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Foreign Policy of the Government


Foreign Policy of the Government - Intervention in Spain - The British Legion to serve the Queen of Spain - Debate in the Commons on the Foreign Enlistment Act - Defeat of the British Legion - Vindication of the Legion by Sir De Lacy Evans - Trades Unions, Combinations, and Strikes - Lord Ashley's Bill for the Better Regulation of Factories thrown out - Resolution on same subject lost - Report of Select Committee on Pensions charged on the Civil List - Extraordinary Delusion of John Nicholls Thom; Riots in consequence; his Death; Trial of his Abettors; Discussion on the Matter in the Commons - Inquiry into the Religious Condition of the Peasantry - Prorogation of Parliament - Address of the Speaker to the Queen - The Queen's Speech - Review of the Session - Pamphlet on Lord Melbourne's Position with regard to the Queen.
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The foreign policy of England has been in all ages the subject of keen discussion in Parliament, and domestic parties have often fought their battles on foreign fields. When the Tories were in office, they were generally accused of a leaning to continental despotism. "When the Whigs were in power, they were charged with favouring democracy and revolution. The defence of the latter was that the true policy of England should be pacific, and that they had succeeded in maintaining peace. They had aimed at the preservation of the balance of power, as established by the treaties of Vienna m 1815 and 1816.

It was admitted by their opponents that the period at which they undertook the guidance of our foreign policy was the most critical that had occurred since the conclusion of peace; and it could not be denied that they were entitled to credit for the fact that the French and Belgian revolutions, and the Polish insurrection, had run their respective courses, without disturbing the tranquillity of these realms. We have been indebted for this exemption to our acting more or less steadily upon the principle of non-intervention in the quarrels of our neighbours. This principle was, however, departed from in connection with the civil war in Spain, which was characterised by unparalleled atrocities on both sides.

Many of our countrymen took the deepest interest in this conflict, and some Englishmen were actually fighting in the ranks of the sanguinary monster, Don Carlos. It was naturally a source of painful interest to behold British soldiers fighting in a foreign land without the protection of the British flag, exposed to all the shame and hardships of a warfare in which there was no glory to compensate for its disasters.

In the session of 1837, Lord Mahon, who had been Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs in Sir Robert Peel's government, reviewed the line of policy pursued by Lord Palmerston. He complained that the public had been kept in a state of ignorance whether they were at peace or at war, and in his opinion it was a peace without tranquillity, and a war without honour. The object of the quadruple alliance had been to appease the civil dissensions in Portugal, and not to sanction the intervention of France and England in Spain. He lamented the policy that led to the additional articles signed in 1834, which stipulated for a certain degree of interference. But Lord Palmerston had thought proper to proceed still further in suspending the Foreign Enlistment Act, and allowing 12,000 Englishmen to enlist under the banners of the Queen of Spain. More than 540,000 had been already expended in the war, and in Lord Mahon's opinion the influence of Great Britain and Spain had not been augmented by these measures. In proof of which he alleged that British merchants got less fair play there than French merchants.

