May 25 1815: Henry Grattan Against Napoleon

On May 25 1815, Henry Grattan gives a speech in the House of Commons against Napoleon.

Sir, I sincerely sympathise with the honourable gentleman who spoke last in his anxiety on this important question; and my solicitude is increased by a knowledge that I differ in opinion from my oldest political friends. I have further to contend against the additional weight given to the arguments of the noble lord who moved the amendment, by the purity of his mind, the soundness of his judgment, and the elevation of his rank. I agree with my honourable friends in thinking that we ought not to impose a government upon France. I agree with them in deprecating the evil of war; but I deprecate still more the double evil of a peace without securities, and a war without allies. Sir, I wish it was a question between peace and war; but, unfortunately for the country, very painfully to us, and most injuriously to all ranks of men, peace is not in our option; and the real question is, whether we shall go to war when our allies are assembled, or fight the battle when those allies shall be dissipated?

Sir, the French government is war; it is a stratocracy, elective, aggressive, and predatory; her armies live to fight, and fight to live; their constitution is essentially war, and the object of that war the conquest of Europe. What such a person as Buonaparte at the head of such a constitution will do, you may judge by what he has done 5 and, first, he took possession of the greater part of Europe; he made his son King of Rome; he made his son in-law Viceroy of Italy; he made his brother King of Holland; he made his brother-in-law King of Naples; he imprisoned the King ot Spain; he banished the Regent of Portugal, and formed his plan to take possession of the crown of England. England had checked his designs; her trident had stirred up his empire from its foundation; he complained of her tyranny at sea; but it was her power at sea which arrested his tyranny on land—the navy of England saved Europe. Knowing this, he knew the conquest of England became necessary for the accomplishment of the conquest of Europe, and the destruction of her marine necessary for the conquest of England. Accordingly, besides raising an army of 60,000 men for the invasion of England, he applied himself to the destruction of her commerce, the foundation of her naval power. In pursuit of this object, and on his plan of a western empire, he conceived, and in part executed, the design of consigning to plunder and destruction the vast regions of Russia; he quits the genial clime of the temperatezone; he bursts through the narrow limits of an immense empire; he abandons comfort and security, and he hurries to the pole, to hazard them all, and with them the companions of his victories, and the fame and fruits of his crimes and his talents, on speculation of leaving in Europe, throughout the whole of its extent, no one free or independent nation. To oppose this huge conception of mischief and despotism, the great potentate of the north, from his gloomy recesses advances to defend himself against the voracity of ambition amid the sterility of his empire. Ambition is omnivorous—it feasts on famine and sheds tons of blood, that it may starve in ice, in order to commit a robbery on desolation. The power of the north, I say, joins another prince, whom Buonaparte had deprived of almost the whole of his authority, the King of Frussia, and then another potentate, whom Buonaparte had deprived of the principal part of his dominions, the Emperor of Austria. These three powers, physical causes, final justice, the influence of your victories in Spain and Portugal, and the spirit given to Europe by the achievements and renown of your great commander [the Duke of Wellington], together with the precipitation of his own ambition, combine to accomplish his destruction. Buonaparte is conquered. He who said: “I will be like the Most High”: he who smote the nations with a continual stroke—this short-lived son of the morning, Lucifer, falls, and the Earth is at rest; the phantom of royalty passes on to nothing, and the three kings to the gates of Paris; there they stand, the late victims of his ambition, and now the disposers of his destiny and the masters of his empire; without provocation he had gone to their countries with fire and sword; with the greatest provocation they come to his country with life and liberty; they do an act unparallelled in the annals of history, such as nor envy, nor time, nor malice, nor prejudice, nor ingratitude can efface; they give to his subjects liberty, and to himself life and royalty. This is greater than conquest! The present race must confess their virtues, and ages to come must crown their monuments, and place them above heroes and kings in glory everlasting.

