Don Pacifico Speech

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Don Pacifico Speech  (1850) 
by Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston
A Speech on the affairs of Greece and the Don Pacifico case, given in the House of Commons, 25 June 1850.

Sir, anxious as many Members are to deliver their sentiments upon this most important question, yet I am sure they will feel that it is due to myself, that it is due to this House, that it is due to the country, that I should not permit the second night of this debate to close, without having stated to the House my views upon the matters in question, and my explanation of that part of my conduct for which I have been called to account.

When I say that this is an important question, I say it in the fullest expression of the term. It is a matter which concerns not merely the tenure of office by one individual, or even by a Government; it is a question that involves principles of national policy, and the deepest interests as well as the honour and dignity of England. I cannot think that the course which has been pursued, and by which this question has assumed its present shape, is becoming those, by whose act it has been brought under the discussion of Parliament, or such as fitting the gravity and the importance of the matters which they have thus led this House and the other House of Parliament to discuss. For if that party in this country imagine that they are strong enough to carry the Government by storm, and to take possession of the citadel of office; or, if without intending to measure their strength with that of their opponents, they conceive that there are matters of such gravity connected with the conduct of the Government, that it becomes their duty to call upon Parliament solemnly to record its disapprobation of what has passed, I think that either in the one case or in the other, that party ought not to have been contented with obtaining the expression of the opinion of the House of Lords, but they ought to have sent down their resolution for the consent and concurrence of this House; or, at least, those who act with them in political co-operation here, should themselves have proposed to this House to come to a similar resolution. But, be the road what it may, we have come to the same end; and the House is substantially considering whether they will adopt the resolution of the House of Lords, or the resolution which has been submitted to them by my honourable and learned Friend the Member for Sheffield.

Now, the resolution of the House of Lords involves the future as well as the past. It lays down for the future a principle of national policy, which I consider totally incompatible with the interests, with the rights, with the honour, and with the dignity of the country; and at variance with the practice, not only of this, but of all other civilised countries in the world. Even the person who moved it was obliged essentially to modify it in his speech. But none of the modifications contained in the speech were introduced into the resolution adopted by the other House. The country is told that British subjects in foreign lands are entitled — for that is the meaning of the resolution — to nothing but the protection of the laws and the tribunals of the land in which they happen to reside. The country is told that British subjects abroad must not look to their own country for protection, but must trust to that indifferent justice which they may happen to receive at the hands of the Government and tribunals of the country in which they may be.

The House of Lords has not said that this proposition is limited to constitutional countries. The House of Lords has not said that the proposition is inapplicable, not only to arbitrary and despotic countries, but even to constitutional countries where the courts of justice are not free; although these limitations were stated in the speech. The country is simply informed by the resolution, as it was adopted, that, so far as foreign nations are concerned, the future rule of the Government of England is to be, that, in all cases, and under all circumstances, British subjects are to have that protection only, which the law and the tribunals of the land in which they happen to be, may give them.

Now, I deny that proposition; and I say it is a doctrine on which no British subjects are bound to have recourse for redress to the means which the law of the land affords them, when that law is available for such purpose. That is the opinion which the legal advisers of the Crown have given in numerous cases; and it is the opinion on which we have founded our replies to many applications for our interposition in favour of British subjects abroad. But there may be cases in which no confidence can be placed in the tribunals, those tribunals being, from their composition and nature, not of a character to inspire any hope of obtaining justice from them. It has been said, "We do not apply this rule to countries whose Governments are arbitrary or despotic, because there the tribunals are under the control of the Government, and justice cannot be had; and, moreover, it is not meant to be applied to nominally constitutional Governments, where the tribunals are corrupt." But who is to be the judge in such a case, whether the tribunals are corrupt or not? The British Government, or the Government of the State from which you demand justice?

