Grant to the Emperor of Germany

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Grant to the Emperor of Germany  (1800) 
by Richard Brinsley Sheridan

a speech arguing against payments to Francis II, the Holy Roman Emperor, (Francis I of Austria) and dealing with the European situation and war with France. Given in the House of Commons on 17 February 1800.

The honourable gentleman [Mr. Wilberforce] who has just sat down, and said he rose only to save himself from misinterpretation, has declared that he has no objection to peace. Now I should expect a warmer declaration from that honourable gentleman, when I recollect his conduct on a former occasion. I recollect a time when he came to rebuke the violence of the Minister. [Mr. Sheridan read a motion, made by Mr. Wilberforce, for an address to His Majesty, praying that the Government of France might not be made an obstacle to peace, when an opportunity should arrive.] Now, as the honourable gentleman is anxious to escape from the charge of inconsistency, I should expect he would state the reason for this difference in his conduct now. Then the Government was a provisional government; a government from its nature not intended to stand; a government of furious Jacobins; and yet the honourable gentleman implored to supplicate His Majesty that it might not be suffered to stand in the way of peace; but now, when it is of a less objectionable description, he justifies his friend from an arrogant, violent, inconsiderate, and I hope he will not find an unfortunate note, refusing to accept peace from such a government. An honourable gentleman who has spoken in the debate put a very just question, whether the country will endure to be governed by words, and not by facts? I admit it right that it should not be so governed, but I unfortunately have the authority of the present Government that it is. The honourable gentleman spoke with great eloquence, I may say irritation; but never did I see eloquence so misapplied. He has shown his dexterity in driving the subject from its proper basis; he guides, urges, and inflames the passions of his hearers on Jacobinical principles, but he does not show how they bear on the present question. He has not dared to say, that so far as respects the restoration of the House of Bourbon, we have suffered by the defection of Russia. What that Power may still do with regard to La Vendée, or reconciling the people of Ireland to the Union, I do not inquire; but with regard to the great object, the restoration of monarchy in France, we are minus the Emperor of Russia: that Power may be considered as extinct. Is it, then, to be endured, that the Minister shall come down and ask for a subsidy under such circumstances? Is it to be endured, that we shall be told we are at war for the restoration of monarchy in France, that Russia is pledged to the accomplishment of that purpose, that Russia is the rock on which we stand, that the magnanimous Emperor of Russia, the gallantry of whose troops, and the skill of whose great generals, place them above all the troops and generals in Europe, is all we have to rest on? Is it to be endured, I say, that this rock should prove as brittle as sand, and that those who held this language should come down in a week after, and say, give us two millions and a half to subsidize Germany, and then we shall have a better army than we had with Russia? After such unqualified praise upon Russia, and after her defection, is not such language, I ask, inconsistent, absurd, and preposterous? If Germany possessed these wonderful forces before, why were they not called into action; and if not, why are we to subsidize the posse comitatus, the rabble of Germany? But who is the person that applies for this subsidy? As to the Elector of Bavaria, I leave him out of the question. It is the Emperor of Germany. Is there anything in his conduct and character to incline us to listen to him? I think not, and for these two reasons. First, he applied once on a false pretence, and secondly, he failed in performing his stipulated engagement. What was his false pretence? He said he could not open the campaign without the pecuniary assistance of this country; and yet he did do so, and displayed more vigour, energy, and resources than ever. Now, if to this we add experience, and the evidence of facts, when he dared, though bound to this country, to break faith with her, and make a separate peace, does it not furnish a reasonable cause for declining to grant a subsidy to such a Power? The honourable gentleman is offended at our connecting the situation of the country, and the present scarcity, with the question of war. I do not know to what extent this principle is to be carried. I see no more objection to state the pressure in this particular from the continuance of the war, than there would be to advance the increase of the public debt, the situation of the finances, or any other of those reasons so often repeated without its having been ever objected that they were of an improper kind. Sir, I say, there is no more impropriety in urging this argument, than in urging Ministers not to press the people too far, but to apportion the burden to their strength to bear it. What has my honourable friend said? We see an opulent commercial prosperity; but look over the country, and we behold barracks and broth-houses, the cause and the effect, the poverty and distress of the country; for surely it will not be contended, but that among the calamities of war are to be reckoned families left without support, and thrown upon charity for subsistence. That the war is unnecessary, as being useless, is self-evident, and nobody can deny it. But, say they, Buonaparte has taken us at an unguarded moment: we do not object to peace, but we have a fear and jealousy of concluding one, except with the House of Bourbon: in a peace concluded with it we should have confidence, but we can have none in the present Government of France. I say, were that event arrived, and the House of Bourbon seated on the throne, the Minister should be impeached who would disband a single soldier; and that it would be equally criminal to make peace under a new King as under a republican government, unless her heart and mind were friendly to it. France, as a republic, maybe a bad neighbour; but than monarchical France a more foul and treacherous neighbour never was. Is it, then, sufficient to say, let monarchy be restored, and let peace be given to all Europe? I come now, Sir, to the object of the war as expressed in the note. It is there stated, that the restoration of monarchy is the sine qua non of present negotiation; and then it proceeds to say, that it is possible we may hereafter treat with some other form of government, after it shall be tried by experience and the evidence of facts. What length of time this trial may require is impossible to ascertain; yet we have, I acknowledge, some thing of experience here by which we may form a kind of conjecture.

