The Peel Web

I am happy that you are using this web site and hope that you found it useful. Unfortunately, the cost of making this material freely available is increasing, so if you have found the site useful and would like to contribute towards its continuation, I would greatly appreciate it. Click the button to go to Paypal and make a donation.

Peel's Speech on the Address in Answer to the King's Speech, 7 February 1833

Taken from

Peel's speeches

[604] Lord Althorp moved the Order of the Day for proceeding with the adjourned debate on the address.

Several members having addressed the House,--.

SIR ROBERT PEEL said, as this was the third night of the debate upon the address in answer to the King's speech, he hoped he might congratulate the House on its now approaching the close of the debate. ["No," from Mr. O'Connell.] Well, then, if the hon. and learned member denied that they were even approaching it, then there was no alternative but to admit that they were either going back or beating time, and making no progress whatever. He (Sir Robert Peel) should be unwilling to let this discussion come to a termination without making a few observations on some of the principal topics contained in the speech put into his Majesty's mouth by his ministers. That speech adverted to many topics of great importance. He thought that ministers had wisely conformed to long-established usage by forbearing to enter, in that speech, into any minute details. He thought that they had wisely forborne from imitating the example of the American President, and from entering into lengthened disquisitions on public affairs; not because he did not think that full information should be given to the British parliament on all topics of public importance, but because he thought that, on all topics on which information was to be given, it should be more minute and accurate than it possibly could be in a speech delivered from the throne. He did not wish to have their debates fettered by an expression of opinion from the Crown; and he deemed it more constitutional that parliament should have its attention directed in general terms to public measures, than that it should receive a commentary from authority indicating the views and intentions of the ,government. He thought it most important that the House should at length approach to some measure of practical legislation, and that it should consume as little more time as possible in mere debate. If the public did expect so much as gentlemen stated from a reformed parliament, he apprehended that they expected something better than lengthened harangues, which led to nothing. In the observations which he was about to make, he should not advert either to the charter of the Bank of England or to that of the East India Company, although mention was made of them in the speech. He should avoid all topics contained in it except those which were the proper and immediate objects of discussion — namely, those upon which the House was called on to pronounce either a qualified or a positive opinion. He was aware of the altered position in which he then stood before the House. He had been accustomed to address it, sometimes backed by powerful majorities, at other times supported by very large minorities. He had recently heard it made matter of boast, that the Reform Bill had extinguished in that House the party to which he had the honour to belong. That might be; he would neither admit it nor gainsay it, but would leave individuals to the enjoyment they could derive from the boast. He had, however, such confidence in the justice of the majority, that though he should not attempt to conciliate its favour by adopting its opinions, or by abandoning one particle of his own, he was certain that he should meet, if not with its acquiescence, at least with an indulgent hearing. The subjects on which he felt himself called that evening to pronounce either a modified or a decided opinion were three in number. They related to reform in the church, to measures connected with the restoration of tranquillity and the repression of disorder in Ireland, and to those which might be necessary to maintain inviolate the legislative union between England and Ireland. Those were the three topics to which he felt himself bound to confine his observations. With respect to the first of them, he was called upon to assure his Majesty, "that the attention of the House would be directed to the state of the church, and that it would be ready to consider what remedies might be applied for the correction of acknowledged abuses, and whether the revenues of the church might not admit of a more equitable and judicious distribution." Now, if his Majesty's government, acting of course with the authority of his Majesty, deemed it incumbent to propose measures of which the professed object was to improve the stability of the established church, he could not [605] refuse to enter into the consideration of them: and when they called upon him to accompany that consideration "with a due regard to the security of the church as established by law in these realms, and to the true interests of religion," he inferred, at least he entertained a hope, that the interests, the rights, and the privileges of the church were intended to be maintained in full vigour. Whether he should hereafter, when he saw those measures, consider that those interests, those rights, and those privileges were so maintained, was a point on which he reserved to himself the full and entire right of judging, unfettered in the slightest degree by his present qualified acquiescence in the address. He abandoned nothing of his discretion as a legislator; and in giving his assent to this part of the address, his intention was to protect the interests of the Church of England, not merely because he considered that, by endangering the rights and privileges of that church other rights and privileges would be endangered, but also because he considered that in the maintenance of