I will take a transaction that occurred not long ago, as an instance of a case in which, I say, the people of England would not permit a British subject to be simply amenable to the laws of the foreign country in which he happened to be. I am not going to talk of the power of sending a man arbitrarily to Siberia; nor of a country, the constitution of which vests despotic power in the hands of the Sovereign. I will take a case which happened in Sicily, where not long ago a decree was passed, that any man who was found with concealed arms in his possession should be brought before a court-martial, and, if found guilty, should be shot. Now, this happened. An innkeeper of Catania was brought before a court-martial, accused under this law by some police officers, who stated that they had discovered in an open bin, in an open stable in his inn-yard, a knife, which they denounced as a concealed weapon. Witnesses having been examined, the counsel for the prosecution stated that he gave up the case, as it was evident there was no proof that the knife belonged to the man, or that he was aware it was in the place where it was found. The counsel for the defendant said, that such being the opinion of the counsel for the prosecution, it was unnecessary for him to go into the defence, and he left his client in the hands of the court. The court, however, nevertheless pronounced the man guilty of the charge brought against him, and the next morning the man was shot.

Now, what would the English people have said if this had been done to a British subject? and yet everything done was the result of a law, and the man was found guilty of an offence by a tribunal of the country. I say, then, that our doctrine is, that, in the first instance, redress should be sought from the law courts of the country; but that in cases where redress cannot be so had — and those cases are many — to confine a British subject to that remedy only, would be to deprive him of the protection which he is entitled to receive.

Then the question arises, how does this rule apply to the demands we have made upon Greece? And here I must shortly remind the House of the origin of our relations with Greece, and of the condition of Greece; because those circumstances are elements that must enter into the consideration of the course we have pursued.

It is well known that Greece revolted from Turkey in 1820. In 1827, England, France, and Russia determined upon interposing, and ultimately, in 1828, they resolved to employ forcible means in order to bring Turkey to acknowledge the independence of Greece. Greece, by protocol in 1830, and by treaty in 1832, was erected into a separate and independent State. And whereas nearly from the year 1820 up to the time of the treaty of 1832, when its independence was finally acknowledged, Greece had been under a republican form of government, with an Assembly and a President, the three Powers determined that Greece should thenceforth be a monarchy. But while England assented to that arrangement, and considered that it was better that Greece should assume a monarchial form of government, yet we attached to that assent an indispensable condition, that Greece should be a constitutional monarchy. The British Government could not consent to place the people of Greece, in their independent political existence, under as arbitrary a government as that from which they had revolted. Consequently, when the three Powers, in the exercise of that function which had been devolved upon them by the authority of the General Assembly of Greece, chose a Sovereign for Greece - for that choice was made in consequence of, and by virtue of the authority given to them by the General Assembly of Greece, and when Prince Otho of Bavaria, then a minor, was chosen; the three Powers, on announcing the choice they had made, at the same time declared that King Otho would, in concert with his people, give to Greece constitutional institutions.

The choice and that announcement were ratified by the King of Bavaria in the name, and on the behalf, of his son. It was however understood, that during the minority of King Otho, the establishment of the constitution should be suspended; but that when he came of age, he should enter into communication with his people, and, together with them, arrange the form of constitution to be adopted. King Otho came of age, but no constitution was given. There was a disinclination on the part of his advisers to counsel him to fulfill that engagement. The Government of England expressed an opinion, through various channels, that that engagement ought to be fulfilled. But opinions of a different kind reached the Royal ear from other quarters. Other Governments, naturally — I say it without implying any imputation — are attached to their own forms. Each Government thinks its own form and nature the best, and wishes to see that form, if possible, extended elsewhere. Therefore, I do not mention this with any intention of casting the least reproach upon Russia, or Prussia, or Austria. Those three Governments at that time were despotic. Their advice was given, and their influence was exerted. to prevent the King of Greece from granting a constitution to his people. We thought, however, that in France we might find support in the advice which we wished to give. But we were unfortunate. The then Government of France, not at all undervaluing constitutional institutions, thought that the time was not yet come when Greece could be ripe for representative government. The King of Bavaria leaned also to the same side. Therefore, from the time when the King came of age, and for several years afterwards, the English Government stood in this position in Greece with regard to its Government — that we alone were anxious for the fulfillment of the engagement of the King, while all the other Powers who were represented at Athens, were averse to its being made good, or at least were not equally desirous of urging it upon the King of Greece. This necessarily placed us in a situation, to say the least of it, of disfavour on the part of the agents of those Powers, and opt the part of the Government of Greece. I was sorry for it; at the same time, I don't think the people of this country will be of opinion that we ought, for the sake of obtaining the mere good-will of the Greek Government, to have departed from the principle which we had laid down from the beginning. But it was so; and when people talk of the antagonistic influences which were in conflict at the Greek Court; and when people say, as I have heard it said, that our Ministers, and the Ministers of foreign Governments, were disputing about the appointments of mirarchs and nomarchs, and God knows what petty officers of the State, I say that, as far as our Minister was concerned, that is a statement entirely at variance with the fact. Our Minister, Sir Edmund Lyons, never, during the whole time he was in Greece, asked any favour of any sort or kind, for himself, or for any friend. No conduct of that mean, and low, and petty description was carried on by any person connected with the English Government. It was known that we wished the Greek nation should have representative institutions, while, on the other hand, other influences were exerted the other way; and that, and that only, was the ground of the differences which existed.