At the time of the negotiation at Lisle, the then republican Government had stood two years and a half. Previous to that time, it had been declared improper to enter into negotiation with it; but, from experience and the evidence of facts, Ministers discovered that it was then become good and proper to treat with; and yet so it happened that, immediately after this judgement in its favour, it crumbled to pieces. Here, then, we have a tolerable rule to judge by, and may presume, on the authority of this case, that something more than two years and a half must expire before any new government will be pronounced stable. The note, Sir, then proceeds to pay an handsome compliment to the line of princes who maintained peace at home, and to round the period handsomely, it should have added, tranquillity abroad; but instead of this are substituted respect and consideration, by which we are to understand exactly what is meant by the consideration with which the note is subscribed, being equivalent to 'I am, Sir, with the highest respect and sincerest enmity, yours', for, Sir, this consideration which the line of princes maintained, consisted in involving all the Powers within their reach and influence in war and contentions. The note then proceeds to state, that this restoration of monarchy would secure to France the uninterrupted possession of her ancient territory, by which we are to understand, I suppose, we would renounce our Quiberon expeditions. In this note, Sir, the gentlemen seem to have clubbed their talents, one found grammar, another logic, and a third some other ingredient; but is it not strange that they should all forget that the House of Bourbon, instead of maintaining peace and tranquillity in Europe, was always the disturber of both? In the very last transaction of monarchical France, I mean her conduct in the American war. His Majesty's speech begins thus: 'France, the disturber of the tranquillity of Europe.' But were a person to judge hereafter, from the history of the present time, of the war we carried on, and the millions we expended for the monarchy of France, he would be led to conclude that it was our nearest and dearest friend. Is there anything, then, in the knowledge of human nature, from which we can infer, that with the restoration of monarchy in France, a total change in the principles of the people would take place? or that Ministers of the new King would renounce them? What security have we, that a change of principles will take place in the restored monarch, and that he will not act upon the principles cherished by his ancestors? But if this security is effected by maiming France, does the right honourable gentleman think that the people of France would submit to it? Does he not know that even the emigrants have that partiality for the grandeur of their country, that even they cannot restrain their joy at republican victories? But with regard to the practicability of the course to be pursued, the right honourable gentleman says, he is looking forward to a time when there shall be no dread of Jacobin principles. I ask whether he does not think, from the fraud, oppression, tyranny, and cruelty with which the conduct of France has marked them, that they are not now nearly dead, extinct, and detested? But who are the Jacobins? Is there a man in this country who has at any time opposed Ministers, who has resisted the waste of public money and the prostitution of honours, that has not been branded with the name? The Whig Club are Jacobins. Of this there can be no doubt, for a right honourable gentleman [Mr. Windham] on that account struck his name off the list. The Friends of the People are Jacobins. I am one of the Friends of the People, and consequently am a Jacobin. The honourable gentleman pledged himself never to treat with Jacobin France until we had

 Toto certatum est corpore regni.

