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Chapter VIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7


Mr. Canning and the Holy Alliance - Lord Eldon's Apprehensions and Mortifications - Lord Bexley - Mr. Robinson Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Mr. Huskisson President of the Board of Trade - The Congress of Verona - The Duke of Wellington British Plenipotentiary - His Instructions - Conferences with the French King and his Ministers - French Intervention in Spain - Designs of the Allied Sovereigns regarding Greece - Turkey and Spain - William Allen - Festivities at Verona - Seductive Influences brought to bear on the Duke - Animosities of the Allies against England - The Duke disappointed and disgusted with the Conduct of the allied Despots - Mr. Canning's Foreign Policy - Public Feeling in England - The Duke of Wellington censured for his Conduct at the Congress - French Invasion of Spain - Recognition of the South American Provinces - Canning's Defence of his Policy.
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Lord Eldon, who was by no means weary of political life, became very uneasy about his position, and the arrangements at which his majesty had mysteriously hinted. The chancellor religiously obeyed his injunction to abstain from speaking on politics to anybody. But he was revolving in his mind not less anxiously who was to be the new leader of the house of commons, and how the constitution in church and state might be best protected against the spirit of innovation. Waiting impatiently for the arrival of his royal master, he wrote, " I cannot quit this place till he does come; and when he and Sir William Curtis are to cease exhibiting the full highland garb I cannot be sure." Sir William was a fat London alderman, whose appearance in the highland costume afforded much work for the caricaturists, and amusement for the public. On the king's return from his northern metropolis, the chancellor was about to press upon him the promotion to the vacant leadership of the house of commons of Mr. Peel, who had won high distinction in the late debate upon the catholic peers, when he found, to his unspeakable chagrin, that lord Liverpool himself had selected Mr. Canning, and overcome the royal objections to him on the ground of his having been formerly the champion of the queen. He had represented to the king that this was the only arrangement by which the whigs could be effectually excluded, and he gave him an assurance that catholic emancipation, though left an open question, should be resolutely opposed. Great as Mr. Canning's talents for parliament were, and great as was the want of talent on the ministerial side of the house, it was not without the utmost reluctance that the cabinet consented to receive him as an associate. They invited him to fill the place vacated by lord Londonderry, because he was forced upon them by circumstances, and they felt that the government could not go on without his aid. " Canning," said lord Dudley, " will be a bitter pill to them, and yet I am more inclined than I was at first to think that they will swallow it." " Canning knew well enough," says the duke of Buckingham, " that he had only to wait, and the necessities of the government, notwithstanding the aversion of the majority, would force him into the position his great rival had left vacant," Many persons of influence shared in this conviction, and though far from cordial in their admiration of this political leader, thy were eager to adopt him as their colleague or superior, seeing no other assistance at hand so capable of advancing their particular policy. His only competitor was Mr. Peel, who had not yet had sufficient opportunity of evincing his great powers for the conduct and discussion of public affairs to command the station which many of his colleagues would have gladly seen assigned to him. Canning was unpopular with the anti-catholic party in general, and particularly obnoxious to the lord chancellor; and, besides, there was the great objection of his having been the friend and adherent of the queen. But lord Liverpool, the premier, having been associated with him from early life, was so thoroughly convinced that he was the fittest man for the post, and so well acquainted with his transcendant powers of intellect, that he prevailed upon him to relinquish the governor-generalship of India, to which he had been appointed, and to accept the vacant secretaryship for foreign affairs, together with the leadership of the commons. " This change gave much satisfaction to an important portion of the country, for there was now growing up a desire of improvement in various branches of the political and civil constitution and government; and to such improvement Mr. Canning was known to be cordially favourable, although he lived and died the foe of that pseudo-liberality which thrives by pandering to popular passion."