them much higher interests — the interests of truth, of morality, and pure religion — were involved. With respect to the Church of Ireland — for he should make his comments with unreserve — he thought that the terms used both in the speech, and in the address, were vague and indefinite. He did not exactly understand the meaning of the words applied in the speech to the Church of Ireland. It was stated, that "although the Established Church of Ireland was by law permanently united with that of England, the peculiarities of their respective circumstances required a separate consideration." Now, the words, "separate consideration," were those to which he objected; he did not know what was meant by them. If the expression purported that there were peculiarities in the circumstances of the Church of Ireland which demanded the application of a separate principle to them, he viewed such a declaration with horror. But the expression might merely mean that the government meant to legislate for the Church of Ireland by separate enactments, in principle the same with those to be applied to the Church of England, but modified in mere details to the local and peculiar circumstances of Ireland. Having himself assented to a Tithe Composition bill in Ireland, when no such bill was introduced for England — having also assented to several other measures of ecclesiastical polity for Ireland which did not apply to England, it was impossible for him to deny the proposition, that there might be peculiarities in the condition of the church in the two countries, which might require separate legislation. He could not fail, however, to insist that the title of the Church of Ireland to its property and its privileges was the same as that of the Church of England. There might be a different distribution of the church property, for the benefit of religion; but there never should be, with his consent, a perversion of church property from its original uses. He hoped, therefore, that those who asked him to join in this address did not mean to sanction the application of a different principle to the Church of England, and to that of Ireland. What that principle might be he could not tell; but if it were such as was stated by the hon. gentleman near him, he would not only say that he could not agree to it, but that he would resist it to the utmost. "I see (continued Sir Robert Peel) the right hon. secretary for Ireland before me ["Hear from Mr. O'Connell, and members in his neighbourhood] —I say, I see the right hon. secretary for Ireland — I am afraid of saying what I think of the conduct of that right hon. gentleman; for, however impartial my testimony as a public man may be, I am afraid that, from the attacks so incessantly repeated, in order to depreciate the character of that right hon. gentleman, my testimony might only increase the efforts which are made to ruin his reputation. Mine, however, is the independent testimony of an independent public man, and I only withhold the eulogy which I should otherwise bestow as his due upon the right hon. gentleman, lest it should increase the numbers of his enemies. I have heard the right hon. secretary often taunted with his aristocratical bearing and demeanour. I rather think that I should bear fewer complaints on that head if the right hon. gentleman were a less powerful opponent in debate." The right hon. baronet continued. He saw the right hon. secretary holding place in the councils of his Majesty — he recollected the report of last session on the subject of Irish tithes, of which the right hon. gentleman was the author — he recollected that, though the right hon. gentleman thought that a different distribution of the church property was advisable to supply increased spiritual instruction to the people of Ireland, the right hon. secretary had said — at least he (Sir Robert Peel) remained under [606] that impression — that he never would consent to the application of the church property of Ireland to any but ecclesiastical purposes connected with the interests of that church. Whether such were still the opinion of the right hon. gentleman he could not say; all he knew was, that it was his own opinion. It might not, perhaps, be the opinion of the majority of that House; but it was his opinion, grounded on the belief, that if long possession, and the prescription of more than three centuries, was not powerful enough to protect the property of the Church of Ireland from spoliation, there would little safety for private property of any description and still less for that description of public property which was in the hands of lay corporations. So much for the grounds upon which he consented to that part of the address which related to the Established Church. He must now approach that most afflicting subject, the present state of Ireland, and the measures which were necessary to repress the disorders which disturbed the country. He was asked to consent to measures of salutary precaution, and to entrust to the government such additional powers as might be found necessary to extinguish confusion, to control and punish the disturbers of the public peace, and to afford protection to life and property in Ireland. Upon this subject he claimed the privilege of being able to form a disinterested and impartial opinion. He had never taunted his Majesty's ministers for not proposing at an earlier period the measures of coercion which they now demanded. When others said, that they ought to have applied for coercive measures, he had been no party to the complaint. His language had always been; "Try the ordinary laws; there is great evil in coercive measures. You cannot rely on them for any permanent good; but there is great risk that they will relax the energy of the ordinary law, and that they will widen the breach between the richer classes, for whose protection, and the poorer classes, for whose punishment, they appear to be intended." It had been his duty, on more than one occasion, to propose