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France. In this country it would have the effect to sink the spirit of the people, and to tell them that it was right to look for peace, though it was impossible to look for security; it would be to insinuate a doubt of their zeal, energy, and courage, and to add to the depression already produced by a succession of misfortunes and a series of misrepresentations. The honourable gentleman had said, that if his proposition to treat should not in the event be successful, he would then support the war. Upon what ground could he support a war, which he had in the first instance conceived and declared to be neither necessary nor just? But till the period should arrive at which it would be possible to treat, with a rational prospect of security, and a degree of, at least, probable advantage, he, and those who thought with him, must continue to support a war, of the justice and necessity of which, they were firmly persuaded, and which they could not, in the present moment, abandon without a sacrifice of their opinion, their consistency, and their honour. The original motion was negatived;
Noes........... 269 and Mr. Pitt's amendment was afterwards adopted.
May 27. 1795. On a motion by Mr. Wilberforce, “ That it is the opinion of this House, that the present circumstances of France ought not to preclude the government of this country from entertaining proposals for a general pacification; and that it is for the interest of Great Britain to make peace with France, provided it can be effected on fair terms, and in an honourable manner;"
Mr Pitt delivered his sentiments as follows:
I shall certainly endeavour, Sir, to confine what I have to say to the real point under consideration, and must stand ex. cused if I do not follow the right honourable gentleman * who spoke last, in many of the points to which he adverted. I impute no blame to my honourable friend who has made this motion, though I lament and deplore that he has done so. He has acted, no doubt, from the fullest conviction that he was discharging his duty to his constituents and to the public at large. A great deal has been said this night about Holland being lost, without taking into consideration all the circumstances that belong to the case. It is not my business at present, but at any other time I should not be unwilling to discuss, whether it was not of immense advantage to Europe in general, that Holland was not added to France without a struggle, and which, but for the interference of this country, would have taken place two years ago. This union, after a long struggle, unfortunate I admit in the issue, has been formed chiefly from that country indulging unfounded hopes of peace, in a treaty of alliance, which has ended in their having been invaded and conquered ; in their having submitted, being promised protection, and having been defrauded of four millions of money. Perhaps it may be better for them in the end, but it is certainly better for the state of the world, however unfortunate it may be for the inhabitants of that country at the present moment, that they were united to France after a severe and unsuccessful struggle, and when Holland is no great acquisition to France : instead of being added to her, as a great accession, when she was in the zenith of her power. It has been argued this night, that this country entered upon the present just and necessary war with a great and powerful confederacy in Europe ; and I admit that this confederacy is narrowed and diminished. But I would ask, whether, in discussing the question of peace and war, we have not furnished them with grounds to argue upon, which it is impossible they could have had without the existence of that confederacy? To look for negotiation at the present moment is premature, though I look to it at no remote period. I have no objection, were it connected with this business, to follow my honourable friend, and the right honourable
* Mr. Fox.
gentlemen to the West-Indies, to examine the efforts that have been made by this country, and compare them with those made in any former period; from which we should clearly see, whether greater exertions had ever been made, and whether the distresses in that quarter had not been aggravated by a great mortality and other accidental causes.
But I come to the question immediately before us. leave to consider what that question is, and I must say, that my honourable friend, in making his motion, suffered himself to be deceived in the manner of stating it; and this pervaded the whole of his argument. His statement was neither more nor less than this: Is a peace on fair and honourable terms preferable to the continuance of the war? We should not have been debating here so long, if this were the question ; about this there can be no difference of opinion. But the question is, Whether a peace on fair and honourable terms, which is the end of all war, is more likely to be attained by negotiation at the present moment, than by a continuance of the war ? Are you more likely to arrive at a better and more secure peace with a reasonable prospect of permanency on fair and honourable terms, by a continuance of the war with energy and vigour, till a more favourable opening presents itself by taking some step or other to encourage and invite negotiation ? That is the question which puts away at once all the declamations on the advantages of peace, which nobody in this country will deny ; -- where the rapid effects of peace have healed wounds, infinitely greater than any we have experienced since the commencement of the present war, in repairing losses far more affecting the prosperity of the country than any we have sustained, and which were so vigorously experienced in the interval of a few years, as to make us almost forget the calamities of former wars.
Sir, that being the state of the question, I mean to submit to the House, that at the present moment perseverance in the contest is more wise and prudent, and more likely in the end
to affect a safe, lasting, and honourable peace, than tempt at negotiation. My honourable friend does not choose to state that this country ought to take the first steps to peace, and he claims great merit for his moderation in not going so far, but only that ministers ought to receive overtures. I beg leave to submit, whether this be not only taking the first step, but doing it in the most exceptionable manner. To say it is not an overture on our part, if we have received no intimation whatever from the government of France to treat, to say we shall be glad to treat, is what no man living will contend. Where the overture comes from the legislature of the country, it is attended with a degree of publicity which the right honourable gentleman admits is one of the merits of our constitution. But surely this mode of making overtures of peace is not the most convenient, inasmuch as it makes known the whole terms of peace to the enemy. It leaves no will to ministers to take advantage of any favourable circumstances that may occur. For that reason it is that the legislature does not usually interfere in such transactions, as the true state of the transactions is only fully understood by a few, and therefore it has been wisely committed to the executive government. Why has this country, which is so jealous of its rights and liberties, intrusted such prerogatives to the crown? Why is the making of peace and war, and other prerogatives which form the happiness of this constitution, intrusted to the King? Because it has been found, that the power of parliament was sufficient to prevent the royal prerogative from being carried beyond its proper limits. I say the question is then, whether you will step forward, and assume this power of the crown at a crisis of peculiar delicacy ?
The right honourable gentleman who spoke last, was of opinion that the French convention, from the publicity of its proceedings, bore a nearer resemblance to the British constitution, than the constitution of any other country. In this comparison, I trust, it was not meant to be carried any farther, as if
the interests of this country were to be discussed in one popular assembly. I hope the right honourable gentleman is not so much in love with France. I think the right honourable gentleman took up that idea rather hastily. I am by no means certain, nor is it worth while here to examine, whether a despotic government, or an anarchial republic, like that of France, most nearly resembles the constitution of Great Britain, which is removed at an equal distance from both extremes.
The publicity of the proceedings of the French convention, has been the source of outrage, horror, and disgust, to every feeling heart. That publicity has been a faithful recorder, and an accurate witness of the enormity of their proceedings. The question is, whether we are to take the first step towards negotiation, or to go on, trusting to the executive government to take the opportunity of the first favourable moment for negotiation, and in the mean time strengthening the hands of that government, to persevere with vigour in the contest in which we are engaged. We have been told, that although this question bas been several times brought forward, it has never been directly disposed of; it has never been directly negatived. I contend that it has in effect been directly negatived. For when the motion was made some time ago, an amendment was made to the motion, stating, that we were resolved to persevere in the contest, trusting that His Majesty would seize the first favour. able opportunity that presented for treating with security. I beg to know, whether that which was done with deliberation, was not negativing the motion. Subsequent to that, this ques. tion was discussed again and again, and this House on those occasions came to a resolution, that it did not conceive, under the present circumstances of the countries, negotiation was a measure expedient to be adopted.
But another question here arises. Have the circumstances and situation of the country materially altered since the last motion on the subject, or since my honourable friend first found himself an advocate for negotiation ? Has the posture