« AnteriorContinuar »
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 worse 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 its 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 disclosed 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 make 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, January 22d, 1800, having held the office of Prime Minister between 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 for 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, June 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 majestic declamation."
Mr. Addington had a timidity and inertness which wholly unfitted him for carrying 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 coalition 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 secular concerns with perfect calmness, and died at a quarter past four, Thursday morning, 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 and comprehensive 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. nize 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 were 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 char. acter, which will form an appropriate conclusion to this memoir.
“ The character of this illustrious statesman early passed its ordeal. Scarcely 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 wisdom. Dignity—strength_discretion—these were among the masterly qualities of his mind at its first dawn. He had been nurtured a statesman, and his knowledge 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. Its 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 but 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 on 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 argument. 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 himself in silence for that higher destination, which is at once the incentive and reward of human virtue. His talents, superior and splendid as they were, never made him forgetful of that Eternal Wisdom from which they emanated. The faith and fortitude of his last moments were affecting and exemplary.”
SPEECH OF MR. PITT ON THE ABOLITION OF THE SLAVE TRADE, DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF COM.
MONS, APRIL 2, 1792.
INTRODUCTION. NUMEROUS petitions for the abolition of the African slave trade were presented to Parliament at the session of 1787–8. On the 9th of May, 1788, Mr. Pitt, acting for Mr. Wilberforce, who was confined by illness, moved 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 revolution in St. Domingo, and the insurrection in Dominica, furnished plausible arguments to alarm the timid; the speedy depopulation 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. Dundas, 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 every 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 exhibition of the unparalleled atrocities of the traffic, as then 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 mediate suppression. After a protracted debate, Mr. Dandas rose, and, declaring himself 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 abolition. 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 immediate abolition ; and while he put down Mr. Dundas 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 inmediate than for gradual abolition !" On this topic he put forth all his strength, exposing, in tones of lofty and indignant eloquence, the complicated enormitics 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 had ever heard. For the last twenty minates he really seemed to be inspired.”—P. 111.
SPEECH, &c. MR. SPEAKER, -At this hour of the morning though it has produced a variety of new sugges. [four o'clock), I am afraid, sir, I am too much tions, has, upon the whole, contracted exhausted to enter so fully into the subject be- this question into a much narrower rowed by 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 must because I now look forward to the issue of this ing all that has been said by my two be suppressed. 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
be entori ed?
this subject to a fair issue ; that something, at I ly by them. If they can show that their propoleast, is already gained, and that the question has sition of a gradual abolition is more likely than taken altogether a new course this night. It is ours to secure the object which we have in view; true, a diference of opinion has been stated, and that by proceeding gradually we shall arrive has been urged with all the force of argument more speedily at our end, and attain it with more that could be given to it. But permit me to say certainty, than by a direct vote immediately to that this difference has been urged upon princi- abolish ; if they can show to the satisfaction both ples very far removed from those which were of myself and the committee, that our proposi. maintained by the opponents of my honorable tion has more the appearance of a speedy abolifriend (Mr. Wilberforce), when he first brought tion than the reality of it, undoubtedly they will forward his motion. There are very few of in this case make a convert of me, and my honthose who have spoken this night, who have not orable friend who moved the question. They thought it their duty to declare their full and will make a convert of every man among us entire concurrence with my honorable friend in who looks to this (which I trust we all do) as a promoting the abolition of the slave trade as question not to be determined by theoretical prin. their ultimate object. However we may differ ciples or enthusiastic feelings, but considers the as to the time and manner of it, we are agreed practicability of the measure, aiming simply to in the abolition itself; and my honorable friends effect his object in the shortest time, and in the have expressed their agreement in this sentiment surest possible manner. If, however, I shall be with that sensibility upon the subject, which hu- able to show that our measure proceeds more manity does most undoubtedly require. I do not, directly to its object, and secures it with more however, think they yet perceive what are the certainty, and within a less distant period ; and necessary consequences of their own concession, that the slave trade will on our plan be abolishor follow up their own principles to their just ed sooner than on theirs, may I not then hope conclusion.
that my right honorable friends will be as ready The point now in dispute between us is a dif- to adopt our proposition, as we should in the The present ference merely as to the period of time other case be willing to accede to theirs ? guestioane at which the abolition of the slave trade One of my right honorable friends has stated of tíne. ought to take place. I therefore con- that an act passed here for the aboligratulate this House, the country, and the world, tion of the slave trade would not se- ingar: Can that this great point is gained. That we may cure its abolition. Now, sir, I should abolition be now consider this trade as having received its be glad to know why an act of the e condemnation ; that its sentence is sealed; that British Legislature, enforced by all those sanc. this curse of mankind is seen by the House in its tions which we have undoubtedly the power and true light; and that the greatest stigma on our the right to apply, is not to be effectual; at least, national character which ever yet existed is as to every material purpose? Will not the exabout to be removed; and, sir, which is still more ecutive power have the same appointment of the important, that mankind, I trust, in general, are officers and the courts of judicature, by which now likely to be delivered from the greatest prac- all the causes relating to this subject must be tical evil that has ever afflicted the human race; tried, that it has in other cases? Will there not from the severest and most extensive calamity be the same system of law by which we now recorded in the history of the world!
maintain a monopoly of commerce? If the same In proceeding to give my reasons for concur- law, sir, be applied to the prohibition of the laws Ground of ring with my honorable friend (Mr. Wil the slave trade which is applied in the prece
ly strong discussion. berforce] in his motion, I shall necessa- case of other contraband commerce, enougu. rily advert to those topics which my honorable with all the same means of the country to back friends near me (Dundas and Addington have it, I am at a loss to know why the actual and touched upon, and which they stated to be their total abolition is not as likely to be effected in motives for preferring a gradual, and, in some this way, as by any plan or project of my hondegree, a distant abolition of the slave trade, to orable friends, for bringing about a gradual terthe more immediate and direct measure now mination of it. But my observation is extreme. proposed to you. Beginning as I do, with de- ly fortified by what fell from my honorable friend claring that, in this respect, I differ completely who spoke last. He has told you, sir, that if you from my right honorable friends near me, I do ? It is hardly necessary to remark how soon Mr. not, however, mean to say that I differ as to one Pitt enters (as in these three sentences) on one of observation which has been pressed rather strong those amplifications by which he was accustomed
to enforce his thoughts, presenting them in detail ' It is one characteristic of Mr. Pitt to open a dis- | under different aspects upon which the mind might cussion by some striking remark of this kind-some dwell. difference between him and a preceding speaker, Mr. Pitt was much accustomed to argue, as in some distinction, &c., &c. which gives bim an op- these four sentences, by erhaustion-by taking all portunity to state his ground with great clearness, the suppositions belonging to the case, and dedocand to place the question on its true footing. This ing the result. The turn which he next gives to throws a light forward upon the entire course he the argument, by making Mr. Addington testify has to traverse, and conduces greatly to that lumin- against himself, is an instance of the extraordinary ous exposition of a subject for which he was so sagacity for which he was distinguished in sisting much celebrated.
| the arguments of others.