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April 4. 1797.
MR. SHERIDAN, conformably to the notice he had given on a former day, called the attention of the House to the subject of making further advances to the Emperor of Germany; concluding his observations with moving the following resolution : “ That the House will resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House, to enquire whether it is consistent with a due regard to the essential interests of this country, that under the present circumstances, any further loans or advances should be made to his Imperial Majesty.”
Mr. Pitt rose, as soon as the motion was read:
The speech of the honourable gentleman, who has just sat down, varied so much from his motion, and there was so little resemblance with the opinions he advanced, and the proposition with which he concluded, that I find it extremely difficult to adopt a train of argument which will bear upon both at one time. The argument of the honourable gentleman, which he pretended to found upon a long detail of circumstances, in his opinion undeniable in point of fact, and certainly, if they are true, very serious in their nature, pointed to a conclusion, in which, he premised that the House would betray their trust to their constituents, if they did not join, and from which, if they ventured to dissent, he apprehended the most fatal consequences would ensue to the country. He stated the subject now under disa cussion, as one not to be hung up or suspended, not as one upon which information ought to be collected, and mature deliberation exercised before a decision was passed; but he described it with all that richness of imagery and aptness of allusion of which he is so much master ; with even multiplied illustrations, as one on which a moment's delay ought not to be permitted, and on which to hesitate was to sacrifice the best interests of the nation. It was a case, according to him, in which patience led to death. I must observe, in setting out, however, that his analogies, however various and beautiful, were not very appropriate. He represented the absurdity of enquiring into the nature of the instrument by which a wound was inflicted, before bandages and styp
tics were applied, and the insanity of waiting for the coroner's inquest upon a person drowned, before the means recommended by the Humane Society were used for his recovery. He forgot, however, that his motion, as calculated to operate upon the political malady of the state, did not correspond with the steps which ought to be taken in the first instance with a person wounded or drowned. In order to make the allusion accurate, his argument should have stated, that the continuance of remittances to the Emperor would produce an inability in the bank to make good their money payments; or, supposing that inability to have just arisen, he should have shewn, that the measure recommended in his motion was the best which could be adopted to remove that inability. It so happens, however, unfortunately for the accuracy of his allusion, that money payments have been suspended at the bank for a considerable time; that an order of council was issued as the best remedy at the moment for the diffi. culties of the bank; that this suspension has been recognised by the House of Commons; and that the legislature, anxious to devise the best mode of restoring the credit of that corporation by reinstating it in its former situation of solvency, has thought proper, as a fit preliminary to that deliberation, to appoint a secret committee to enquire into the causes of its embarrassments. This is the true state of the question.
The honourable gentleman, in his argument, represented his motion as essential to the very being of the bank, and of the country, and as one from which the House cannot withhold its assent without sealing their own reproach and infamy, by sacri. ficing every trust which has been delegated to them by the nation; and when the motion was read, it turned out to be nothing more than an ambiguous attempt to make them pronounce indirectly an opinion upon a subject, upon which they were not yet in possession of information sufficient to enable them to pass a fair and just decision. For though the case was of such a nature, as represented in his speech, that it could admit of neither doubt nor delay, his motion went to nothing more than the appointment of a committee to enquire into the circumstances connected with it. Does the honourable gentleman mean that the House should now resolve itself into that committee, and report tonight? If this is his intention, where would be the candour of the proceeding in respect of those who wish for further information, and who are unwilling to deliver an opinion till that information is collected? If he does not mean that the House should now resolve itself into this committee, then I object to the motion as ambiguous, disingenuous, and uncandid, as capable from its nature of being understood two ways, and as tending to mislead the House upon the subject on which they are called upon to decide. The honourable gentleman knows, and the House must be aware, that every question which respects the disposal of the public money must be agitated in a committee of the whole House, so that whether the House may think it proper to give their sanction to the honourable gentleman's argument or not, it must be in a committee of that description which the subject will eventually come before, and in which their decision will be finally given. There is this difference, however, that at present they are not in possession of that degree of information which is necessary for them to decide upon a question of so much importance; whereas they will then have the materials before them, from which such information is to be collected. If the honourable gentleman contends that the information of which they are at present in possession, is sufficient to enable them to form a correct judgment of what ought, or of what ought not to be done, why does he not move them to come to an immediate decision without going into a committee at all? In short, it was as superfluous in one view, as it is inconsistent and contradictory in another. I should not think that the House will consider it to be their duty to sanction the opinions of the honourable gentleman, upon a view of their general policy and expediency, far less that they will decide upon a subject of so much importance, with the scanty means of information now in their power ; but if they mean to comply with the real object of the motion and the true wishes of the mover, let them do it in a fair and manly way, and not by assenting to a motion as ambiguous in its nature as perfidious in its designs. This much I thought it right to say upon the narrow shape of the motion; and having said so much upon the question immediately before the House, it is the less necessary for me to dwell long upon the train of argument which prefaced the proposition on which it turns.