the Insurrection Act; but he had always had a greater pleasure in proposing the repeal of that act, or allowing its expiry, than he had in receiving the additional powers with which the act armed government. Though he had felt the necessity of passing such an act, he had never expected more from it than a temporary remedy for a single evil. He had always felt an apprehension that it would leave behind it a rankling wound, of which the soreness would long be felt. But thinking, as he did, that the government had acted wisely in not applying at an earlier period for those strong coercive measures — thinking, as he did, that it was wiser for them to have an accumulation of evidence to negative the insinuation that they would seek extraordinary powers for the promotion of their own selfish ambition — avowing the sentiments which he had done as to the objectionable nature of such extraordinary powers, and, above all, wishing as he did to secure life and property in Ireland under the ordinary law — still he could not refrain from saying that, upon the evidence before the public, there was a strong presumption that such powers were imperiously required by the emergencies of the state. He could therefore assure his Majesty, that he was ready to consider the case which he had no doubt ministers would shortly lay before the House, and if the necessity were made out, to grant the additional powers for which they applied. On comparing the evil of permitting the present state of things to continue in Ireland, or rather of conniving, as it were, at its continuance, by inactivity in repressing it — on comparing this with the evil of giving new powers to the executive government, in order to control the disturbers of the public peace, he thought the former evil preponderated. He trusted that, in the observations he had made, or in the observations he was then going to make, he should not give offence to any of the Irish gentlemen near him; he did not wish to let fall a single expression calculated to excite an angry or an acrimonious feeling. Though an Englishman, he did not entertain a single feeling that was not friendly to Ireland. In the early part of his life, he had lived for many years in that country, he had received nothing but kindness, and he felt connected with that country by the endearing ties of hospitality and many personal friendships. He considered it, however, the part of a true friend not to mislead the people of Ireland by flattery, but to tell them honestly and candidly the truth. Now, the gentlemen who objected to the granting of these additional powers said: "You are going to coerce the people of Ireland with severe measures." He would not pay the people of Ireland such a bad compliment as to confound them with those abandoned wretches whom those powers were intended to put down. [607] It had been said by several hon. members for Ireland: "We abominate as much as you do the practices of the Whitefeet." He could not conceive that they could do otherwise, for nothing could be more atrocious than the tyranny which the Whitefeet exercised. It was a tyranny more oppressive to the poor than to the rich. It was not applied to the rich, who could either defend themselves on their estates by barricading their homes, and garrisoning them with parties of soldiers or police or could quit their estates and reside in safety in some neighbouring town. The real tyranny was exercised upon the poor man who was anxious to conform to the law, and could not quit his humble residence, but who, for the allegiance and the obedience which he was ready to pay to the law, had a right to ask for protection, at least for his life. That was not an unreasonable request on his part, and if protection be not provided for him under the existing law — if he be not merely exposed to immediate danger, but was also exposed to the nightly fear that the murderer would visit him and his family before morning, he (Sir Robert Peel) did not see how the House could refuse to succour a man from this dreadful species of oppression and tyranny. He had heard from several of the Irish members strong objections to those laws, but he had also heard from them strong expressions of disgust and indignation at the atrocities they were intended to punish. There could be no doubt of their existence. If any proof were wanted, it might be found in the accounts which had been that day received from Ireland. An old man, who occupied two acres of land, for which be paid a yearly rent of £10, was called upon by a party of Whitefeet to abandon that land, though it was his only means of existence. He remonstrated with them on the injustice of their demand, and refused to give up his little farm. What was the consequence for not conforming to the arbitrary decree? He was visited with the usual penalty inflicted by the Whitefeet — Death. How could the House tolerate an outrage like that? It was not a solitary case: if it were, there would perhaps be no justification of new laws; for it might be better to permit a case of individual outrage to go unpunished than to suspend the constitution. But crimes of this nature were on the increase; and if so, how could they reconcile it to the principles of justice to let human beings live without protection under such appalling circumstances? If the right hon. gentleman's testimony on a former evening should be confirmed by further explanation and evidence, then a case would be made out which would justify the suspension of those forms which were intended for the purposes of justice, but which, if abused, became the height of injustice. On these grounds, he said, that if a necessity were made out, he should agree to the suspension of the ordinary law. He would go even still further — he would express a hope that the new law would be made effectual to its purpose; he trusted that it would not labour under the double fault, — first of being a suspension of ordinary law, and next of being ineffectual for its purpose.

