Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

litical system of Europe. She had extorted that recognition from all around her at the point of the bayonet, and had nearly doubled her territory and dependencies at the expense of her neighbors. He therefore brought down a message from the King, acknowledging her government as established under the Directory in October, 1795, ard in October, 1796, sent a plenipotentiary to Paris with proposals of peace. His terms were highly liberal. He offered to restore the conquests he had made from France, being all her rich colonies in the East and West Indies, receiving nothing in return, and only asking for Austria, as the ally of England, a similar restoration of the territory which had been wrested from her by the French. This the Directory refused, and, after a short negotiation, ordered the English embassador to quit Paris in twenty-four hours.

The next year, 1797, was one of the darkest seasons that England had known for centuries. In April, Austria was compelled to sue for peace, leaving the English to carry on the contest single-handed ; and at the inoment when this intelligence arriver, a mutiny had broken out in the fleets both at the Nore and Spithead, more extensive and threatening than has ever occurred in the English navy; while Ire. land was on the brink of rebellion, and actually had deputies in France soliciting the aid of her troops. Never were the funds so low, even in the worst periods of the American war. These events were ushered in by the greatest calamity that can befall a commercial people, a drain of specie arising from the operation of the war, which endangered the whole banking system of the country. Whether Mr. Pitt was to blame or not for the causes which produced this drain, it is certain that his daring resolution saved the country in this alarming crisis. He issued an order of the Privy Council, February 26th, 1797, requiring the Bank of England to suspend specie pay. ments. He might have avoided the personal hazard thus incurred by throwing the responsibility on Parliament, which was then in session-the order, indeed, was generally considered as unconstitutional; but the case would not admit of delay, a single night's debate on such a question might have destroyed all credit throughout the kingdom. Parliament and the country justified the course he took, while the bankers in every part of the empire united to sustain him. The mutiny was quelled by a judicious union of firmness and concession ; Ireland was held down for another year; and Great Britain, instead of being plunged into the gulf of national and individual bankruptcy as predicted by Mr. Fox, was placed on a vantage ground, which enabled her to sustain the pressure of the war without injury to her financial system, It is not wonderful that the friends of Mr. Pitt were loud in their applause of "the pilot that weathered the storm.”

About the middle of the same year, July, 1797, Mr. Pitt renewed his proposals of peace. He sent Lord Malmesbury to Lisle, offering, as in the former case, to restore all his conquests, and, as Austria was now out of the way, demanding nothing in return. There were at this juncture two parties in the Directory, one for peace and the other for war; and the negotiation changed its aspect, from time to time, during the two months of its continuance, as the one or the other obtained the mastery. It is a curious circumstance, showing the difficulties he had to encounter, that a similar division existed in his own cabinet ; so that among the “ astounding disclosures'' made in Lord Malmesbury's diary, we find that it was necessary for his Lordship to send two sets of dispatches every time he communicated with his government, ono of a more general nature to be read by Lord Loughborough and his associates, who were bent on defcating the negotiation, and the other for Mr. Pitt, Lord Grenville, and Mr. Dundas! The violent part of the Directory at last prevailed. War became the policy of the government, and Lord Malmesbury was dismissed. The French were to be deluded with new visions of conquest. Bonaparte was sent to subdu. Egypt, and thus open a pathway to India ; and the whole of Hindostan, with its hund

red and fifty millions of inhabitants, was to become a tributary of the Republic Mr. Pitt laid the subject before Parliament, November 10th, 1797, in a masterly speech, which is given in this collection. Parliament, without one dissenting voice approved of his conduct, and united in the emphatic declaration, "We know that great exertions are wanted ; we are ready to make them ; and are, at all events, determined to stand or fall by the laws, liberties, and religion of our country.” The people came forward with that noble spirit and unanimity which has always distinguished the English in times of great peril, and subscribed fifteen hundred thousand pounds, not as a loan, but as a voluntary gift for carrying on the war.

The Directory lasted a little more than four years, and then yielded to the power of Bonaparte, who usurped the government, and became First Consul in December, 1799. He immediately proposed a peace, and it was now Mr. Pitt's turn to reject the offer. Wounded by the insults which he had received in the two preceding negotiations, doubting whether the power of the First Consul would be at all more permanent than that of others who had gone before him, and convinced, at all events, that he could not be sincere in his offer, since the genius and interests of Bonaparte led only to war, Mr. Pitt declined to negotiate on the subject. It appeared afterward, as already stated, that Bonaparte did not wish for peace. When the question came before Parliament, February 30, 1800, he delivered the third of his speeches contained in this volume. It is the most elaborate of all his efforts; and though worsa reported than the other two, so far as language is concerned (Mr. Canning, indeed, says that Mr. Pitt suffered more in this respect than any orator of his day), it can hardly be too much admired for its broad and luminous statements, the closeness of is reasonings, and the fervor of its appeals.