One of the evils of the absence of constitutional institutions was, that the whole system of government grew to be full of every kind of abuse. Justice could not be expected where the judges of the tribunals were at the mercy of the advisers of the Crown. The finances could not be in any order where there was no public responsibility on the part of those who were to collect or to spend the revenue. Every sort of abuse was practised.

In all times, in Greece, as is well known, there has prevailed, from the daring habits of the people, a system of compulsory appropriation — forcible appropriation by one man of that which belonged to another; which, of course, is very disagreeable to those who are the victims of the system, and exceedingly injurious to the social condition, improvement, and prosperity of the country, In short, what foreigners call brigandage, which prevailed under the Turkish rule, has not, I am sorry to say, diminished under the Greek Sovereignty. Moreover, the police of the Greece Government have practised abuses of the grossest description; and if I wanted evidence on that subject, I could appeal to the honourable Gentleman (B. Cochrane), who has just sat down, who, in a pamphlet, which all must have read, or ought to read, has detailed instances of barbarity of the most revolting kind practised by the police. I have here depositions of persons who have been subjected to the most abominable tortures which human ingenuity could devise — tortures inflicted upon both sexes most revolting and disgusting. One of the officers, a man of the name of Tzino, at the head of the police, was himself in the habit of inflicting the most diabolical tortures upon Greeks and upon foreigners, Turks, and others. This man Tzino, instead of being punished as he ought to have been, and as he deserved to be, not only by the laws of nature, but by the laws of Greece — this person, I am sorry to say, is held in great favour in quarters where he ought to have received nothing but marks of indignation.

Well, this being the state of things in Greece, there have always been in every town in Greece a great number of persons whom we are bound to protect — Maltese, Ionians, and a certain number of British subjects. It became the practice of this Greek police to make no distinction between the Maltese and Ionians and their own fellow-subjects. We shall be told, perhaps, as we have already been told, that if the people of the country are liable to have heavy stones placed upon their breasts, and police officers to dance upon them; if they are liable to have their heads tied to their knees, and to be left for hours in that state; or to be swung like a pendulum, and to be bastinadoed as they swing, foreigners have no right to be better treated than the natives, and have no business to complain if the same things are practised upon them. We may be told this, but that is not my opinion, nor do I believe it is the opinion of any reasonable man. Then, I say, that in considering the cases of the Ionians, for whom we demanded reparation, the House must look at and consider what was the state of things in this respect in Greece; they must consider the practices that were going on, and the necessity of putting a stop to the extension of these abuses to British and Ionian subjects by demanding compensation, scarcely indeed more than nominal in some cases, but the granting of which would be an acknowledgment that such things should not be done towards us in future.