He now approached a question of very great importance — the question of the repeal of the legislative union with Ireland. He admitted that, upon that question, he was called on to pronounce, not a modified but a positive opinion, and for one, he was determined, "to support his Majesty in maintaining, as indissolubly connected with the peace, security, and welfare of his Majesty's dominions, the legislative union between the two countries." That was the proposition of the King's speech; and he had the alternative of affirming that proposition by agreeing to the address, or of agreeing to the amendment of the hon. and learned member for Dublin. He could assure the hon. and learned gentleman (Mr. O'Connell), that if he entertained a strong opinion against his amendment (and he did entertain a very strong one), it was not from any personal feeling against him. He was called upon by the address to support the legislative union of the two countries — that was, he was called upon to support what be considered a fundamental law of the United Kingdom, and he was prepared to give his support to the permanence of that law. The hon. and learned gentleman, it was true, gave him an alternative — that was, to do nothing at
present, but refer the speech and the address to a committee of the whole House. He, for one, wanted no time for previous consideration whether the Union should be supported or not. It was a fundamental law, a solemn compact, that had endured thirty years, and for its maintenance he was prepared at once to vote. If others doubted the policy of maintaining it, why did not they provoke discussion? If the hon. and learned gentleman was disposed to make the subject a matter of grave discussion — if he wished to have it fully gone into — he should have been ready [608] with a series of resolutions, and have been prepared to show, that by the legislative union of the two countries, England had shown great injustice to Ireland, or that the welfare of the latter country rendered the repeal of that Union imperatively necessary. Some ground of this kind should have been laid, before the hon. and learned gentleman asked the House to go with him into the consideration of the subject. Instead of that, however, what did his proposition amount to? Merely to this — that one gentleman should replace another in the chair; that they should go into a committee of the whole House; but when they got there, would they be any further advanced? It was wished that the address should be considered by the whole House in committee. Why, the address was already before the whole House, and all that they could gain by the form of going into the committee was, that every member, instead of being limited to one speech, would have the opportunity of making as many speeches as he pleased. Now he would venture to affirm, and would appeal to the deliberate opinion of the whole people of England to support him — that in whatever other qualities of a deliberative and legislative assembly the members of that House might be wanting, in the disposition to make speeches they would not be deficient. He must say then, seriously, that they could gain nothing to forward the object which the hon. and learned gentleman had in view by going into committee, and the hon. and learned gentleman had not shown that any one point could be gained by it. [An hon. member: The question would be discussed there.] "Oh yes!" (continued Sir Robert Peel) "and it may be discussed now; and if you want discussion on the real merits of the question of Union, why is it that for two years you have shrunk from discussion, at least within these walls? Why agitate it elsewhere, and excite the minds of men on the subject, and not bring the matter fairly to issue in that House?" The hon. and learned gentleman said that it should have been brought forward last year. Why had it not been introduced then? What hindered it ?" [Mr. O'Connell: The discussions on the Reform Bill.] "The Reform Bill? If that was the cause, why did not you also in common justice forbear from appeals elsewhere to the passions, the prejudices, the religious feelings of parties?" He had read accounts of speeches delivered by the hon. and learned gentleman elsewhere, in which a fervent hope was expressed that the people of Ireland would once again enjoy their parliament in its ancient place of meeting, and that the members would proceed together to hear mass before they commenced their daily deliberations. But why, he again asked, were all this excitement and all this agitation created about a matter which could be lawfully decided only in parliament; and why had it not been brought forward there? Whose fault was it that It had not been brought forward? The hon. and learned gentleman said, that it was owing to the discussions on the Reform Bill; but surely there was as much time for the introduction of that, as it was said, all-important matter, as there had been for the forty other questions which the hon. and learned gentleman had brought forward, notwithstanding the discussions on reform. It would not have been necessary to go to the trouble of preparing a bill on the subject; the whole question might have been discussed on a short resolution: such, for example, as this — " Resolved, that the repeal of the Legislative Union between the two kingdoms of England and Ireland would be consistent with true policy, and with justice to Ireland." He should have been happy to have given the hon. and learned gentleman any assistance in respect to the form of his motion, to have aided him, if his aid would have been useful, in drawing up such a resolution as would have brought the question to a final issue. But no attempt of the kind was made by the hon. and learned gentleman himself. It could not have been, that he delayed the question from want of confidence in the late parliament; for it was in the recollection of many members, that the hon. and learned gentleman had frequently eulogized the late parliament as one disposed to do justice. He did not support the legislative union between the two countries merely because be found it in an Act of Parliament — though it having become the law of the land, and so continued for thirty years, was not an unfair presumption that it was a measure consistent with the advantage of the two countries. He supported it because be believed the existence of that Union was for the undoubted benefit of both countries. It was said, that England had misgoverned, and had withheld justice from Ireland. Much was said of English severity, but not a word about Irish provocation.