In 1800, Mr. Pitt accomplished his favorite plan of a legislative union of Ireland with Great Britain. But he was unable to effect it without a distinct intimation to the Roman Catholics that they should receive, as a reward for their acquiescence, the boon of emancipation which they had been so long seeking. He did this without the privity of the King, and knowing his scruples on the subject, but still with a firm belief that his Majesty, in attaining so great an object, would yield those scruples to the wishes of the most enlightened men in the kingdom. But the moment he dis closed his plan to his colleagues, Lord Loughborough, says Lord Campbell, “ set secretly to work, and composed a most elaborate and artful paper, showing forth the dangers likely to arise from Mr. Pitt's plan, in a manner admirably calculated to inake an impression on the royal mind." The King was thus fortified against the proposal before Mr. Pitt had time to present his reasons; and, adopting the course he had taken with the East India Bill of Mr. Fox, declared at the levee, with a view to have his words circulated, “that he should consider any person who voted for the measure proposed by his minister as personally indisposed toward himself !” Mr. Pitt justly considered this as a direct exclusion from the public service, and so informed the cabinet, in February, 1801, having held the office of Prime Minister be. tween sixteen and seventeen years. It was generally supposed at the time that he retired with a view to open a more easy way for negotiating a peace with France. He certainly desired peace, but the circumstances here stated were the true cause of his withdrawing from the government.

Mr. Addington (afterward Lord Sidmouth) succeeded him, and Mr. Pitt gave the new minister a cordial support. Mr. Wilberforce, in his diary, says, " Pitt has really behaved with a magnanimity unparalleled in a politician, and is wishing to form foz Addington the best and strongest possible administration.” He approved of the peace; and again, when the rupture took place, he gave the declaration of war, May 18th, 1803, his warmest support. His speech on this occasion (which, through an accident in the gallery, was never reported) is said by Lord Brougham to have "ex. celled all his other performances in vehement and spirit-stirring declamation, and this may be the more easily believed when we know that Mr. Fox, in his reply, said, • The orators of antiquity would have admired, probably would have envied it.' The last half hour is described as having been one unbroken torrent of the most maiestic leclamation."

Mr. Addington had a timidity and inertness which wholly unfitted him for carry. ing on the war. The people were clamorous for a change of ministers, and Mr. Pitt was again called to the head of affairs, May 12th, 1804. Lord Brougham has reproached him for accepting office without insisting upon Catholic emancipation ; but his former step had thrown the King into a fit of derangement for nearly three weeks, a new agitation of the subject might have produced the same result, and, as it was now obvious that emancipation could never be granted during the life of George III., Mr. Pitt, surely, was not to exclude himself from office on a mere point of etiquette, without the slightest advantage to the cause. He now formed his last great coali. tion against Bonaparte, but the battle of Austerlitz (December 20, 1805) was a death blow to his hopes. Worn out with care and anxiety, his health had been declining for some months. On the 21st of January, 1806, the Bishop of Lincoln apprised him that his end was approaching. Mr. Pitt heard him with perfect composure, and after a few moments, rising as he spoke, and clasping his hands with the utmost fervor, he exclaimed, “I throw myself entirely (laying a strong emphasis on the last word) upon the mercy of God through the merits of Christ.” He now arranged all his secalar concerns with perfect calmness, and died at a quarter past four, Thursday morn ing, the 23d of January, 1806, in the forty-seventh year of his age. He was buried near his father in Westminster Abbey, and his debts, amounting to £40,000, were paid by the public. Mr. Wilberforce, who knew him more intimately than any other man, has given this testimony to his character : “Mr. Pitt had his foibles, and of course they were not diminished by so long a continuance in office; but for a clear "ud comprenensive view of the most complicated subject in all its relations, for that fairness of mind which disposes a man to follow out, and, when overtaken, to recog aizo the truth ; for magnanimity, which made him ready to change his measures when he thought the good of the country required it, though he knew he should be charged with inconsistency on account of the change ; for willingness to give a fair hearing to all that could be urged against his own opinions, and to listen to the suggestions of men whose understandings he knew to be inferior to his own ; for personal purity, disinterestedness, integrity, and love of country, I have never known his equal. His strictness in regard to truth was astonishing, considering the situation he so long filled.”