When Buonaparte states the conditions of the treaty of Fontainebleau are not performed, he forgets one of them, namely, the condition by which he lives. It is very true there was a mixture of policy and prudence in this measure; but it was a great act of magnanimity notwithstanding, and it is not in Providence to turn such an act to your disadvantage. With respect to the other act, the mercy shown to his people, I have underrated it; the allies did not give liberty to France, they enabled her to give a constitution to herself, a better constitution than that which, with much laboriousness and circumspection, and deliberation, and procrastination, the philosophers fabricated, when the Jacobins trampled down the flimsy work, murdered the vain philosophers, drove out the crazy reformers, and remained masters of the field in the triumph of superior anarchy and confusion; better than that, I say, which the Jacobin destroyed, better than that which he afterwards formed, with some method in his madness, and more madness in his method; with such a horror of power, that in his plan of a constitution he left out a government, and with so many wheels that everything was in movement and nothing in concert, so that the machine took fire from its own velocity in the midst of death and mirth, with images emblematic of the public disorder, goddesses of reason turned fool, and of liberty turned fury. At length the French found their advantage in adopting the sober and unaffected security of King, Lords, and Commons, on the idea of that formof government which your ancestors procured by their firmness, and maintained by their discretion. The people had attempted to give the French liberty, and had failed; the wise men (so her philosophers called themselves) had attempted to give liberty to France, and had failed; it remained for the extraordinary destiny of the French to receive their free constitution from kings. This constitution Buonaparte has destroyed, together with the treaty of Fontainebleau, and having broken both, desires your confidence; Russia confided, and was deceived; Austria confided, and was deceived. Have we forgotten the treaty of Luneville, and his abominable conduct to the Swiss? Spain and other nations of Europe confided, and all were deceived. During the whole of this time he was charging on England the continuation of the war, while he was, with uniform and universal perfidy, breaking his own treaties of peace for the purpose of renewing the war, to end it in what was worse than war itself—his conquest of Europe. But now he repents and will be faithful! he says so, but he says the contrary also: “I protest against the validity of the treaty of Fontainebleau; it was not done with the consent of the people; I protest against everything done in my absence; see my speech to the army and people; see the speech of my council to me”. The treaty of Paris was done in his absence; by that treaty were returned the French colonies and prisoners: thus he takes life and empire from the treaty of Fontainebleau, with an original design to set it aside, and he takes prisoners and colonies from the treaty of Paris, which he afterwards sets aside also; and he musters an army, by a singular fatality, in a great measure composed of troops who owe their enlargement, and of a chief who owes his life, to the powers he fights, by the resources of France, who owes to those powers her salvation. He gives a reason for this: “Nothing is good which was done without the consent of the people” (having been deposed by that people, and elected by the army in their defiance). With such sentiments, which go not so much against this or that particular treaty as against the principles of affiance, the question is, whether, with a view to the security of Europe, you will take the faith of Napoleon, or the army of your allies.

Gentlemen maintain, that we are not equal to the contest; that is to say, confederated Europe cannot fight France single-handed; if that be your opinion, you are conquered this moment; you are conquered in spirit: but that is not your opinion, nor was it the opinion of your ancestors; they thought, and I hope transmitted the sentiment as your birth-right, that the armies of these islands could always fight, and fight with success their own numbers; see now the numbers you are to command; by this treaty you are to have in the field what may be reckoned not less than 600,000 men; besides that stipulated army you have at command, what may be reckoned as much more, I say you and the allies. The Emperor of Austria alone has an army of 500,000 men, of which 120,000 were sent to Italy to oppose Murat, who is now beaten; Austria is not then occupied by Murat; Prussia isnot occupied by theSaxon, nor Russiaby the Pole, at least not so occupied that they have not ample and redundant forces for this war; you have a general never surpassed, and allies in heart and confidence. See now Buonaparte’s muster; he has lost his external dominions, and is reduced from a population of 100,000,000, to a population of25,000,000; besides, he has lost the power of fascination, for though he may be called the subverter of kings, he has not proved to be theredresserof grievances. Switzerland has notforgotten, all Europe remembers the nature of his reformation, and that the best reform he introduced was worse than the worst government he subverted; as little can Spain or Prussia forget what was worse even than his reformations, the march of his armies: it was not an army; it was a military government in march, like the Roman legions in Rome’s worst time, Italica or Rapax, responsible to nothing, nor God, nor man. Thus he has administered a cure to his partisans for any enthusiam that might have been annexed to his name, and is now reduced to his resources at home; it is at home that he must feed his armies and find his strength, and at home he wants artillery, he wants cavalry; he has no money, he has *o «redit, he has no title. With respect to his actual numbers, they are not ascertained, but it may be collected that they bear no proportion to those of the allies.

