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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 10


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Whilst the fate of Louis XVI. was drawing to a crisis, the question of the danger menaced by the French revolution had been warmly discussed in the British parliament. The government had already called out the militia when parliament met on the 13th of December, 1792. The speech from the throne attributed this to the attempts of French incendiaries to create disturbance in the country, coupled with the doctrines of aggression promulgated by the French convention, and their invasion of Germany and the Netherlands, which had already taken place. The latter country was overrun with the French armies, and Holland, our ally, was threatened. The address, in the speech in the commons, was moved by Mr. Wallace, and seconded by lord Fielding in the same tone. Fox, on the other hand, strongly opposed the warlike spirit of the speech. He declared that he believed every statement in the royal speech was unfounded, though the invasion of Germany and of the Netherlands was no myth. Fox had not yet, spite of the horrors perpetrated by the French revolutionists, given up his professed persuasion of the good intentions of that people - a wonderful blindness - and he recommended that we should send a fresh ambassador to treat with the French executive. Grey and Sheridan argued on the same side; Windham and Dundas defended the measures of government, declaring that not only had the French forced open the navigation of the Scheldt, the protection of which was guaranteed by England, but that they were preparing for the regular subjugation of Holland. Burke declared that the counsels of Fox would be the ruin of England, if they could possibly prevail. He remarked that nothing was so notorious as the fact that swarms of jacobin propagandists were actively engaged in disseminating their levelling principles in this country, and were in close co-operation with republican factions here. These factions had sent over deputations to Paris, who had been received by the jacobin society and by the convention. He read the addresses of Englishmen and Irishmen resident in Paris, and of Joel Barlow and John Frost, deputies of the Constitutional Society of London. Burke said the question was, if they permitted the fraternising of these parties with the French jacobins, not whether they should address the throne, but whether they should long have a throne to address, for the French government had declared war against all kings and all thrones. Erskine replied, ridiculing the fears of Burke, and denouncing the prosecution of Paine's " Rights of Man " by government. The address was carried by a large majority. Fox, however, on the 14th of December, moved an amendment on the report; and, in his speech, he rejoiced in the triumph of the French arms over what he called the coalition of despots, Prussia and Austria. He declared that the people of Flanders had received the French with open arms; that Ireland was too disaffected for us to think of going to war; and that it was useless to attempt to defend the Dutch, for the people there would go over to France too. He again pressed on the house the necessity of our acknowledging the present French government, and entering into alliance with it. He said France had readily acknowledged the revolution in this country, and entered into treaty with Cromwell. Burke again replied to Fox, declaring that France had no real government at all to enter into terms with. It was in a condition of anarchy, one party being in the ascendancy one day, another the next; that such was not the condition of England under Cromwell. There was a decided and settled republican government, but a government which did not menace or overthrow all monarchies around it, any more than Switzerland or the United States of America did now. Dundas reminded the house that we were bound by treaties to defend Holland if attacked, and that we must be prepared for it. Whigs, who hitherto voted with Fox, now demanded to whom we were to send an ambassador? - to the imprisoned king? to the convention? or to the clubs who ruled the convention? Fox's amendment was rejected without a division.

Undismayed, Fox renewed the contest on the following day, December 15th, by moving that an humble address should be presented to his majesty, praying him to send an ambassador to France to treat with the persons constituting the existing executive government. He said that he did not mean to vindicate what had taken place in that country, although, if we condemned the crimes committed in France, we must also condemn those of Morocco and Algiers, and yet we had accredited agents at the courts of those countries.

Grey followed, contending that we ought to avoid the calamities of war by all possible means. A long debate followed, in the midst of which Mr. Jenkinson declared that on that very day, whilst they were discussing the propriety of sending an ambassador to France, the monarch himself was to be brought to trial, and probably by that hour was condemned to be murdered. Ail the topics regarding Holland and Belgium were again introduced. Fox was supported by Grey, Francis, Erskine, Whitbread, and Sheridan; but his motion was negatived without a division.