In discussing these cases, I am concerned to have to say that they appear to me to have been dealt with elsewhere in spirit, and in a tone, which I think was neither befitting the persons concerning whom, nor the persons by whom, nor the persons before whom, the discussion took place. It is often more convenient to treat matters with ridicule, than with grave argument; and we have had serious things treated jocosely; and grave men kept in a roar of laughter, for an hour together, at the poverty of one sufferer, or at the miserable habitation of another; at the nationality of one injured man, or the religion of another; as if because a man was poor he might be bastinadoed and tortured with impunity; as if a man who was born in Scotland might be robbed without redress; or, because a man is of the Jewish persuasion, he is fair game for any outrage. It is a true saying, and has often been repeated, that a very moderate share of human wisdom is sufficient for the guidance of human affairs. But there is another truth, equally indisputable, which is, that a man who aspires to govern mankind ought to bring to the task, generous sentiments, compassionate sympathies, and noble and elevated thoughts.

Now, Sir, with regard to these cases, I would take first, that which I think would first present itself to the mind of an Englishman — I mean the insult offered by the arrest of the boat's crew of Her Majesty's ship Fantome. The time has been, when a man aspiring to a public situation, would have thought it his duty to vindicate the honour of the British Navy. Times are changed. It is said that in this case there were only a few sailors taken out of a boat by some armed men — that they were carried to the guard-house, but were soon set at liberty again — and why should we trouble our heads about so small a matter? But did we ask anything extraordinary or unreasonable on account of this insult? What we asked was an apology. I really did not expect to live to see the day, when public men in England could think that in requiring an apology for the arbitrary and unjustifiable arrest of a British officer and British seamen in the performance of their duty, we were making a demand "doubtful in its nature, and exaggerated in its amount." Now, what is the history of this case? for circumstances have been referred to, in connexion with it, which do not appear from the statement of the case itself. The son of the Vice-consul, who had dined on board the Fantome, was taken ashore in the evening by the coxswain and a boat's crew, and landed on the beach. The coxswain accompanied the young gentleman to his father's house, and on returning to the boat, was taken prisoner by the Greek guard. The guard went down to the boat, and, finding the seamen in it were without arms, began thumping them with the butt-ends of their muskets, and wounded one man in the hand by a thrust with a bayonet. The guard then took the seamen prisoners, and carried them to the guard-house where after a certain time they were released, through the interposition of the Vice-consul, and they returned to their ship. Excuses were given for this proceeding, and the gist of them was this — that the guard thought the boat belonged to the Spitfire, and that it had been seen landing rebels, one of whom had escaped; this supposed rebel being a boy of. fourteen years old, who had returned quietly to his father's house.

The matter to which these excuses related, occurred a little while before, in consequence of the disorganised state of Greece — a disorganisation, by the by, which arises entirely from the acts of the Government; because it has been, and still is, the practice of the Government, instead of punishing brigands, to amnesty and pardon them; and indeed it is even supposed that the officers of police sometimes go shares in the plunder. That, however, is a matter of opinion; but it is a fact that the robbers are almost always pardoned; and such is the encouragement thereby given to the system of plunder, that the robbers go about armed in bands, and sometimes actually attack and occupy towns. [About five additional pages dealing with abuses are omitted]

Then we come to the claim of M. Pacifico — a claim which has been the subject of much unworthy comment. Stories have been told, involving imputations on the character of M. Pacifico; I know nothing of the truth or falsehood of these stories. All I know is, that M. Pacifico, after the time to which those stories relate, was appointed Portuguese consul, first to Morocco and afterwards at Athens. It is not likely that the Portuguese Government would select for appointments of that kind, a person whose character they did not believe to be above reproach. But I say, with those who have before had occasion to advert to the subject, that I don't care what M. Pacifico's character is. I do not, and cannot, admit that because a man may have acted amiss on some other occasion, and in some other matter, he is to be wronged with impunity by others.

The rights of a man depend on the merits of the particular case; and it is an abuse of argument to say, that you are not to give redress to a man, because in some former transaction he may have done something which is questionable. Punish him if you will punish him if he is guilty, but don't pursue him as a Pariah through life.