There was a studious [609] concealment of just one-half of the truth, and the other half was greatly exaggerated. But the question — the practical question now, was not — Did England in some remote time misgovern Ireland, or did she withhold justice from her — but, Had she, since the Union, done justice to Ireland? Was there now a disposition to do that justice? Was there a fair assurance that that disposition would continue for the future? Let not hon. members go back to the days of Strongbow — let them not roll back the stream of time for the purpose of reviving antiquated prejudices, and rekindling the slumbering fires of past contentions, over which the waters of oblivion had closed. Would it be wise in him at the present day to call to memory the atrocities of the great Rebellion of Ireland, in order to justify the acts to which the government of that day had recourse? No. Their business was with the present time; they had to look to what was now passing around them ["hear, hear," from Mr. O'Connell.] He was glad to hear the hon. and learned gentleman admit this. Then he would, as he was disposed to do, confine himself to the present day. And here let him observe, that if he could believe that the repeal of the union could improve the social condition of Ireland — so great a curse did he consider her present state to be — if he could believe, he repeated, that it could be improved by the repeal of the legislative union, the belief would almost reconcile him to the measure. It was said that England had misgoverned Ireland for centuries. Why, the very fact of that misgovernment was an argument against repeal. Misgovernment was the hard condition, twin-born with separate legislatures. England could not govern Ireland well while there was a separate legislature. If the Irish parliament had been really independent, there would have soon been an end of the connexion between the countries. To control the tendency towards separation, England had been obliged to establish an influence in the Irish parliament, and to govern by corrupt influence. Let the union be repealed, and we should have one or other of these consequences; an Irish parliament, with the mere semblance of independence, or an Irish parliament really independent, and the empire dismembered. But let him ask those hon. members who talked of the disposition of England not to do justice to Ireland, what interest had she in doing her injustice? If she were so disposed, it must be from some expected advantage, financial or commercial. England could gain nothing by having a set of bad magistrates in Ireland, or bad grand jurors. What possible advantage could it be to her that magistrates should not administer justice fairly, or that grand jurors should misapply or mismanage the money raised for local purposes in counties? If those hon. members to whom he addressed himself, as entertaining the opinion of the disposition of England to act unjustly towards Ireland, thought that she was so disposed from expected gain in a financial point of view, let them call for returns of the present amount of taxation in the two countries, for that was the business-like way of looking at the question. Let them call for a return of all the taxes which were imposed in Ireland and not imposed in England, and next for a return of all taxes imposed in England and not imposed in Ireland — let them call for an account of all the fetters and restrictions that were laid on Irish commerce, which were not also imposed on that of England — let them call for accounts of any exclusive restrictions on Irish trade and manufactures. He repeated, call for such returns, and from them prove the fact; and if a case could be made out to show that such injustice existed, he was certain that the House of Commons would not only evince a disposition to remove it, but would suspend its ordinary forms to give more speedy redress. He would now come to another argument urged in favour of a separate legislature — that which had been used by the hon. and learned member (Mr. Finn), who had addressed the House to-night for the first time with much ability. He said, if Ireland had her own parliament, she would be enabled to lay a tax of fifty per cent on the property of absentees. Why, what was that but spoliation of property? But suppose such an Act had passed the Irish legislature, would the king of England, he being the head of the executive of both countries, give his assent to it? Would he give his sanction to that act of spoliation against his English subjects who had property in both countries, and who chose to reside in one in preference to the other? If he should not — and that he would not there could be little doubt — then at once would come the conflict between the two countries. Again, it was alleged that the manufactures of Ireland required protection, and that a local legislature would give it — against what! against English [610] manufactures? Why, that was the very question which was now convulsing, to its centre, the republic of the United States of America. Was it possible that an argument of that kind would meet the assent of the hon. member for Middlesex — the advocate for free trade in its most extended sense? But suppose that a parliament sitting in Ireland were to adopt such measures — were to endeavour to protect its own commerce, trade, and manufactures, by imposing restrictions on those of England, was it to be imagined that such restrictions would remain unilateral? Would England rest still, and see such attempts to cripple her commerce and manufactures? Would not petitions pour in from all parts of the country, praying for similar restrictions on the commerce, manufactures, and produce of Ireland? Should we not soon hear of a tax on Irish corn? Was there any thing very unnatural in this? Was it not to be expected, that if one commodity was taxed in one country, it would be followed up by the taxation of some article of commerce in the other? Then if there were separate systems of finance in the two countries, there would be separate taxation., and separate collections of revenue, separate revenue cruisers, every fruitful source of dispute by which the two countries would be constantly brought into angry collisions. It was not the mere amount of duties to be so collected, but the angry feelings to which they would give rise in both countries, which were to be dreaded. On these grounds he would repeat his assertion, that England had no disposition to injure Ireland. It was not only not her desire, but it was manifestly not her interest to do so. What interest could she have in maintaining a large army in Ireland? It would be decidedly to her interests and advantage that the public burthens should be reduced in that country as well as here. But she had given proofs of her disposition not to press hard on Ireland. He would take the case of the Poor-laws. It was not. necessary for him to state that the support of the poor pressed heavily on England; and it was equally well known that her Poor-rates were greatly increased by the sums paid for the relief of her casual poor, a large portion of which consisted of Irish. It was, therefore, manifestly the interest of Englishmen that a system of Poor-laws should be established in Ireland ; yet it was well known that English members in that House had forborne to press the subject, lest it should be supposed that they were imposing a burthen on Ireland from motives of their own benefit. Taking all these circumstances into consideration, he was prepared to support the permanence of the legislative union between the two countries. He would not say that he preferred a civil war; he hoped and believed that there would be no necessity for recurring to such means of preserving the Union. He would rather appeal to the affections and good feeling of the people of Ireland, acting under the conviction that the two countries had a common interest in maintaining the connexion. But in supporting the address, which declared the permanence of the Union, hon. members were not precluded from bringing the subject forward on a future occasion. They could call for the papers to which he had referred, and from those papers let them prove the alleged injustice, if they could. They had agitated the question for two years without bringing it fully or fairly before the House, and having omitted to do so, he thought ministers were bound to take the first opportunity of the meeting of Parliament to call for its opinion upon it. Intimation had been given of another amendment besides that of the hon. and learned member for Dublin, and if he were disposed to view the question as one of party, there might be astute reasons why he should