On Monday, the 17th; Fox renewed the discussion, supported by Mr. Grey, who complained of a so-called loyal meeting which had been held at Manchester, and the people incited to attack the property of those of more liberal views; that an association had been formed in London, at the Crown and Anchor Tavern, which had issued a paper called " A Pennyworth of Truth from Thomas Bull to his Brother John," containing most unfounded censures on the dissenters, whom it charged with being the authors of the American war. He declared that this paper was far more inflammatory than Paine's " Rights of Man," and he desired that it might be read at the table. Fox severely criticised the conduct of the loyal associations, and the means taken by the subscription papers to mark out ail those who maintained liberal opinions; all such marked persons, he said, were in danger, on any excitement, of having their persons or houses attacked. He mentioned one paper concluding with the words, " Destruction to Fox and ail his jacobin crew! " This was, he thought, pretty plainly marking him out for such treatment as Dr. Priestley and Mr. Walker had received. The motion was rejected.

Immediately after this, Fox encouraged the formation of a " Society of the Friends of the Liberty of the Press," in which Erskine and Horne Tooke were leading members. As numbers of French emissaries were traversing the country, disseminating their opinions, lord Grenvilie, on the 19th of December, introduced a bill into the house of lords, subjecting aliens to certain regulations not included in the ordinary alien bill. All foreigners were to announce themselves on their arrival, and surrender any arms brought with them; they were to take out passports, and to have them visÚd on every fresh removal through the country, so that their movements might be known to the authorities; those who had arrived during the present year to be particularly observed, and the motives for their coming ascertained; all such foreigners as received allowances from the British government to be distributed into particular districts, under the immediate eye of the authorities. With some opposition, this bill was carried. The marquis of Lansdowne forthwith moved that a negotiation should be immediately opened with the French government, requiring it to receive back the numerous Frenchmen driven into exile, or to provide for their support, and at the same time, to endeavour to save Louis XVI. from the terrible fate which threatened him. This was negatived on the declaration of other lords, who declared that both propositions would be useless; the latter one would in ail probability hasten, rather than avert, the fate of the French king. In the commons, Fox and Sheridan strenuously resisted the new alien bill, and Burke as vehemently supported it. He declared that no measures of precaution could be too strict; that thousands of daggers had been manufactured in Birmingham for France, and, intending to produce a startling effect, he drew an actual dagger from his bosom, and, flinging it on the floor of the house, exclaimed, " That is what you are to obtain from an alliance with France. You must equally proscribe their tenets and their persons; you must keep their principles from your minds, and their daggers from your hearts!" In the French convention such an action would have created a sensation, but in the matter-of-fact English parliament it produced only surprise followed by laughter. Fox endeavoured as much as possible to weaken the sense of the danger of French principles, though he was compelled to express his abhorrence of the September massacres. The bill was passed, and was immediately succeeded by one prohibiting the circulation of French assignats, bonds, promissory notes, &c., and another, prohibiting the exportation of naval stores, saltpetre, arms, and ammunition.

On the 30th of January, 1793, Dundas announced to the house of commons a message from the throne, communicating the news of the execution of the French king. This was accompanied by copies of a correspondence with M. Chauvelin, the late plenipotentiary of Louis, and of an order for his quitting the kingdom, in consequence of this sanguinary act. The message made a deep impression on the house, though the circumstances were already well known. It was agreed to take these matters into consideration on the 2nd of February, when Pitt detailed the correspondence which had for some time taken place betwixt the British cabinet and the French government. He said that England, notwithstanding many provocations, had carefully maintained an attitude of neutrality, even when, in the preceding summer, France was at war with Austria and Prussia, and was menacing our Dutch allies. The French, on their part, had, he said, made similar professions. They had publicly renounced all aggression, and yet they had annexed Saxony, overrun Belgium, and now contemplated the invasion of Holland. They had done more: they had plainly menaced this country with invasion. So recently as the last day of the year, their minister of marine had addressed a letter to ail the seaports of France, in which this was the language regarding England: - "The king and his parliament mean to make war against us. Will the English republicans suffer it? Already these free men show their discontent, and the repugnance they have to bear arms against their brothers, the French. Well, we will fly to their succour; we will make a descent on the island; we will lodge there fifty thousand caps of liberty; we will plant there the sacred tree; we will stretch out our arms to our republican brethren, and the tyranny of their government, shall soon be destroyed!" There was a strong war spirit manifest in the house. Fox and his diminished party com- bated it in vain. The same prevailing expression was exhibited in a similar debate in the house of lords, in which lord Loughborough - who, on the 20th of January, succeeded Thurlow as lord chancellor - supported the views of ministers. But there was little time allowed for the two houses to discuss the question of peace or war, for, on the 11th of February, Dundas brought down a royal message, informing the commons that the French had declared war on the 1st of February, both against this country and Holland. On the following day Pitt moved an address to his majesty, expressing a resolve to support him in the contest against France. In the debate, Burke declared the necessity of war against a nation which had, in fact, proclaimed war against every throne and nation. At the same time, he declared that it would be a war in defence of every principle of order or religion. It would not be the less a most desperate war. France was turning almost every subject in the realm into a soldier. It meant to maintain its armies on the plunder of invaded nations. Trade being ruined at home by the violence of mob rule, the male population was eager to turn soldiers, and to live on the spoils of the neighbouring countries. Lyons alone, he said, had thirty thousand artisans destitute of employment; and they would find a substitute for their legitimate labour in ravaging the fields of Holland and Germany. He deemed war a stern necessity. A similar address was moved and carried in the peers.