In person, Mr. Pitt was tall and slender; his features wero somewhat harsh, but lighted up with intelligence by the flashes of his eye; his gesture was animated, but devoid of grace ; his articulation was remarkably full and clear, filling the largest room with the volume of sound. His manner of entering the House was strikingly indicative of his absorption in the business before him. “From the instant he passed the doorway,” says Wraxall, “ he advanced up the floor with a quick and firm step, his head erect and thrown back, looking neither to the right nor the left, nor favoring with a nod or a glance any of the individuals seated on either side, among whom many who possessed £5000 a year would have been gratified even by so slight a mark of attention.” Those who knew him best as a speaker expatiated with delight on " the perfection of his arrangement, the comprehensiveness of his reasonings, the power of his sarcasm, the magnificence of his declamation, the majestic tone of his voice, the legislative authority of his manner, and his felicitous observance of the temper of his audience.” Mr. Canning has given the following sketch of his charwiler, which will form an appropriate conclusion to this memoir.

().

“The character of this illustrious statesman early passed its ordeal Sca.cely had he attained the age at which reflection commences, when Europe with astonishment beheld him filling the first place in the councils of his country, and managing the vast mass of its concerns with all the vigor and steadiness of the most matured wis. dom. Dignity-strength_discretion—these were among the masterly qualities of his mind at its first dawn. He had been nurtured a statesman, and his knowledgs was of that kind which always lay ready for practical application. Not dealing in the subtleties of abstract politics, but moving in the slow, steady procession of reason, his conceptions were reflective, and his views correct. Habitually attentive to the concerns of government, he spared no pains to acquaint himself with whatever was connected, however minutely, with its prosperity. He was devoted to the state. Ita interests engrossed all his study and engaged all his care. It was the element alone in which he seemed to live and move. He allowed himself out little recreation from his labors. His mind was always on its station, and its activity was unremitted.

“He did not hastily adopt a measure, nor hastily abandon it. The plan struck out by him for the preservation of Europe was the result of prophetic wisdom and profound policy. But, though defeated in many respects by the selfish ambition and short-sighted imbecility of foreign powers--whose rulers were too venal or too weak to follow the flight of that mind which would have taught them to outwing the storm—the policy involved in it has still a secret operation on the conduct of surrounding states. His plans were full of energy, and the principles which inspired them looked beyond the consequences of the hour.

“He knew nothing of that timid and wavering cast of mind which dares not abide by its own decision. He never suffered popular prejudice or party clamor to turn him aside from any measure which his deliberate judgment had adopted. He had a proud reliance on himself, and it was justified. Like the sturdy warrior leaning a his own battle-ax, conscious where his strength lay, he did not readily look beyond it.

"As a debater in the House of Commons, his speeches were logical and argumcm ative. If they did not often abound in the graces of metaphor, or sparkle with the brilliancy of wit, they were always animated, elegant, and classical. The strength of his oratory was intrinsic; it presented the rich and abundant resource of a clear discernment and a correct taste. His speeches are stamped with inimitable marks of originality. When replying to his opponents, his readiness was not more conspicuous than his energy. He was always prompt and always dignified. He could sometimes have recourse to the sportiveness of irony, but he did not often seek any other aid than was to be derived from an arranged and extensive knowledge of his subject. This qualified him fully to discuss the arguments of others, and forcibly to defend his own. Thus armed, it was rarely in the power of his adversaries, mighty as they were, to beat him from the field. His eloquence, occasionally rapid, electric, and vehement, was always chaste, winning, and persuasive-not awing into acquiescence, but arguing into conviction. His understanding was bold and comprehensive. Nothing seemed too remote for its reach or too large for its grasp.

“Unallured by dissipation and unswayed by pleasure, he never sacrificed the national treasure to the one, or the national interest to the other. To his unswerving integrity the most authentic of all testimony is to be found in that unbounded public confidence which followed him throughout the whole of his political career.

"Absorbed as he was in the pursuits of public life, he did not neglect to prepare hinself in silence for that higher destination, which is at once the incentive and re ward of human virtue. His talents, superior and splendid as they were, never hada him forgetful of that Eternal Wisdom from which they emanated. The faith and fortitude of his last moments were affecting and exemplary."