Lord Palmerston defended his policy against the attacks of Lord Mahon and other speakers. The quadruple treaty, he contended, contemplated assistance to the constitutional party in Spain as well as in Portugal. It was concluded because there was a civil war in Portugal; and when the civil war was transferred to Spain, the same parties who took part with Portugal by treaty were bound at an early period to extend its provisions to Spain, its object being expressly "the pacification of the Peninsula by the expulsion of the two Infants from it." He differed widely with Lord Mahon in thinking the suspension of the Foreign Enlistment Act was disgraceful to the Government of this country. Examples of the same kind were to be found in the most brilliant periods of the history of England. The age of Elizabeth was full of instances of the precise kind alluded to by the noble lord. " That great and enlightened sovereign," said Lord Palmerston, "frequently allowed her subjects to volunteer in support of the Huguenots of France and of the Protestants of the Low Countries, and even to interfere in the affairs of Scotland; and she acted wisely in so doing. It was his decided conviction that the suspension of the Act was a proceeding most wise, and most honourable to the country. A disputed succession," he continued, has " been always considered among European nations a matter, not merely involving the interests of the particular kingdom, but also a question of great general interest. In this case England had not interfered, in the ordinary sense of the word, for the purpose of imposing on the Spanish people a government which they had not themselves adopted. It was not that kind of interference which it was feared the Government of 1830 was about to exercise in Belgium, for the purpose of preventing them by an overwhelming force from assuming the political condition they desired. The question who should be sovereign of Spain was one seriously involving the interests of Europe, as determining what should be the foreign tendencies, and who should be the foreign allies, of Spain. Spain had been connected with Various countries: at one time with Austria, and at another with France; the object was in future that there should be neither an Austrian Spain nor a French Spain, but a Spain which should be Spanish: and, for his part, he did not despair of seeing that country relieved from the abasement into which she had fallen, and regenerated as a distinct power, which should be the ally of this country. He contrasted the efforts of the Tories to maintain the cause of despotism in Europe, with the successful endeavours of the Government in the pursuit of a more liberal and enlightened policy. The former supported Don Miguel up to the last moment, and now gave their countenance to Don Carlos, who was the author of the assassination decree of Durango, and was believed by all Europe to be intent on establishing the Inquisition as soon as he arrived at Madrid. The ministers, on the other hand, might boast of the moral support they had given to the cause of national liberty in Spain - of the part they had taken in the emancipation of the Greeks - of the free constitutions of Belgium and Portugal, which had grown up under their auspices; and if they could contribute, however humbly, to the same happy state of things in Spain as existed in Belgium and Portugal, he should esteem it a source of proud satisfaction to the latest hour of his life."

Sir Robert Peel, in replying to Lord Palmerston, openly disavowed all participation in the principles or sympathy with the cause of Don Carlos; and he begged most distinctly to state that he wished to see Spain in the settled enjoyment of a free and enlightened form of civil government. But his belief was that the course adopted by our ministers was actually defeating its expressed objects, obstructing improvement, and calculated neither to raise our own character as a nation nor to gain the affections of Spain.

General Evans had taken the command of the Spanish legion, which throughout the whole of the campaign was encompassed with difficulties and pursued by disasters, without any military success sufficiently brilliant to gild the clouds with glory. Within a fortnight after the debate on Lord Mahon's motion, came the news of its utter defeat before Hernani, on the 16th of the same month. This defeat encouraged the opponents of Lord Palmerston's policy to renew their attacks. Accordingly, immediately after the recess, Sir Henry Hardinge brought forward a motion on the subject. He complained that no adequate provision was made for the support of those who were in the legion. At Vittoria they were placed for four months in uninhabited convents, without bedding, fuel, or supplies of any kind. Not less than 40 officers and 700 men fell victims to their privations. The worst consequence was, however, the total demoralisation of the troops. Theirs was not honourable war, it was butchery. They were massacreing a fine and independent people, who had committed no offence against this country. Ill treatment, want of food and of clothing, habits of insubordination and mutiny, and want of confidence in their officers, had produced their natural effects. Let them palliate the disaster as they would, there was no doubt, he said, of the fact that a large body of Britons had suffered a defeat such as he believed no British soldiers had undergone in the course of the last five or six hundred years.

On the other hand, Mr. O'Connell remarked on the eagerness with which the recent disasters of the legion had been seized upon by the gentlemen opposite. The repeated actions in which they had done honour to the British name were forgotten. Nothing was said of their victories; but not a moment was lost in fastening on their defeat. Sir H. Hardinge had dwelt strongly upon the atrocities committed in the course of the present warfare in Spain. Had the honourable and gallant officer never heard of orders for refusing quarter issued even to our own troops? Had he never read of the cruelties practised by the Spaniards at the capture of St. Sebastian? Had he never heard of the butcheries at Ciudad Rodrigo and at Badajoz? These cruelties were one of the wretched consequences of war; but it was unjust to employ them, particularly as a taunt, against General Evans and the legion.

Sir Robert Inglis said that it had been alleged against the Tories that they were the enemies of the Church of Rome in their own country, but its friends in every other, from its association with despotism. He disclaimed any such feeling on their part. The Tories, he said, supported the cause of Don Carlos, as being the cause of legitimate right; but they had no wish to interfere on his behalf.