support it; but after what he had heard, he was not disposed to do so, for he felt that the House was called upon to show, by an overwhelming majority, that it was not disposed to sanction a measure which would tend, not merely to legislative separation, but to actual dismemberment of the empire. He would not trouble the House further upon this head, but would briefly advert to another part of the speech from the throne. It was rather singular that up to this, the third night of the discussion of the address, that part of the speech relating to the foreign policy of the country, and involving such important consequences to our best interests, should have scarcely been made the subject of a single remark. He was aware of the intense interest excited by the matters which concerned our domestic relations; and, therefore, he would not occupy the attention of the House by entering into the subject of the foreign policy at any length. There were, however, one or two topics which he could not pass over without observation. His Majesty said: "I have still to lament the continuance of the civil war in Portugal, [611] which has, for some months, existed between the Princes of the House of Braganza. From the commencement of this contest I have abstained from all interference, except such as was required for the protection of British subjects resident in Portugal; but you may be assured that I shall not fail to avail myself of any opportunity that may be afforded me, to assist in restoring peace to a country with which the interests of my dominions are so intimately connected." He was exceedingly glad to hear those sentiments from his Majesty; but he was not a little surprised to hear them, considering that the war in Portugal never would have existed without the sanction of his Majesty's government. It was very possible that his Majesty's naval forces had maintained neutrality off the coast of Portugal, but the government of England had not been neutral; for if the ports of this country had not been open to one of the Princes of the House of Braganza, the civil war which now existed in Portugal would never have taken place. If Don Pedro had not been actually assisted by France, and countenanced by Britain, he would not now have had a footing in Portugal. He never could cease to blame his Majesty's government for having thrown open the ports and arsenals of Great Britain to equip him for that invasion. He thought they were bound to adhere to that neutrality which they professed to maintain. But how, they would say, was that to be done? He would tell them. By enforcing their own municipal laws — by recalling all the British subjects in the service both of Don Miguel and Don Pedro. That was what they should do now, and what they ought to have done long since. Don Miguel, though he had passed through more severe trials than any prince in Europe, though he had met with the greatest misfortunes — his kingdom invaded — his best port taken possession of by an invading force, acting with the secret connivance of England and France, was not deserted by one of the people. According to the Whig principle, that the choice of the people is to be respected, surely, by this time, the choice of the people of Portugal had been sufficiently evinced. And he thought, that seeing that choice had continued for five years steadily in favour of Don Miguel, it was the duty of England to recognise him as king of Portugal. With respect to the affairs of Belgium and Holland, he had the strongest feeling of the injustice done to Holland; and a strong conviction that England, instead of advocating the cause of Holland, had acted as a party against that country. But there was another question connected with that subject, which bore upon our constitution, and on which he wished to make some remarks. For the last three months an embargo had been laid on all Dutch ships and property in our ports, and orders issued to our navy to detain by force all trading vessels belonging to Holland. He doubted much whether this act was not inconsistent with public law, or whether the government was justified, either as respected their own subjects or those of Holland, in detaining the ships of a foreign power, except in contemplation of actual war. He wished to know by what authority the king ordered the detention of these vessels? If injuries had been done by the Dutch to British subjects, and redress had been refused them, he admitted that there would be grounds for the proceeding; but he maintained, that where the seizures were not made by way of reprisals, such an act was not in conformity to public law. Perhaps his Majesty's government thought, that because this was a great and powerful nation, and had to contend with but a small one, it might set aside the doctrines of public law. Without detailing the authorities who had written on this subject, he would merely beg to call their attention to the words of one writer on the subject, whose authority had been generally allowed. He alluded to Vattel, who said that for a prince "to grant reprisals against a nation in favour of foreigners, is to set himself up for a judge between that nation and these foreigners, which no sovereign has a right to do." Vattel proceeds: "Now, what right have we to judge whether the complaint of a stranger against an independent state is just, if he has really been denied justice? If it be objected that we may espouse the quarrel of another state in a war that appears to us to be just to give it succours, and even join with it; the case is different. In granting succours against a nation, we do not stop its effects, or its men, who are with us under the public faith, and in declaring war, we suffer it to withdraw its subjects and effects." But there was no war whatever with Holland, nor any contemplation of hostility towards her. Why, then, had an embargo existed for the last three months upon her ships — the ships of a friend, even an ally? The noble lord (Palmerston) indeed declared, that to say a war existed with Holland [612]
proceeded from a mere wandering of the brain, a dream of imagination; that the attack of Antwerp was no more than a civil ejectment. If the attack on Antwerp, the twenty-two days' siege, was not a war, upon what principle had the embargo been imposed? Upon what principle did it still continue? There was, he presumed, no other Antwerp to be besieged. But even if there were, he denied that the ministry could be justified, or sanctioned by the public law of nations, in seizing upon the Dutch ships. It was indifferent what engagements might have been formed with France or Belgium. They could confer no right to perpetrate an injustice upon another state. Indeed it was rather a heavy ration of the original wrong, that such conduct should be grounded on the existing state of relations between this country and France. He relied upon the public law of nations. Holland had done England no injury; there was no war, no feeling of hostility; and the embargo was therefore, according to the principles of international law, perfectly unjustifiable. By what just exercise of the prerogative were the king's subjects debarred from trading with Holland? It was said, that this was necessary for the preservation of peace; but was not necessity proverbially "the tyrant's plea?" And if such a mode of argument were once recognised, law and justice would soon come to be superseded. For the last three months, commercial intercourse between this country and Holland was cut off. Now, he remembered the arguments urged by hon. gentlemen opposite against the Alien Act. According to them, it was no less than a violation of Magna Charta, which guaranteed free intercourse with foreign nations. They denied that any alien, whether friend or enemy, could be sent out of this country. They further referred to Blackstone, who was quoted in order to show how prominent this right of intercourse stood amongst the principal privileges of merchant strangers. Blackstone said, "that foreign nations have a right, and that the prerogative cannot deprive them of that right, to enter this country; that so careful is the municipal law of the rights of strangers that there is no power or prerogative. in the Crown to interfere." Montesquieu, also, held up the generous example of England, as worthy of all eulogy and imitation by other countries, of foreigners in amity with England to carry on a free intercourse with this country. But what now became of the eulogy of Montesquieu, if the king could by his prerogative stop the intercourse of a friendly nation with the people of England? All these authorities had formerly been quoted in support of principles which were now utterly violated.