SPEECH Of NR PITT ON THE ABOLITION OF THE SLAVE TRADE, DELIVERED :N THE HOUSE OF CUM

MONS, APRIL 2, 1792.

INTRODUCTION. NUXEROUS petitions for the abolition of the African slave trade were presented to Parliament at the sessier. of 1781-8. On the 9th of May, 1788, Mr. Pitt, acting for Mr. Wilberforce, who was confined by Kiness, nored that " the subject be taken up early the next session." This was accordingly done on the 19th of May, 1789, when Mr. Wilberforce laid open the enormities of this traffic in a speech of great compass and power. So conclusive were his statements, that Mr. Pitt was prepared to carry through the measure by an immediate vote; but yielded, at last, to a demand for the examination of witnesses in behalf of the slave merchants, remarking, however, that "he could by no means submit to the ultimate procrastination of so important a business.” Every artifice was now used to protract the inquiry. The passions of the colonists were inflamed; the wealth and influence of the great commercial towns engaged in the trade, Liverpool, Bristol, &c., were arrayed against the measure ; the revolation in St. Domingo and the insurrection in Dominica, furnished plausible arguments to alarm the timid; the speedy depopu lation of the West India Islands, with the loss of seventy millions sterling of property, was urged as the inevitable result; until the nation was staggered, and many well-wishers of the cause began to waver in their opinions. Some of Mr. Pitt's warmest supporters were of this number, and especially Mr. Dundes, with whom it was impossible for him to break, so that he felt himself no longer able to make it a ministerial question, or to insist on its being carried as a measure of the government. In the mean time, Mr. Wilberforce and his friends were not idle. Evidence of the most conclusive kind was collected from ercry quarter, and presented in so clear a light, as to relieve the public mind from the terrors which had been thrown around the subject, and to give a full exbibition of the unparalleled atrocities of the traffic, es toen actually carried on.

Early in 1792, five hundred and seventeen petitions against the slave trade were laid before Parlia ment; and on the 2d of April, Mr. Wilberforce made a motion, supported by an able speech, for its im bediate suppression. After a protracted debate, Mr. Dundas rose, and, declaring bimself to be in favor of the ultimate extinction of the trade, pleaded for delay, insisting that the object aimed at by Mr. Wil. berforce would be secured with far greater ease and certainty by a gradual than by an immediate abohtion. Mr. Addington, the Speaker, followed him in the same strain. This called forth a reply from Mr. Pitt in the speech before us, being one of the ablest pieces of mingled argument and eloquence which he ever produced. He first took up the question of expediency, comparing the two schemes of gradual and diamediate abolition; and while he put down Mr. Dandas and Mr. Addington completely on every point, he showed admirable tact in so doing it, as to leave no room for mortified feeling or personal resentment He then proceeded to his main ground, that of right. "I now come to AFRICA! Why ought the slave trade to be abolished ? Because it is incurable injustice. How much stronger, then, is the argument for immediate than for gradual abolition!" On this topic he put forth all his strength, exposing, in tones of ety and indignant eloquence, the complicated enormities of a system which had made the shores of Africa for centuries a scene of cruelty and bloodshed, and brought infamy on the character of Christian na. tions engaged in this guilty traffic. Mr. Wilberforce says in his Journal, “Windham, who has no love for Pitt, tells me that Fox and Grey, with whom he walked home from this debate, agreed in thinking Pitt's speech one of the most extraordinary displays of eloquence they bad ever heard. For the last twenty minates he really seemed to be inspired.”—P. 111.

SPEECH, &c. ME. SPEAKER, -At this hour of the morning though it has produced a variety of new sugges. Sour o'clock), I am afraid, sir, I am too much tions, has, upon the whole, contracted

Ground par exhausted to enter so fully into the subject be- this question into a much narrower rowed by

the debate fore the committee as I could wish; but if my point than it was ever brought into be. bodily strength is in any degree equal to the task, fore. I feel so strongly the magnitude of this question, I can not say that I quite agree with the right that I am extremely earnest to deliver my senti. honorable gentleman over the way

All agree that ments, which I rise to do with more satisfaction, (Mr. Fox), for I am far from deplor- the trade mese because I now look forward to the issue of this ing all that has been said by my two be suppress business with considerable hope of success. honorable friends (Mr. Dundas and Mr. Adding.

The debate has this night taken a turn which, ton). I rather rejoice that they have now brought

« AnteriorContinuar »