Mr. Sheil defended the policy of the Government in an eloquent speech. " It is alleged," said the honourable and learned gentleman, "that the measures of the Government have not produced any good result. I ask, if those measures had not been adopted, what would have befallen the Spanish people? Would not Bilboa have been taken by assault, and the standard of Don Carlos at this moment have been floating from the castle of St. Sebastian? Or try the allegation by another test. Let me suppose this motion carried. The courier that will convey the intelligence will carry tidings of great joy to St. Petersburg, to Vienna, to Berlin; and he will convey tidings of great dismay wherever men value the possession of liberty, or pant for its enjoyment. It will palsy the arm of freedom in Spain - a terrible revulsion will be produced; from Calpe to the Pyrenees the cry, ' We are betrayed by England! ' will be heard; and over that nation which you will have indeed betrayed, Don Carlos will march, without an obstacle, to Madrid!" It is stated that cheers from the Opposition here interrupted the honourable member, to which he replied: - " You cheer me, do you? Who are you that cheer me? Not your leaders; not the men who are placed conspicuously before me; they know, they feel the impolicy of these rash manifestations; they profess horror at the atrocities of Don Carlos, and deprecate his triumph; but you that cheer me disclose your hearts, and exhibit the wishes by which your political conduct is determined." The debate was adjourned, and the noble Foreign Secretary again effectively vindicated his policy.

General Evans having returned to England, his services were acknowledged by his being made Knight Commander of the Bath, a distinction for which the opponents of the Government could see no good reason, and which became the subject of strong animadversion early in the session of 1838. Mr. Bradshaw, on the 23rd of February, inquired whether the honour had been conferred in the regular course through the War-office, on the recommendation of the Commander-in-Chief? to which Lord Palmerston replied, that the appointment had been made in the usual manner by Her Majesty's Government, and upon their own responsibility, and that he regarded it as earned and well bestowed.

On the 13th of March, Sir De Lacy Evans vindicated his legion and himself in Parliament. With respect to the sickness and mortality stated to have prevailed in the British ranks, he observed that, at the commencement of his operations, the whole force of the legion amounted to about 8,000 men, and including subsequent reinforcements, never exceeded 9,600. When they marched from Bilboa, the entire infantry was composed either of striplings or of men too old for service; 2,300 were so crippled from disease and other causes, as to be incapable of bearing arms; and they were only permitted to remain for lack of means to transport them home. At least two-thirds of these men died in the hospital, without having done a single day's duty. The effective force of the legion never exceeded 4,700. The whole number who perished in Vittoria and its environs, in six months, was 1,223; and the total loss in the two years, including those who were killed in action, about 2,078. The number who passed through the hospitals during that period was 1,430 - a number which did not indicate any extraordinary prevalence of disease. During the thirty months' campaign of the Duke of Wellington in the Peninsula, 346,000 men passed through the hospitals, on a standing force of about 60,000. The gallant officer, in enumerating other difficulties with which he had to contend, stated that he had reason to believe that the Carlist emissaries in this country had induced men to enlist in the legion with the intention of deserting to Don Carlos on their arrival; 350 recruits had gone over to the enemy in this way. Speaking of the want of discipline alleged to have prevailed in his force, he quoted the Duke of Wellington, who had complained, in 1810, that convoys of money were constantly plundered; that military law was not sufficient to preserve discipline in the army; and that murders, robberies, and perjuries were very frequent. He then entered into details to show that the defeat of Hernani was less disastrous than it was commonly represented to have been. There had been no flight on that occasion, nor had the marines saved the army. A retreat was, indeed, made; but only for 1,000 or 1,500 yards. On the two days during which the affair lasted, the killed and wounded of his force amounted to 700 men. Having given a circumstantial account of the other principal operations in which the legion had been engaged, General Evans stated that the conduct of General Espartero had been admirable; and that he did not believe that a more honourable man, a braver or more faithful soldier, or a truer friend to his country, was in existence. After several other members had addressed the House, on both sides, the debate was adjourned till the next day, when a singular incident brought it to a premature termination. The order of the day for resuming the discussion having been read without any member presenting himself to address the House, the Speaker read Lord Eliot's motion, and put the question. There was a call of "Aye" from the Opposition, and of " No " from the Ministerial side of the House; whereupon the Speaker said, "I think the Noes have it." Some members of the Opposition then exclaimed, " The Ayes have it." Strangers being ordered to withdraw, a division took place amid great confusion, all parties being apparently taken by surprise, and utterly unprepared for so abrupt a conclusion of the proceedings. The motion was negatived by 70 to 62.

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