The address met with his general concurrence. Upon any minor points it was useless to remark upon an occasion on which perfect unanimity, or what was next to it, an overwhelming preponderance of opinion, was most desirable. It was his duty to support the Crown in relation to the measures for Ireland, and the support he gave was dictated by principles perfectly independent and disinterested. He had no other views than to preserve law, order, property, and morality. In the course he pursued that night, was to be found an indication of the course he meant to take on future occasions. It was not one adopted, as some might imagine, to recover office. Between office and him a wide gulf existed. He had no desire to return to place. He wished he could have said, that he reposed an increased confidence in the present ministers; but that was not the case; he felt no disposition to place additional trust in them; his course, therefore, was determined solely by public considerations, without one view of personal advantage. The great change that had recently taken place in the constitution of the House, justified and required from public men a different course of action. Formerly there were two great parties in the state, each confident in the justice of its own views — each prepared to undertake the government upon the principles which it espoused. All the tactics of party were then resort to, and justifiably resorted to, for the purpose of effecting the main object — that of displacing the government. He doubted whether the old system of party tactics were applicable to the present state of things — whether it did not become men to look rather to the maintenance of order, of law, and of property, than to the best mode of annoying and disquieting the government. He saw principles in operation, the prevalence of which he dreaded as fatal to the well-being of society; and whenever the king's government should evince a disposition to resist those principles, they should have his support, when they encouraged them, his decided opposition.