What happened in this case? In the middle of the town of Athens, in a house which I must be allowed to say is not a wretched hovel, as some people have described it; but it does not matter what it is, for whether a man's home be a palace or a cabin, the owner has a right to be there safe from injury — well, in a house which is not a wretched hovel, but which in the early days of King Otho was, I am told, the residence of the Count Armansperg, the Chief of the Regency — a house as good as the generality of those which existed in Athens before the Sovereign ascended the throne — M. Pacifico, living in this house, within forty yards of the great street, within a few minutes' walk of a guard-house, where soldiers were stationed, was attacked by a mob. Fearing injury, when the mob began to assemble, he sent an intimation to the British Minister, who immediately informed the authorities. Application was made to the Greek Government for protection. No protection was afforded. The mob, in which were soldiers and gens-d'armes, who, even if officers were not with them, ought, from a sense of duty, to have interfered and to have prevented plunder — that mob, headed by the sons of the Minister of War, not children of eight or ten years old, but older — that mob, for nearly two hours, employed themselves in gutting the house of an unoffending man, carrying away or destroying every single thing the house contained, and left it a perfect wreck.

Is not that a case in which a man is entitled to redress from somebody? I venture to think it is. I think that there is no civilised country where a man subjected to such grievous wrong, not to speak of insults and injuries to the members of his family, would not justly expect redress from some quarter or other. Where was he to apply for redress at Athens? The Greek Government neglected its duty, and did not pursue judicial inquiries, or institute legal prosecutions as it might have done for the purpose of finding out and punishing some of the culprits. The sons of the Minister of War were pointed out to the Government as actors in the outrage. The Greek Government were told to "search a particular house; and that some part of M. Pacifico's jewels would be found there." They declined to prosecute the Minister's sons, or to search the house. But, it is said, M. Pacifico should have applied to a court of law for redress. What was he to do? Was he to prosecute a mob of five hundred persons? Was he to prosecute them criminally, or in order to make them pay the value of his loss? Where was he to find his witnesses? Why, he and his family were hiding or flying, during the pillage, to avoid the personal outrages with which they were threatened. He states, that his own life was saved by the help of an English friend. It was impossible, if he could have identified the leaders, to have prosecuted them with success.

But what satisfaction would it have been to M. Pacifico to have succeeded in a criminal prosecution against the ringleaders of that assault? Would that have restored to him his property? He wanted redress, not revenge. A criminal prosecution was out of the question, to say nothing of the chances, if not the certainty, of failure in a country where the tribunals are at the mercy of the advisers of the crown, the judges being liable to be removed, and being often actually removed upon grounds of private interest and personal feeling. Was he to prosecute for damages? His action would have lain against individuals, and not, as in this country, against the hundred. Suppose he had been able to prove that one particular man had carried off one particular thing, or destroyed one particular article of furniture; what redress could he anticipate by a lawsuit, which, as his legal advisers told him, it would be- vain for him to undertake? M. Pacifico truly said, "if the man I prosecute is rich, he is sure to be acquitted; if he is poor, he has nothing out of which to afford me compensation if he is condemned."

The Greek Government having neglected to give the protection they were bound to extend, and having abstained from taking means to afford redress, this was a case in which we were justified in calling on the Greek Government for compensation for the losses, whatever they might be, which M. Pacifico had suffered. I think that claim was founded in justice. The amount we did not pretend to fix. If the Greek Government had admitted the principle of the claim, and had objected to the account sent in by M. Pacifico — if they had said, "This is too much, and we think a less sum sufficient," that would have been a question open to discussion, and which our Ministers, Sir E. Lyons at first, or Mr. Wyse afterwards, would have been ready to have gone into, and no doubt some satisfactory arrangement might thus have been effected with the Greek Government. But the Greek Government denied altogether the principle of the claim. Therefore, when Mr. Wyse came to make the claim, he could not but demand that the claim should be settled, or be placed in train of settlement, and that within a definite period, as he fixed it, of twenty-four hours.

Whether M. Pacifico's statement of his claim was exaggerated or not, the demand was not for any particular amount of money. The demand was, that the claim should be settled. An investigation might have been instituted, which those who acted for us were prepared to enter into, fairly, dispassionately, and justly.

