand. The noble Lord afterwards read two letters signed by himself, of which one was as follows. "Holderness House, May 14, 1827." "My DEAR LORD — Having just read in The Times newspaper of to-day a libel upon my character, in which it is stated, that upon an application of mine for a pension, out of the prescribed form, Lord Liverpool had himself endorsed these words — 'this is too bad,' I feel persuaded that you will inform me whether, in your opinion, it be possible that, accidentally or otherwise, the office over which you preside can have been accessary to such a statement. If the fact be true, it will show that confidential or official documents are communicated for indirect purposes of personal attack, not where they can be met and answered but by throwing them into anonymous channels. Whatever may be the character given of my proceedings in Parliament, I disclaim anything but being direct and open against public men and public measures, and I despise any other mode too much to have recourse to it. I request, therefore, before I take any further steps, that you will have the goodness to favour me with an answer to the query I have made, and that you will forward me, as soon as possible, copies of all the correspondence relating to my application for the pension, together with Mr. Canning's letter as to my services on my resignation of the Vienna Embassy." "(Signed) "VANE LONDONDERRY."

And the noble Marquess added, "the answer of the noble Lord opposite was a complete denial; and he, consequently, thought the thing at an end. In eight or ten days after, however, he received a letter from the noble Lord, saying that since his former letter, he had discovered that the pencil-mark alluded to, did actually exist.† "

* Hansard's Deabtes, Vol.xvii., new series, page 1401–1405."

"†Ibid. p. 1407."He now stated nothing but facts, which were notorious to every man in the country, and any comment of his was entirely unnecessary. He was conscious of the services of the Marquess of Londonderry, but he must be pardoned if he suggested to the right hon. Baronet, that though the noble Marquess might be an orator at Hilsborough, in the county of Down, he was neither qualified nor capable of being the Ambassador of this country to the Court of St. Petersburgh.

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