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AGAINST A MOTION FOR ADJOURNING PARLIAMENT.
DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS.
DECEMBER 11, 1777.
ONE of the ministry having moved that the Parliament do adjourn for the space of six weeks, Lord Chatham opposed the motion in the following speech, in which he dwelt on the dangerous condition of the country, as demanding the immediate attention of Parliament.
IT is not with less grief than astonishment I hear the motion now made by the noble Earl, at a time when the affairs of this country present on every side prospects full of awe, terror, and impending danger; when, I will be bold to say, events of a most alarming tendency, little expected or foreseen, will shortly happen; when a cloud that may crush this nation, and bury it in destruction forever, is ready to burst and overwhelm us in ruin. At so tremendous a season, it does not become your Lordships, the great hereditary council of the nation, to neglect your duty, to retire to your country seats for six weeks, in quest of joy and merriment, while the real state of public affairs calls for grief, mourning, and lamentation--at least, for the fullest exertions of your wisdom. It is your duty, my Lords, as the grand hereditary council of the nation, to advise your sovereign, to be the protectors of your country, to feel your own weight and authority. As hereditary counselors, as members of this House, you stand between the Crown and the people. You are nearer the Throne than the other branch of the Legislature; it is your duty to surround and protect, to counsel and supplicate it. You hold the balance. Your duty is to see that the weights are properly poised, that the balance remains even, that neither may encroach on the other, and that the executive power may be prevented, by an unconstitutional exertion of even constitutional authority, from bringing the nation to destruction.
My Lords, I fear we are arrived at the very brink of that state, and I am persuaded that nothing short of a spirited interposition on your part, in giving speedy and wholesome advice to your sovereign, can prevent the people from feeling beyond remedy the full effects of that ruin which ministers have brought upon us. These calamitous circumstances ministers have been the cause of; and shall we, in such a state of things, when every moment teems with events productive of the most fatal narratives, shall we trust, during an adjournment of six weeks, to those men who have brought those calamities upon us, when, perhaps, our utter overthrow is plotting, nay, ripe for execution, without almost a possibility of prevention? Ten thousand brave men have fallen victims to ignorance and rashness.1 The only army you have in America may, by this time, be no more. This very nation remains no longer safe than its enemies think proper to permit. I do not augur ill. Events of a most critical nature may take place before our next meeting. Will your Lordships, then, in such a state of things, trust to the guidance of men who in every step of this cruel, wicked war, from the very beginning, have proved themselves weak, ignorant, and mistaken? I will not say, my Lords, nor do I mean any thing personal, or that they have brought premeditated ruin on this country. I will not suppose that they foresaw what has since happened, but I do contend, my Lords, that their want of wisdom, their incapacity, their temerity in depending on their own judgment, or their base compliances with the orders and dictates of others, perhaps caused by the influence of one or two individuals, have rendered them totally unworthy of your Lordships' confidence, of the confidence of Parliament, and those whose rights they are the constitutional guardians of, the people at large. A remonstrance, my Lords, should be carried to the Throne. The King has been deluded by his ministers. They have been imposed on by false information, or have, from motives best known to themselves, given apparent credit to what they have been convinced in their hearts was untrue. The nation has been betrayed into the ruinous measure of an American war by the arts of imposition, by their own credulity, through the means of false hopes, false pride, and promised advantages, of the most romantic and improbable nature.
My Lords, I do not wish to call your attention entirely to that point. I would fairly appeal to your own sentiments whether I can be justly charged with arrogance or presumption if I say, great and able as ministers think thernselves, that all the wisdom of the nation is not confined to the narrow circle of their petty cabinet. I might, I think, without presumption, say, that your Lordships, as one of the branches of the Legislature, may be supposed as capable of advising your sovereign, in the moment of difficulty and danger, as any lesser council, composed of a fewer number, and who, being already so fatally trusted, have betrayed a want of honesty or a want of talents. Is it, my Lords, within the utmost stretch of the most sanguine expectation, that the same men who have plunged you into your present perilous and calamitous situation are the proper persons to rescue you from it? No, my Lords, such an expectation would be preposterous and absurd. I say, my Lords, you are now specially called upon to interpose. It is your duty to forego every call of business and pleasure, to give up your whole time to inquire into past misconduct; to provide remedies for the present; to prevent future evils; to rest on your arms, if I may use the expression, to watch for the public safety; to defend and support the Throne, and, if Fate should so ordain it, to fall with becoming fortitude, with the rest of your fellow-subjects, in the general ruin. I fear this last must be the event of this mad, unjust, and cruel war. It is your Lordships' duty to do every thing in your power that it shall not; but, if it must be so, I trust your Lordships and the nation will fall gloriously.
My Lords, as the first and most immediate object of your inquiry, I would recommend to you to consider the true state of our home defense. We have heard much from a noble Lord in this House of the state of our navy. I can not give an implicit belief to all I have heard on that important subject. I still retain my former opinion relative to the number of line of battle ships; but as an inquiry into the real state of the navy is destined to be the subject of future consideration, I do not wish to hear any more about it till that period arrives. I allow, in argument, that we have thirty-five ships of the line fit for actual service. I doubt much whether such a force would give us full command of the Channel. I am certain, if it did, every other part of our possessions must lie naked and defenseless, in every quarter of the globe.