This was not the only bitter pill that poor lord Eldon was compelled to swallow. Without one word of intimation from the king or the prime minister, he learned for the first time from the Courier that Mr. Huskisson had been introduced into the cabinet. "Really," said he, "this is rather too much. Turning out one man, and introducing another, in the way all this was done, is telling the chancellor that he should not give them the trouble of disposing of him, but should, not treated as chancellor, cease to be a chancellor. What makes it worse is, that the great man of all (the king) has a hundred times most solemnly declared that no connections of certain persons should come in. There is no believing one word anybody says; and what makes the matter still worse is, that everybody acquiesces most quietly, and waits in all humility and patience till their own time comes." He states that he had written to lord Liverpool, and that he had no wish to remain chancellor, and adds, "To say the truth, I think those who should remain, and especially that officer, stand a very good chance of being disgraced." There was more truth, perhaps, in what follows: - "Bodily, I am well, and looking remarkably well: but I am puzzle-pated, and in that respect very awkward at times; upon the whole, however, greatly better, and full of plans as to locomotion." f He kept his place, however, determined not to meddle with those who were given to change. He had stated to his brother before this storm that, as chancellor, he would not meet another session of parliament. "We are bound to believe," says lord Campbell, "that if he had consulted his own inclination, he would instantly have resigned; but that he was persuaded, for the good of his country, to pocket the affront, and to consent to sit in the cabinet, with Canning on his right hand and Huskisson on his left."

Mr. Huskisson was made president of the board of trade, and in his stead Mr. Arbuthnot became first commissioner of the land revenues. Mr. Vansittart, who had proved a very inefficient chancellor of the exchequer, was raised to the peerage by the title of lord Bexley, and got the quiet office of chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. He was succeeded in the more important office by a much abler financier, Mr. Robinson.

It has been generally understood that it had been definitely arranged that lord Londonderry should represent England at the congress of Verona, and it was universally believed, as we have seen, that this fact weighed on his mind and led to his suicide; but Mr. Gleig states that in consequence of the reluctance expressed by lord Londonderry to undertake the mission, it had for some time been settled that England should be represented there by the duke of Wellington, and that he had begun to make his preparations, when a severe illness fell upon him, from which he did not sufficiently recover to set out upon his journey till after lord Londonderry's death. The duke of Wellington started for his mission when Mr. Canning had been only forty-eight hours in office. Stress has been laid upon the fact that he received his instructions from Mr. Canning, and this has been declared to be the turning point in our foreign policy, when England began to disengage herself from the holy alliance. She was not formally a party to that alliance, but the despots composing it had counted on her aid and influence in keeping down the nations which they oppressed. But Mr. Gleig states that lord Londonderry himself had compiled a letter of instruction for the representative of England at the congress, and that this was transferred, without a single alteration, to the duke of Wellington. It is, he says, "a very interesting document. It touches upon every point which could be expected to come under consideration at the congress, and it handles them all so as to guard with scrupulous care, not only the honour of Great Britain, but the rights of foreign peoples, as well as of their governments. It assumes that the subjects of general discussion would be three: first, the Turkish question, external and internal; secondly, the Spanish question, European and American; and, thirdly, the affairs of Italy. With this last question the representative of England was directed not to concern himself at all. As England had been no party to the military occupation of Naples and Sardinia - as she had merely acquiesced in it, with a view to prevent worse things - so she felt herself precluded from advising upon the arrangement now that it was complete, lest by so doing she should appear to admit the justice of a proceeding against which from the outset she had protested. The representative of Great Britain was therefore instructed to hold aloof from all meetings at which Italian affairs were to be discussed, and, if possible, to avoid connecting himself with the congress till these should have been settled."