On the 18th of February, however, Fox moved a string of resolutions condemnatory of war with France. They declared that that country was only doing what every country had a right to do - reorganise its internal constitution; that, as we had allowed Russia, Prussia, and Austria to dismember Poland, we had no right to check the aggressions of France on these countries; as we had remained quiescent in the one case, we were bound to do so in the other, and not to make ourselves the confederates of the invasion of Poland; and his final resolution went to entreat his majesty not to enter into any engagements with other powers which should prevent us making a separate peace with France. Burke, in reply, did not lose the just opportunity of rebuking Fox for his long advocacy of the empress Catherine, whose unprincipled share in the participation of Poland he was now compelled to reprobate. The resolutions of Fox were negatived by two hundred and seventy votes against forty-four. Not daunted by this overwhelming majority, Fox again, on the 21st of February, brought forward his resolution in another form, declaring that there were no sufficient causes for war. The motion was negatived without a division.

During these debates, ministers detailed the proceedings which had for some time past taken place betwixt the governments of France and England, to show that the maintenance of peace was impossible with such a country. The chief of these transactions were briefly these: - From the date of the conferences at Pilnitz, in 1791, when Prussia and Austria resolved to embrace the cause of the French king, and invited the other powers to support them, England declared, both to those powers and to France, her intention of remaining neuter. Whoever has read the preceding details of this revolution, and observed the temper of the men engaged in it, must see that it could be no easy matter to maintain such neutrality. To the jacobin leaders, every country with an orderly government, and still more a monarchy, was an offence. Against England they displayed a particular animus, which the most friendly offices did not remove. When, towards the end of 1791, the Declaration of the Rights of Man having reached St. Domingo, the negroes rose in insurrection to claim these rights, lord Effingham, the governor of Jamaica, aided the French colonial government with arms and ammunition, and the fugitive white people with provisions and protection. When this was notified to the national assembly, with the king of England's approval of it by lord Gower, the ambassador at Paris, a vote of thanks was passed, but only to the British nation, and on condition that not even lord Effingham's name should be mentioned in it. Other transactions on the part of the French still more offensive took place from time to time, but England still maintained her neutrality. When war was declared by France against Austria, in April, 1792, Chauvelin announced the fact to the English government, and requested that British subjects should be prohibited serving in any foreign army against France. Government immediately issued an order to that effect. In June the French government, through Chauvelin, requested the good offices of England in making pacific proposals to Prussia and Austria; but finding that France expected more than friendly mediation - actual armed coalition with France - the English government declined this, as contrary to existing alliances with those powers. The proclamations of the French government were already such as breathed war to all Europe; all thrones were menaced with annihilation. At this time Mr. Miles, who exerted himself to maintain a friendly feeling between the nations, records, in his correspondence with the French minister, Lebrun, and others, that Roland declared to one of his friends that peace was out of the question; that France had three hundred thousand men in arms, and that the ministers must make them march as far as ever their legs could carry them, or they would turn home, and cut all their throats.

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