M. Pacifico having, from year to year, been treated either with answers wholly unsatisfactory, or with a positive refusal, or with pertinacious silence, it came at last to this, either that his demand was to be abandoned altogether, or that, in pursuance of the notice we had given the Greek Government a year or two before, we were to proceed to use our own means of enforcing the claim. "Oh! but," it is said, "what an ungenerous proceeding to employ so large a force against so small a Power!" Does the smallness of a country justify the magnitude of its evil acts? Is it to be held that if your subjects suffer violence, outrage, plunder in a country which is small and weak, you are to tell them when they apply for redress, that the country is so weak and so small that we cannot ask it for compensation? Their answer would be, that the weakness and smallness of the country make it so much the more easy to obtain redress. "No," it is said, "generosity is to be the rule." We are to be generous to those who have been ungenerous to you; and we cannot give you redress because we have such ample and easy means of procuring it.

Well, then, was there anything so uncourteous in sending, to back our demands, a force which should make it manifest to all the world that resistance was out of the question? Why, it seems to me, on the contrary, that it was more consistent with the honour and dignity of the Government on whom we made those demands, that there should be placed before their eyes a force, which it would be vain to resist, and before which it would be no indignity to yield.

I believe I have now gone through all the heads of the charges which have been brought against me in this debate. I think I have shown that the foreign policy of the Government, in all the transactions with respect to which its conduct has been impugned, has throughout been guided by those principles which, according to the resolution of the honourable and learned Gentleman the Member for Sheffield, ought to regulate the conduct of the Government of England in the management of our foreign affairs. I believe that the principles on which we have acted are those which are held by the great mass of the people of this country. I am convinced these principles are calculated, so far as the influence of England may properly be exercised with respect to the destinies of other countries, to conduce to the maintenance of peace, to the advancement of civilization, to the welfare and happiness of mankind.

I do not complain of the conduct of those who have made these matters the means of attack upon Her Majesty's Ministers. The government of a great country like this, is undoubtedly an object of fair and legitimate ambition to men of all shades of opinion. It is a noble thing to be allowed to guide the policy and to influence the destinies of such a country; and, if ever it was an object of honourable ambition, more than ever must it be so at the moment at which I am speaking. For while we have seen, as stated by the right Baronet the Member for Ripon (Sir James Graham), the political earthquake rocking Europe from side to side — while we have seen thrones shaken, shattered, levelled; institutions overthrown and destroyed — while in almost every country of Europe the conflict of civil war has deluged the land with blood, from the Atlantic to the Black Sea, from the Baltic to the Mediterranean; this country has presented a spectacle honourable to the people of England, and worthy of the admiration of mankind.

We have shown that liberty is compatible with order; that individual freedom is reconcilable with obedience to the law. We have shown the example of a nation, in which every class of society accepts with cheerfulness the lot which Providence has assigned to it; while at the same time every individual of each class is constantly striving to raise himself in the social scale — not by injustice and wrong, not by violence and illegality — but by persevering good conduct, and by the steady and energetic exertion of the moral and intellectual faculties with which his Creator has endowed him. To govern such a people as this, is indeed an object worthy of the ambition of the noblest man who lives in the land; and therefore I find no fault with those who may think any opportunity a fair one, for endeavouring to place themselves in so distinguished and honourable a position. But I contend that we have not in our foreign policy done anything to forfeit the confidence of the country. We may not, perhaps, in this matter or in that, have acted precisely up to the opinions of one person or of another — and hard indeed it is, as we all know by our individual and private experience, to find any number of men agreeing entirely in any matter, on which they may not be equally possessed of the details of the facts, and circumstances, and reasons, and conditions which led to action. But, making allowance for those differences of opinion which may fairly and honourably arise among those who concur in general views, I maintain that the principles which can be traced through all our foreign transactions, as the guiding rule and directing spirit of our proceedings, are such as deserve approbation. I therefore fearlessly challenge the verdict which this House, as representing a political, a commercial, a constitutional country, is to give on the question now brought before it; whether the principles on which the foreign policy of Her Majesty's Government has been conducted, and the sense of duty which has led us to think ourselves bound to afford protection to our fellow subjects abroad, are proper and fitting guides for those who are charged with the Government of England; and whether, as the Roman, in days of old, held himself free from indignity, when he could say Civis Romanus sum; so also a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England, will protect him against injustice and wrong.

This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.