May 5 1815: Irate Wellington

On May 5 1815, Duke of Wellington writes to his brother the Right Hon. W. Wellesley Pole. Wellington is upset about speeches in Parliament criticizing the declaration made at the Congress of Vienna against Napoleon, that seemed to countenance Napoleon’s assassination.

‘My Dear William, ‘I have received your letter of the 30th. The mode of attacking a servant of the public absent on the public service, day after day in speeches in Parliament, which has latelybeen adopted by , appears to me most extraordinary and unprecedented.

If I have done any thing wrong or unbecoming my own character, or that of the station I filled, I ought to be prosecuted, or at least censured for it, in consequence of a specified motion on the subject; but it is not fair to give to the act of any individual a construction it will not fairly bear, a construction which no man breathing believes it was intended to bear; and to charge him home with being an assassin day after day in speeches, and never in form.

I say, first, that the declaration has never been accurately translated; and the meaning of the words vindicte pnblique is not ” public vengeance,” but ” public justice.” But, if even the meaning was “public vengeance,” the declaration does not deliver Buonaparte over to the dagger of the assassin. When did the dagger of the assassin execute the vengeance of the public?

In regard to his being declared ” hors la loi;” first it must be recollected at what period and under what circumstances he was so declared. The period was the 13th of March; and, although we knew Buonaparte had landed and had made progress in France sufficient to create a contest there, we were not aware that he could be established without firing a shot. The object then of this part of the publication was to strengthen the hands of the King of France by the opinion of the Congress.

Secondly, was he not ” hors la loi ?9 and had he or not broken all the ties which connected him with the world? The only treaty by which he was connected with the world was that of Fontainebleau: that he broke. Having quitted his asylum, he landed in France with such a force as showed that he relied solely upon treachery and rebellion, not only for success, but for safety. He incurred all risks in order to gain the greatest prize in Europe, one which he had abandoned only ten months before under a treaty with the allied Powers; and is it possible that it can be gravely asserted that Buonaparte, an individual like any other, should have been guilty by this act of only a breach of treaty? If he was guilty of more, of which there can be no doubt, it was of the crime of rebellion and treason, with a view to usurp the sovereign authority of France; a crime which has always been deemed ” hors de la loi” so far as this, that all sovereigns have in all times called upon their subjects to raise their arms to protect them from him who was guilty of it. The declaration does no more. This is my reasoning upon the subject. I am perfectly satisfied with what you said on the night of the 28th of April; but I only hope that may not go off with the notion that I acted without reflection upon this occasion.

I never knew any paper so discussed as the declaration was; and I believe there never was a public paper so successful, particularly in Italy and France.

I have nothing to tell you from hence which you will not see in my dispatches and letters.
‘Ever yours most affectionately, ‘The Right Hon. ‘Wellington.

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