Though I differ very considerably from the honourable gentleman on many of the topies on which he touched, I entirely agree with him on the general importance of the subject. I agree with him in thinking that it is connected not only with the fate of a great and powerful empire, but with the general fate and destiny of the world; but in proportion to its magnitude, ought to be the caution of this House in deciding upon it on narrow and confined principles. That these are domestic considerations which are highly momentous, I readily admit, but I would remind the House that there may be a narrow mode of looking at them. Without attending to the circumstance of our having a great and powerful enemy to contend with, flushed with success, and ambitious of conquest, with means of bringing into the field more numerous armies than perhaps ever were known, and without attending to the circumstance of our insular situation, which in time of war renders a continental diversion of great consequence to our external security; but considering it merely as a question to be decided upon the principles of economy, and calculating the effect, which granting pecuniary remittances to His Imperial Majesty at the present moment, has a tendency to produce upon publie credit, upon the success of the war, and in accelerating the period and improving the terms of peace, I have no hesitation in pronouncing an opinion, that the result of this calculation will be, that this country, by sending pecuniary assist. ance to her magnanimous and faithful ally, will adopt the best mode of consulting real economy, of restoring public credit, of
prosecuting the war, while war is necessary, with advantage, · and of securing a speedy and honourable issue to the contest.
Were the House therefore to be driven to a decision upon the subject, I should state this as my clear opinion; but by deforring that decision till they have the means of information more fully VOL. 11.
before them, the influence of my opinion, I firmly believe, will be superseded by their own conviction, and on that account I am happy that the honourable gentleman does not mean to press it to an ultimate decision to-night. The more the subject is discussed, the fewer doubts will be left upon the minds of gentlemen of the propriety of the measure, and the more the circumstances of the case are investigated and analysed, the more will the opinion of its policy and utility be confirmed. As an opportunity for this discussion will hereafter occur, I do not think it necessary now to enter much at length upon the different topics connected with it. I shall, therefore, only say a few words on each of them.
In the first place let us try its merits as a measure of economy. And here I must remind the House that the honourable gentleman, by his own confession, does not bring forward the proposition as an indirect mode of forcing government to conclude a peace by disarming the country. The question therefore is, whether, as a mode of carrying on the war, the advantage which is likely to arise to this country from the co-operation of the Emperor, secured by her pecuniary aid, is an equivalent for the temporary inconvenience which the public may sustain in consequence of sending these remittances ? To estimate the advantages with the inconveniences is very difficult. But, in the outset, I must set right an assumption of the honourable gentleman respecting the difference of this country granting or withholding pecuniary assistance from her ally. The difference (which of itself is no small one) is not merely whether we are to carry on an offensive or defensive war: this is one consideration, but it is not the only one. The honourable gentleman may talk in as high terms as he will of French enthusiasm and French gallantry, but he cannot deny, at least he cannot in justice deny, an equal tribute of applause to Austrian valour and Austrian heroism. If we review the campaigns of the war, it is impossible to find in history instances of greater prowess in the soldier, of more accomplished talents in the general, or of more true magnanimity in the sovereign, than what they have exhibited. But the re