Now he did treat with France at Lisle and Paris, but perhaps there were not Jacobins in France at either of these times. You, then, the Friends of the People, are the Jacobins. I do think, Sir, Jacobin principles never existed much in this country; and even admitting they had, I say they have been found so hostile to true liberty, that in proportion as we love it, and whatever may be said, I must still consider liberty an inestimable blessing, we must hate and detest these principles. But more, I do not think they even exist in France; they have there died the best of deaths, a death I am more pleased to see than if it had been effected by a foreign force; they have stung themselves to death, and died by their own poison. But the honourable gentleman, arguing from experience of human nature, tells us that Jacobin principles are such, that the mind that is once infected with them, no quarantine, no cure can cleanse. Now if this be the case, and that there are, according to Mr. Burke's statement, eighty thousand incorrigible Jacobins in England, we are in a melancholy situation. The right honourable gentleman must continue the war while one of the present generation remains, and consequently we cannot for that period expect those rights to be restored to us, to the suspension and restrictions of which the honourable gentleman attributes the suppression of these principles. A pretty consolation this, truly! Now I contend that they do not exist in France to the same extent as before, or nearly. If this, then, be the case, what danger can be apprehended? But if this, then, be true, and that Buonaparte, the child and champion of Jacobin principles, as he is called, be resolved to uphold them, upon what ground does the honourable gentleman presume to hope for the restoration of the House of Bourbon? So far I have argued on the probability of the object, but the honourable gentleman goes on, and says, there is no wish to restore the monarchy without the consent of the people. Now if this be the case, is it not better to leave the people to themselves, for if armies are to interfere, how can we ascertain that it is a legitimate government established with the pure consent of the people? As to Buonaparte, whose character has been represented as marked with fraud and insincerity, has he not made treaties with the Emperor and observed them? Is it not his interest to make peace with us? Do you not think he feels it? And can you suppose, that if peace were made, he has not power to make it be observed by the people of France? And do not you think that the people of France are aware that an infraction of that peace would bring with it a new order of things, and a renewal of those calamities from which they are now desirous to escape? But, Sir, on the character of Buonaparte I have better evidence than the intercepted letters, I appeal to Carnot, whether the instructions given with respect to the conduct to be observed to the Emperor, were not moderate, open, and magnanimous? [Here Mr. Sheridan read an extract from Carnot's pamphlet, in support of his assertion.] With regard to the late note, in answer to his proposal to negotiate, it is foolish, insulting, and undignified. It is evidence to me, that the honourable gentlemen themselves do not believe his character to be such as they describe it; for, if they did, they must know their language would irritate such a mind; the passions will mix themselves with reason in the conduct of men, and they cannot say that they will not yet be obliged to treat with Buonaparte. I am warranted in saying this, for I do not believe in my heart, that since the defection of Russia, Ministers have been repenting of their answer. I say so because I do not consider them so obstinate and headstrong as to persevere with as much ardour for the restoration of monarchy as when they were pledged with Russia. There was not a nation in Europe which Ministers did not endeavour to draw into the war. On what was such conduct founded, but on Jacobinical principles? Indeed Ministers, by negotiating at one time with a Jacobinical government in France, plainly proved they were not so hostile to its principles as they would now wish to appear. Prussia and Austria, as well as this country, have acted also on Jacobinical principles. The conduct of this country towards Ireland has been perfectly Jacobinical. How, then, can we define these principles, when persons who would now disavow them fall by some fatality into an unavoidable acknowledgement of them? The objections that have been raised to peace have been entirely Jacobinical. If we seek for peace, it must be done in the spirit of peace. We are not to make it a question who was the first aggressor, or endeavour to throw the blame that may attach to us on our enemy. Such circumstances should be consigned to oblivion, as tending to no one useful purpose. France, in the beginning of the Revolution, had conceived many romantic notions. She was to put an end to war, and produce, by a pure form of government, a perfectibility of mind which before had never been realized. The monarchs of Europe, seeing the prevalence of these new principles, trembled for their thrones. France, also, perceiving the hostility of kings to her projects, supposed she could not be a republic without the overthrow of thrones. Such has been the regular progress of cause and effect; but who was the first aggressor, with whom the jealousy first arose, need not now be a matter of discussion. Both the republic, and the monarchs who opposed her, acted on the same principles: the latter said they must exterminate Jacobins, and the former that they must destroy monarchs. From this source have all the calamities of Europe flowed; and it is now a waste of time and argument to inquire farther into the subject.

Now, Sir, let us come to matter of fact. Has not France renounced and reprobated those Jacobin principles, which created her so many enemies? Are not all her violent invectives against regular governments come into disesteem? Has not the Abbé Sièyes, who wrote in favour of monarchy—has not Buonaparte—condemned the Jacobinical excesses of the Revolution in the most pointed manner, the very men who have had so large a share in the formation of the present Government? But I maintain that Buonaparte himself is also a friend to peace. There is in his correspondence with the Ministers of this country a total renunciation of Jacobinical principles. In the dread, therefore, of these, I can see no argument for the continuance of war. A man who is surprised at the revolution of sentiment in individuals or nations shows but little experience. Such instances occur every day. Neither would a wise man always attach to principles the most serious consequences. Left to themselves, the absurd and dangerous would soon disappear, and wisdom establish herself only the more secure on their ruins. I am a friend to peace at this time, because I think Buonaparte would be as good a friend and neighbour to this country as ever were any of the Bourbons. I think also that there can be no time when we can hope to have better terms. If the King of Prussia should join France, such an alliance would greatly change the state of things; and from her long and honourable neutrality, in spite of the remonstrance and entreaties of this country, an event of that kind is by no means unlikely to happen. It must be considered also that the First Consul of France must feel no little portion of resentment towards this country, arising from the indignity with which his overtures of negotiation have been treated. It is not improbable that, to satisfy his revenge, he would make large sacrifices to the House of Austria, that he might contend more successfully against this country. Such are my fears and opinions; but I am unhappily in the habit of being numbered with the minority, and therefore their consequences are considerably diminished. But there have been occasions when the sentiments of the minority of this House have been those of the people at large: one, for instance, when a war was prevented with Russia concerning Oczakow. The minority told the Minister that the sentiments of the country were contrary to those of the majority: and the fact justified them in the assertion; the dispute was abandoned. In the year 1797, the opinions of the minority on peace were those of the people, and I believe the same coincidence exists now upon the same subject.