I fear our utter destruction is at hand.2 What, my Lords, is the state of our military defense? I would not wish to expose our present weakness; but, weak as we are, if this war should be continued, as the public declaration of persons in high confidence with their sovereign would induce us to suppose, is this nation to be entirely stripped? And if it should, would every soldier now in Britain be sufficient to give us an equality to the force of America? I will maintain they would not. Where, then, will men be procured? Recruits are not to be had in this country. Germany will give no more. I have read in the newspapers of this day, and I have reason to believe it true, that the head of the Germanic body has remonstrated against it, and has taken measures accordingly to prevent it. Ministers have, I hear, applied to the Swiss Cantons. The idea is preposterous. The Swiss never permit their troops to go beyond sea. But, my Lords, even if men were to be procured in Germany, how will you march them to the water side? Have not our ministers applied for the port of Embden, and has it not been refused? I say, you will not be able to procure men even for your home defense, if some immediate steps be not taken. I remember, during the last war, it was thought advisable to levy independent companies. They were, when completed, formed into two battalions, and proved of great service. I love the army. I know its use. But I must nevertheless own that I was a great friend to the measure of establishing a national militia. I remember, the last war, that there were three camps formed of that corps at once in this kingdom. I saw them.myself--one at Winchester, another in the west, at Plymouth, and a third, if I recollect right, at Chatham. Whether the militia is at present in such a state as to answer the valuable purposes it did then, or is capable of being rendered so, I will not pretend to say; but I see no reason why, in such a critical state of affairs, the experiment should not be made, and why it may not be put again on the former respectable footing.3 I remember, all circumstances considered, when appearances were not near so melancholy and alarming as they are, that there were more troops in the county of Kent alone, for the defense of the kingdom, than there are now in the whole island.
My Lords, I contend that we have not, nor can procure any force sufficient to subdue America. It is monstrous to think of it. There are several noble Lords present, well acquainted with military affairs. I call upon any one of them to rise and pledge himself that the military force now within the kingdom is adequate to its defense, or that any possible force to be procured from Germany, Switzerland, or elsewhere, will be equal to the conquest of America. I am too perfectly persuaded of their abilities and integrity to expect any such assistance from them. Oh! but if America is not to be conquered, she may be treated with. Conciliation is at length thought of. Terms are to be offered. Who are the persons that are to treat on the part of this afflicted and deluded country? The very men who have been the authors of our misfortunes. The very men who have endeavored, by the most pernicious policy, the highest injustice and oppression, the most cruel and devastating war, to enslave those people they would conciliate, to gain the confidence and affection of those who have survived the Indian tomahawk and German bayonet. Can your Lordships entertain the most distant prospect of success from such a treaty and such negotiations? No, my Lords, the Americans have virtue, and they must detest the principles of such men. They have understanding, and too much wisdom to trust to the cunning and narrow politics which must cause such overtures on the part of their merciless persecutors. My Lords, I maintain that they would shun, with a mixture of prudence and detestation, any proposition coming from that quarter. They would receive terms from such men as snares to allure and betray. They would dread them as ropes meant to be put about their legs, in order to entangle and overthrow them in certain ruin. My Lords, supposing that our domestic danger, if at all, is far distant; that our enemies will leave us at liberty to prosecute this war to the utmost of our ability; suppose your Lordships should grant a fleet one day, an army another; all these, I do affirm, will avail nothing, unless you accompany it with advice. Ministers have been in error; experience has proved it; and, what is worse, they continue it. They told you, in the beginning, that 15,000 men would traverse all America, without scarcely an appearance of interruption. Two campaigns have passed since they gave us this assurance. Treble that number have been employed; and one of your armies, which composed two thirds of the force by which America was to be subdued, has been totally destroyed, and is now led captive through those provinces you call rebellious. Those men whom you called cowards, poltroons, runaways, and knaves, are become victorious over your veteran troops; and, in the midst of victory, and the flush of conquest, have set ministers an example of moderation and magnanimity well worthy of imitation.
My Lords, no time should be lost which may promise to improve this disposition in America, unless, by an obstinacy founded in madness, we wish to stifle those embers of affection which, after all our savage treatment, do not seem, as yet, to have been entirely extinguished. While on one side we must lament the unhappy fate of that spirited officer, Mr. Burgoyne, and the gallant troops under his command, who were sacrificed to the wanton temerity and ignorance of ministers, we are as strongly compelled, on the other, to admire and applaud the generous, magnanimous conduct, the noble friendship, brotherly affection, and humanity of the victors, who, condescending to impute the horrid orders of massacre and devastation to their true authors, supposed that, as soldiers and Englishmen, those cruel excesses could not have originated with the general, nor were consonant to the brave and humane spirit of a British soldier, if not compelled to it as an act of duty. They traced the first cause of those diabolic orders to their true source; and, by that wise and generous interpretation, granted their professed destroyers terms of capitulation which they could be only entitled to as the makers of fair and honorable war.
My Lords, I should not have presumed to trouble you, if the tremendous state of this nation did not, in my opinion, make it necessary. Such as I have this day described it to be, I do maintain it is. The same measures are still persisted in; and ministers, because your Lordships have been deluded, deceived, and misled, presume that, whenever the worst comes, they will be enabled to shelter themselves behind Parliament. This, my Lords, can not be the case. They have committed themselves and their measures to the fate of war, and they must abide the issue. I tremble for this country. I am almost led to despair that we shall ever be able to extricate ourselves. At any rate, the day of retribution is at hand, when the vengeance of much-injured and afflicted people will, I trust, fall heavily on the authors of their ruin; and I am strongly inclined to believe, that before the day to which the proposed adjournment shall arrive, the noble earl who moved it will have just cause to repent of his motion.
This appeal was unavailing. The motion to adjourn was carried by a vote of 47 to 18.
1. This refers to the surrender of Burgoyne's army, which took place October 17th, 1777.
2. Here, and in many other parts of his speech, his Lordship broadly hinted that the house of Bourbon was meditating some important and decisive blow near home.
3. This was afterward done.
*Scanned for Classicpersuasion.org from the first edition of Select British Eloquence, edited with notes by Chauncey A. Goodrich (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1852)
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