With regard to the Turkish question, all possible measures were in the first instance to be tried, with a view to reconcile the differences between Russia and Turkey. These referred to the Russian protection of the Christian subjects of the sultan, and the navigation of the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus. When these matters were disposed of, then, and not till then, was the condition of Greece to be considered, and in dealing with this question the British plenipotentiary was instructed to use great caution, to avoid committing England either to the recognition or subjugation of that country. The case of Spain was the most perplexing of all. The English cabinet expressed the opinion that no foreign power had any right whatever to interfere with any form of government which she had established for herself, and that her king and people were to be left to settle their own differences as best they could. The representative of Great Britain was directed to urge this point with all his influence upon the allies, and especially upon France. But the case of her revolted colonies was different. It was evident, from the course of events, that their recognition as independent states was become a mere question of time. Over by far the greater portion of them Spain had lost all hold, and it had been found necessary, in order to admit their merchant vessels into English ports, to alter the navigation laws both of England and Spain. The letter of instructions accordingly directed the British plenipotentiary to advocate a removal of the difficulty on this principle: that every province which had actually established its independence should be recognised that with provinces in which the war still went on, no relation should be established; there was to be no concert with France, or Russia, or any extraneous power in establishing relations with the new states. " The policy projected was exclusively English and Spanish, and between England and Spain alone its course was to be settled. Other nations might or might not come into the' views which England entertained; but upon their approval or disapproval of her views England was not in any way to shape her conduct."

There were other matters which the English representative was to bring forward, and foremost among them all was the suppression of the slave trade, either by a general declaration from the allies that it should be treated as piracy, or by obtaining from them an engagement that they would not admit into their markets any article of colonial produce which was the result of slave labour. " It will be seen, " says Mr. Gleig, " that the recognition or the actual independence of many of the Spanish colonies had already been determined upon by Great Britain, and that the establishment of diplomatic relations with them all had come to be considered as a mere question of time. This is a point worthy of notice, because of the misunderstanding in regard to it which originated in a speech subsequently delivered by Mr. Canning in the house of commons, and which still, to a considerable extent, prevails. It will be further noticed that the principle observed by lord Londonderry as the true principle was that of non-interference by Great Britain in the internal affairs of foreign nations. That the duke of Wellington entirely coincided with lord Londonderry in this respect, his conduct both now and in the future stages of his career clearly demonstrates. The leading object of his political life was to preserve the peace at home and abroad which it had been the great aim of his military life to conquer."

The sovereigns of the Holy Alliance, however, acted on principles and with designs very different. Their general principle was not to tolerate any change in the European governments that did not emanate from themselves. The Greek revolution they denounced as a rebellion against the legitimate authority of the sultan. The actual government of Spain they regarded as incompatible with the safety of monarchical power, and France called upon the sovereign to re-establish the despotism of Ferdinand. Russia, Austria, and Prussia took the same view of the Spanish revolution, but were unwilling to interfere by force of arms. France was not so scrupulous upon that point. Chateaubriand and other votaries of absolutism in church and state were busy fomenting conspiracies in Spain, and secretly supplying arms and ammunition to the priest-ridden enemies of constitutional government in that country. An army which during the previous year had been assembled on the frontier, under the ridiculous pretence of preventing the fever at Barcelona front spreading into France, changed its name from that of a sanitary cordon to an army of observation. M. de Villele, the new French prime minister, threw off the mask, and in a circular note stated that unless Spain altered her political constitution France would use force to convert her from her revolutionary theories.

Such was the state of things with which the duke of Wellington had to deal as British plenipotentiary, when he left London on his mission early in September, taking Paris on his way. There he had some interesting conferences with the king and his minister. The latter could hold out no hope that France would fulfil her engagements as to the slave trade. He spoke, indeed, of their African settlements as useless to the French people, and proposed to make them over to England in exchange for the isle of France; but further than this he declined to go, because there were too many interests, both public and private, engaged to thwart his efforts, should he be so unwise as to make any. His language with regard to South America was not less vague and unsatisfactory. He stated that France had not entered into relations with those provinces in any form, and did not intend to do so till they should have settled their differences with Spain one way or another. "M. de Villele did not add, as he might have done, that France was feeling her way towards the severance of Spain from her colonies, and towards the establishment in the new world of one or two monarchies, with younger branches of the house of Bourbon at their head."

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Pictures for Chapter VIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7

Mr. Huskisson
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William Allens and the Duke of Wellington
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Verona
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