But gentlemen presume that the French nation will rise in his favour as soon as we enter their country; we entered their country before, and they did not rise in his favour; on the contrary they deposed him; the article of deposition is given at length. It is said we endeavour to impose a government on France; the French armies elect a conqueror for Europe, and our resistance to this conqueror is called imposing a government on France; if we put down this chief, we relieve France as well as Europe from a foreign yoke, and this deliverance is called the imposition of a government on France. He—he imposed a government on France; he imposed a foreign yoke on France; he took from the French their property by contribution; he took their children by conscription; ho lost her empire, and, a thing almost unimaginable, he brought the enemy to the gates of Paris. We, on the contrary, formed a project, as appears from a paper of 1805, which preserved the integrity of the French empire; the allies, in 1814, not only preserved the integrity of the empire as it stood in 1792, but gave her her liberty, and they now afford her the only chance of redemption. Against these allies, will France now combine, and having received from them her empire as it stood before the war, with additions in consequence of their deposition of Buonaparte, and having gotten back her capital, her colonies, and her prisoners, will she break the treaty to which she owes them; rise up against the allies who gave them; break her oath of allegiance; destroy the constitution she has formed; depose the King she has chosen; rise up against her own deliverance, in support of contribution and conscription, to perpetuate her political damnation under the yoke of a stranger?

Gentlemen say, France has elected him; they have no grounds for so saying: he had been repulsed at Antibes, and he lost thirty men; he landed near Cannes tho 1st of March, with 1100. With this force he proceeded to Grasse, Digne, Gap, and on the 7th he entered Grenoble; he there got from the desertion of regiments above 3,000 men and a park of artillery; with this additional force he proceeded to Lyons; he left Lyons with about 7,000 strong, and entered Paris on the 20th, with all the troops of the line that had been sent to oppose him; the following day he reviewed his troops; and nothing could equal the shouts of the army except the silence of the people. This was, in the strictest sense of the word, a military election: it was an act where the army deposed the civil government; it was the march of a military chief over a conquered people. The nation did not rise to resist Buonaparte or to defend Lewis, because the nation could not rise upon the army; her mind as well as her constitution was conquered; in fact, there was no nation; everything was army, and everything was conquest. France had passed through all the degrees of political probation, revolution, counter-revolution, wild democracy, intense despotism, outrageous anarchy, philosophy, vanity, and madness; and now she lay exhausted, for horse, foot, and dragoons to exercise her power, to appoint her a master—captain or cornet who should put the brand of his name upon her government, calling it his dynasty, and under this stamp of dishonour pass her on to futurity.

Buonaparte, it seems, is to reconcile everything by the gift of a free constitution. He took possession of Holland, he did not give her a free constitution; he took possession of Spain, he did not give her a free constitution; he took possession of Switzerland, whose independence he had guaranteed, he did not give her a free constitution; he took possession of Italy, he did not give her a free constitution; he took possession of France, he did not give her a free constitution; on the contrary, he destroyed the directorial constitution, he destroyed the consular constitution, and he destroyed the late constitution formed on the plan of England! But now he is, with the assistance of the Jacobins, to give her liberty; that is, the man who can bear no freedom, unites to form a constitution with a body who can bear no government! In the mean time, while he professes liberty, he exercises despotic power, he annihilates the nobles, he banishes the deputies of the people, and he sequesters the property of the emigrants. “Now he is to give liberty!” I have seen his constitution, as exhibited in the newspaper; there are faults innumerable in the frame of it, and more in the manner of accepting it: it is to be passed by subscription without discussion, the troops are to send deputies, and the army is to preside. There is some cunning, however, in making the subscribers to the constitution renounce the house of Bourbon; they are to give their word for the deposition of the king, and take Napoleon’s word for their own liberty; the offer imports nothing which can be relied on, except that he is afraid of the allies. Disperse the alliance, and farewell to the liberty of France and the safety of Europe.

Under this head of ability to combat Buonaparte, I think we should not despair.

With respect to the justice of the cause, we must observe, Buonaparte has broken the treaty of Fontainebleau; he confesses it; he declares he never considered himself as bound by it. If then that treaty is out of the way, he is as he was before it—at war. As Emperor of the French, he has broken the treaty of Paris; that treaty was founded on his abdication; when he proposes to observe the treaty of Paris, he proposes what he cannot do unless he abdicates.