It had been said he was opposed to all reform — the charge he directly denied. [613] To Parliamentary Reform he was certainly opposed; but that he had been an enemy to gradual and temperate reform, he flatly contradicted. When he heard the learned gentleman speaking of the Jury Bill, and of that change in the practice in Ireland which took the nomination of Sheriffs from the Crown, and gave it to the Judges, he could not but recollect that of both those measures he himself was the author. He was for reforming every institution that really required reform; but he was for doing it gradually, dispassionately, and deliberately, in order that the reform might be lasting. He never would admit that the condition of this great country had been what it was described to be — a mass of abuse. He dreaded the disposition which was already manifested to throw every thing into confusion — to shake all confidence by rash and precipitate legislation — by the foolish presumption, that every thing heretofore was wrong, and that a Reformed House of Commons could set it right. The Order Book already contained notices for new laws on every imaginable subject — for simultaneous change in every thing that was established. The king's government had abstained from all unseemly triumph in the king's speech respecting the measure of reform. He would profit by their example, and would say nothing upon that head; but consider that question as finally and irrevocably disposed of. He was now determined to look forward to the future alone, and, considering the constitution as it existed, to take his stand on main and essential matters — to join in resisting every attempt at new measures, which could not be stirred without unsettling the public mind, and endangering public prosperity. It should be widely known that the industrious classes could only subsist by public tranquillity — by the existence of those habits of obedience, and that general order which would allow men possessed of property to bring their capital into operation; and that the welfare of the labouring — he would not say lower — classes was secured by the peaceful enjoyment of all property, and by avoiding those measures which must increase the apprehensions he was confident existed in the minds of capitalists. There were, he was aware, no means of governing this country but through the House of Commons: and therefore he, humble as he was, was determined to take his stand in defence of law and order — in defence of the King's throne, and the security of the empire — from motives as truly independent as those by which any member of the most liberal opinions, and representing the largest constituency in the kingdom, was actuated.

The debate was again adjourned till February 8, when, after a long discussion, the address was agreed to.

Meet the web creator

These materials may be freely used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with applicable statutory allowances and distribution to students.
Re-publication in any form is subject to written permission.

Last modified 4 March, 2016

The Age of George III Home Page

Ministerial Instability 1760-70

Lord North's Ministry 1770-82

American Affairs 1760-83

The period of peace 1783-92

The Age of the French Wars 1792-1815 Irish Affairs 1760-89

Peel Web Home Page

Tory Governments 1812-30

Political Organisations in the Age of Peel

Economic Affairs in the Age of Peel

Popular Movements in the Age of Peel

Irish Affairs
Primary sources index British Political Personalities British Foreign policy 1815-65 European history
index sitemap advanced
search engine by freefind