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LORD CHATHAM'S SPEECH
IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS ON A MOTION MADE BY THE DUKE OF RICHMOND, ON THE 2d OF NOVEMBER 1770, CALLING ON THE MINISTRY FOR CERTAIN DOCUMENTS RESPECTING THE RELATIONS OF THE COUNTRY WITH THE COURT OF SPAIN.
FEW of the speeches of William Pitt, the elder, have been preserved. The whole of the sublime effusions which he poured out with such impetuous energy against the measures of the Walpole administration, were permitted to perish, by a strange insensibility to their value.
Diligent as our researches have been, we have not met with one speech of that, or even of a much later period, which we could consider as genuine. Those which were reported during the series of years alluded to, whatever may be their excellence, are indubitably spurious. It is now perfectly well ascertained that they were composed by Guthrie, Johnson, and Hawkesworth, who, in succession, conducted the history of the proceedings of parliament; sometimes from imperfect notes, casually supplied, but more frequently without any further clue than the mere knowledge of the subject of debate, and a general outline of the course pursued by the different speakers. It is, indeed, related, with sufficient probability, that it became a matter of reproach with Johnson in the decline of his life, that he should have practised such an imposition on the world. The celebrated reply of Pitt to Walpole, we know, on the authority of that great man, was written by him in the obscurity of a garret, while depressed by the gloom
of poverty, and haunted by all the spectres of a dedesolate condition.
Anteriour to the year 1770, we can confidently pronounce that there is no faithful record of Chatham's eloquence. After this time, a very small number of his speeches were accurately reported by a friend. Of these the greater part will be found in our selection. We commence with a speech delivered in support of a motion made by the duke of Richmond on the 22d of November, 1770; "To present an address to his majesty, requesting that he would be graciously pleased to give orders, that there be laid before the House copies or extracts of all letters and papers received by the ministry, between the 12th of September 1769 and the 12th of September 1770, containing any intelligence of hostilities commenced, or intended to be commenced, by the court of Spain, or any of their officers, against any of his majesty's dominions, and the times at which such intelligence was received."
This motion was in consequence of the seizure of the Falkland islands by the Spaniards, intelligence of which had recently been received in England.
For two centuries subsequently to the discovery of these islands, no one of the European powers attempted to colonize, or even to lay an exclusive claim to them. They held forth very slight inducements either to commercial enterprise or political ambition, and were therefore neglected.
But the British government conceiving at length that they presented some advantages as a naval post, sent out a small force and took possession of the most valuable of them in the year 1764. Nearly about the same time, France made a similar settlement on another of the islands. These establishments were viewed with extreme jealousy and dissatisfaction by the court of Madrid, who addressed to each of the two powers an urgent remonstrance, complaining of a violent and unjust encroachment on her dominions. With France the representation produced the desired effect. But with England it was unavailing. The
right of Spain to the islands she peremptorily denied, and set up for herself the title of prior discovery.
The discussion here terminated, and the English retained possession of the island undisturbed, till towards the close of the year 1769, when a Spanish squadron of considerable strength, despatched by the governour of the province of Buenos Ayres, unexpectedly appeared before Port Egmont, the British post, and demanded its surrender; which, being incapable of resistance, accordingly capitulated. To prevent the early communication of the intelligence of the outrage, the ship of the English commander, a national vessel, was seized, and her rudder removed and detained on shore for twenty days.
As soon as these proceedings were known in England, the whole nation were exasperated beyond measure, and evinced an unexampled eagerness to avenge the national honour thus daringly insulted.
But the ministry instead of listening to the suggestions of the feverish irritation of the moment, which called for a prompt declaration of war, more prudently opened a negotiation on the subject; but lest it might fail to procure redress, prepared, during its pendency, to sustain with vigour, the dignity of the country.
The conditions of reparation required by Great Britain were, the immediate restitution of the island and the disavowal of the conduct of the governour of Buenos Ayres. These, after some delay, being granted, with certain qualifications, by the court of Madrid, the peace of the two countries was maintained.
I RISE to give my hearty assent to the motion made by the noble duke. By his grace's favour, I have been permitted to see it, before it was offered to the house. I have fully considered the necessity of obtaining from the king's servants a communication of the papers described in the motion,
and I am persuaded that the alarming state of facts, as well as the strength of reasoning, with which the noble duke has urged, and enforced that necessity, must have been powerfully felt by your lordships. What I mean to say upon this occasion, may seem perhaps to extend beyond the limits of the motion before us. But I flatter myself, my lords, that if I am honoured with your attention, it will appear that the meaning and object of this question are naturally connected with considerations of the most extensive national importance. For entering into such considerations no season is improper; no occasion should be neglected. Something must be done, my lords, and immediately, to save an injured, insulted, undone country. If not to save the state, my lords, at least to mark out, and drag to publick justice those servants of the crown, by whose ignorance, neglect, or treachery, this once great flourishing people are reduced to a condition as deplorable at home, as it is despicable abroad. Examples are wanted, my lords, and should be given to the world, for the instruction of future times, even though they be useless to our selves. I do not mean, my lords, nor is it intended by the motion, to impede, or embarrass a negotiation, which we have been told is now in a prosperous train, and promises a happy conclusion.*
I perfectly agree with the noble lord. not mean to refer to any thing said by his lordship. He expressed himself, as he always does, with moderation and reserve, and with the greatest propriety. It was another noble lord, very high in office, who told us he understood that the negotiation was in a favourable train.+
* Lord Weymouth. I beg pardon for interrupting the noble lord; but I think it necessary to remark to your lordships, that I have not said a single word tending to convey to your lordships any information, or opinion, with regard to the state, or progress of the negotiation. I did, with the utmost caution, avoid giving to your lordships the least intimation upon that matter.
† Earl of Hillsborough. I did not make use of the word train. I know the meaning of the word too well. In the
This is the second time that I have been interrupted. I submit it to your lordships whether this be fair and candid treatment. I am sure it is contrary to the orders of the house, and a gross violation of decency and politeness. I listen to every noble lord in this house with attention and respect. The noble lord's design in interrupting me, is as mean and unworthy, as the manner in which he has done it is irregular and disorderly. He flatters himself that by breaking the thread of my discourse, he shall confuse me in my argument. But, my lords, I will not submit to this treatment. I will not be interrupted. When I have concluded, let him answer me if he can. As to the word which he has denied, I still affirm that it was the word he made use of; but if he had used any other, I am sure every noble lord will agree with me, that his meaning was exactly what I have expressed it. Whether he said course or train is indifferent. He told your lordships that the negotiation was in a way that promised a happy and honourable conclusion. His distinctions are mean, frivolous, and puerile. My lords, I do not understand the exalted tone assumed by that noble lord. In the distress and weakness of this country, my lords, and conscious as the ministry ought to be how much they have contributed to that distress and weakness, I think a tone of modesty, of submission, of humility, would become them better; quædam causa modestiam desiderant. Before this country they stand as the greatest criminals. Such I shall prove them to be; for I do not doubt of proving, to your lordships' satisfaction, that since they have been intrusted with the conduct of the king's affairs they have done every thing that they ought not to have done, and hardly any thing that they ought to have done. The noble lord talks of Spanish punctilios in the lofty style and idiom of a Spaniard. We are to be wonderfully tender of the
language from which it was derived, it signifies protraction and delay, which I could never mean to apply to the present negotiation.