The proposition that we should not interfere with the government of other nations is true, but true with qualifications; if the government of any other country contains an insurrectionary principle, as France did when she offered to aid the insurrections of her neighbours, your interference is warranted; if the government of another country contains the principle of universal empire, as France did, and promulgated, your interference is justifiable. Gentlemen may call this internal government, but I call this conspiracy; if the government of another country maintains a predatory army, such as Buonaparte’s, with a view to hostility and conquest, your interference is just. He may call this internal government, but I call this a preparation for war. No doubt he will accompany this with offers of peace, but such offers of peace are nothing more than one of the arts of war, attended, most assuredly, by charging on you the odium of a long and protracted contest, and with much common-place, and many good saws and sayings of the miseries of bloodshed, and the savings and good husbandry of peace, and the comforts of a quiet life; but if you listen to this, you will be much deceived; not only deceived, but you will be beaten. Again, if the government of another country covers more ground in Europe, and destroys the balance of power, so as to threaten the independence of other nations, this is a cause of your interference. Such was the principle upon which we acted in the best times; such was the principle of the grand alliance; such the triple alliance; and such the quadruple; and by such principles has Europe not only been regulated but protected. If a foreign government does any of those acts I have mentioned, we have a cause of war; but if a foreign power does all of them, forms a conspiracy for universal empire, keeps up an army for that purpose, employs that army to overturn the balance of power, and attempts the conquest of Europe—attempts, do I say? m a great degree achieves it (for what else was Buonaparte’s dominion before the battle of Leipsic), and then receives an overthrow, owes its deliverance to treaties which give that power its life, and these countries their security (for what did you get from France but security?); if this power, I say, avails itself of the conditions in the treaties which give it colonies, prisoners, and deliverance, and breaks those conditions which give you security, and resumes the same situation which renders this power capable of repeating the same atrocity, has England, or has she not, a right of war?

Having considered the two questions, that of ability, and that of right, and having shown that you are justified on either consideration to go to war, let me now suppose that you treat for peace; first, you will have a peace upon a war establishment, and then a war without your present allies. It is not certain that you will have any of them, but it is certain that you will not have the same combination while Buonaparte increases his power by confirmation of his title and by further preparation; so that you will have a bad peace and a bad war. Were I disposed to treat for peace, I would not agree to the amendment, because it disperses your allies and strengthens your enemy, and says to both, we will quit our alliance to confirm Napoleon on the throne of France, that he may hereafter more advantageously fight us, as he did before, for the throne of England.

Gentlemen set forth the pretensions of Buonaparte; gentlemen say, that he has given liberty to the press; he has given liberty to publication, to be afterwards tried and punished according to the present constitution of France—as a military chief pleases; that is to say, he has given liberty to the French to hang themselves. Gentlemen say, he has in his dominions abolished the slave trade; I am unwilling to deny him praise for such an act; but if we praise him for giving liberty to the African, let us not assist him in imposing slavery on the European. Gentlemen say, will you make war upon character? but the question is, will you trust a government without one? What will you do if you are conquered? say gentlemen. I answer, the very thing you must do if you treat; abandon the Low Countries. But the question is, in which case are you most likely to be conquered—with allies or without them? Either you must abandon the Low Countries, or you must preserve them by arms, for Buonaparte will not be withheld by treaty. If you abandon them, you will lose your situation on the globe, and instead of being a medium of communication and commerce between the new world and the old, you will become an anxious station between two fires—the continent of America, rendered hostile by the intrigues of France, and the continent of Europe, possessed by her arms. It then remains for you to determine, if you do not abandon the Low Countries, in what way you mean to defend them, alone or with allies.
Gentlemen complain of the allies, and say, they have partitioned such a country, and transferred such a country, and seized on such a country. What! will they quarrel with their ally, who has possessed himself of a part of Saxony, and shake hands with Buonaparte, who proposed to take possession of England? If a prince takes Venice, we are indignant; but if he seizes on a great part of Europe, stands covered with the blood of millions, and the spoils of half mankind, our indignation ceases; vice becomes gigantic, conquers the understanding, and mankind begin by wonder, and conclude by worship. The character of Buonaparte is admirably calculated for this effect; he invests himself with much theatrical grandeur; he is a great actor in the tragedy of his own government; the fire of his genius precipitates on universal empire, certain to destroy his neighbours or himself; better formed to acquire empire than to keep it, he is a hero and a calamity, formed to punish France, and to perplex Europe.
The authority of Mr. Fox has been alluded to; a great authority, and a great man; his name excites tenderness and wonder; to do justice to that immortal person, you must not limit your view to this country; his genius was not confined to England, it acted three hundred miles off in breaking the chains of Ireland; it was seen three thousand miles off in communicating freedom to the Americans; it was visible, I know not how far off, in ameliorating the condition of the Indian; it was discernible on the coast of Africa in accomplishing the abolition of the slave trade. You are to measure the magnitude of his mind by parallels of latitude. His heart was as soft as that of a woman; his intellect was adamant; his weaknesses were virtues; they protected him against the hard habit of a politician, and assisted nature to make him amiable and interesting. The question discussed by Mr. Fox in 1792, was, whether yon would treat with a revolutionary government? The present is, whether you will confirm a military and a hostile one? You will observe, that when Mr. Fox was willing to treat, the French, it was understood, were ready to evacuate the Low Countries. If you confirm the present government, you must expect to lose them. Mr. Fox objected tothe idea of driving France upon her resources, lest you should make her a military government. The question now is, whether you will make that military government perpetual? I therefore do not think the theory of Mr. Fox can be quoted against us; and the practice of Mr. Fox tends to establish our proposition, for he treated wit h Buonaparte and failed. Mr. Fox was tenacious of England, and would never yield an iota of her superiority; but the failure of the attempt to treat was to be found, not in Mr. Fox, but in Buonaparte.

On the French subject, speaking of authority, we cannot forget Mr. Burke. Mr. Burke, the prodigy of nature and acquisition. He read everything, he saw everything, he foresaw everything. His knowledge of history amounted to a power of foretelling; and when he perceived the wild work that was doing in France, that great political physician, intelligent of symptoms, distinguished between the access of fever and the force of health; and what other men conceived to be the vigour of her constitution, he knew to be no more than the paroxysm of her madness, and then, prophet-like, he pronounced the destinies of France, and, in his prophetic fury, admonished nations.
Gentlemen speak of the Bourbon family. I have already said, we should not force the Bourbon upon France; but we owe it to departed (I would rather say to interrupted) greatness, to observe, that the house of Bourbon was not tyrannical; under her, everything, except the administration of the country, was open to animadversion; every subject was open to discussion, philosophical, ecclesiastical, and political, so that learning, and arts, and sciences, made progress. Even England consented to borrow not a little from the temperate meridian of that government. Her court stood controlled by opinion, limited by principles of honour, and softened by the influence of manners: and, on the whole, there was an amenity in the condition of France, which rendered the French an amiable, an enlightened, a gallant, and an accomplished race. Over this gallant race you see imposed an oriental despotism. Their present court (Buonaparte’s court) has gotten the idiom of the East as well as her constitution; a fantastic and barbaric expression: an unreality, which leaves in the shade the modesty of truth, and states nothing as it is, and everything as it is not. The attitude is affected, the taste is corrupted, and the intellect perverted. Do you wish to confirm this military tyranny in the heart of Europe? A tyranny founded on the triumph of the army over the principles of civil government, tending to universalize throughout Europe the domination of the sword, and to reduce to paper and parchment, Magna Charta and all our civil constitutions. An experiment such as no country ever made, and no good country would ever permit; to relax the moral and religious influences; to set Heaven and Earth adrift from one another, and make God Almighty a tolerated alien in His own creation; an insurrectionary hope to every bad man in the community, and a frightful lesson to profit and power, vested in those who have pandered their allegiance from king to emperor, and now found their pretensions to domination on the merit of breaking their oaths and deposing their sovereign. Should you do anything so monstrous as to leave your allies in order to confirm such a system; should you forget your name, forget your ancestors, and the inheritance they have left you of morality and renown; should you astonish Europe, by quitting your allies to render immortal such a composition, would not the nations exclaim, “You have very providently watched over our interests, and very generously have you contributed to our service, and do you falter now? In vain have you stopped in your own person the flying fortunes of Europe; in vain have you taken the eagle of Napoleon, and snatched invincibility from his standard, if now, when confederated Europe is ready to march, you take the lead in the desertion, and preach the penitence of Buonaparte and the poverty of England”?

As to her poverty, you must not consider the money you spend in your defence, but the fortune you would lose if you were not defended; and further, you must recollect you will pay less to an immediate war, than to a peace with a war establishment, and a war to follow it. Recollect further, that whatever be your resources, they must outlast those of all your enemies; and further, that your empire cannot be saved by a calculation. Besides, your wealth is only a part of your situation. The name you have established, the deeds you have achieved, and the part you have sustained, preclude you from a second place among nations; and when you cease to be the first, you are nothing.

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