§ Lord W. Bentinck
rose to bring forward his motion respecting the Affairs of Sicily. In presenting himself for the first time to the notice of the House after being so many years a member, he trusted they would readily believe him, when he declared the extreme reluctance he felt on the present occasion. He might have easily found more competent persons to have brought forward this question: he could have put them in possession of all the information which he had upon the subject; but he was not equally aware that he could transfer to them, even humble as it was, that weight and authority which, from particular circumstances, he must be supposed to have acquired in the history of these transactions. Still more impossible would it have been for him to infuse into a stranger, that cordial attachment and affection towards a people, which he cherished in his own bosom for the cooperation they had afforded him, and the benefit which had been reaped from their conduct. He who had had an opportunity of seeing the progressive improvement of Sicily, and had had the mortification of seeing all the best rights and privileges of the people taken away; their prospects blasted, and themselves, after the promises held out to them, placed in a worse situation than they were in before the-British had been among them—he who had seen all these things, must be supposed to feel deeply upon such an occasion. He had no personal vanity to gratify; his sole object was, to complain, that liberty had not been practically granted to a people to whom it was promised—a promise in which he conceived the honour of the country was involved, and the due fulfilment of which was loudly required by the people, though in a manner in no degree inconsistent with the principles or declarations of the parties concurring in the Holy Alliance; The late manifesto of the allied monarchs at Laybach declared their determination not to countenance any form of constitution not legally established. The liberty required 1235 For the people of Sicily had been, he would contend, as legally pledged, and upon authority as legitimately sacred, as that which bound the governments of these sovereigns themselves. In asserting this on behalf of the Sicilians, he pledged his word of honour that he did not step forward at the instigation of any individual or party; he had received no solicitation whatever, neither had he had any communication with Sicily since he left that country. When he quitted Sicily there were two conditions solemnly stipulated for, on the part of the people. One, that no individual should be molested for his connexion with the English while they administered the affairs of the island; the other, that their rights and privileges should not be impaired by the transfer of their administration. So far from these stipulations having been fulfilled, there never was a more complete annihilation of all rights and privileges than that which followed. If the House followed him in that view of the subject, what better time could occur for enforcing their sense of justice, than when the king of Naples was about (as he had promised) to put the constitution of the Sicilians upon a solid basis? The grounds of the occupation of Sicily by the British were perhaps generally known. In 1805, the royal family quitted their residence at Naples, and retired to Sicily, were they had the protection of a British army. Murat had then possession of Naples, and meditated the invasion of Sicily. Sir John Stuart at that time, could only get from the Sicilian government one regiment of cavalry to assist in the defence of their country; and at length, when Murat's invasion actually took place, it was repelled by the valour of British troops, aided, not so much by the Sicilian government as by the voluntary efforts of some of the Sicilian people. The first six years of the occupation of Sicily passed on in much the same spirit with the local government; and it was at length determined that a more efficient attempt should be made to place matters on a better footing. A noble marquis (Wellesley) who had presided over the affairs of India with so much honour, then called the office of secretary of state for foreign affairs; and he would venture to say, that of all the enlightened counsels which have marked the progress of the administration of that noble lord in various parts of the world, there was none which did him 1236 more honour than the line of policy which he recommended to be followed with respect to Sicily.
The instructions now laid upon the table, with which our connection with Sicily terminated, appeared to be dictated by the same spirit of liberality. There was, however, this unfortunate difference to be remarked, that in the one case the instructions were completely executed, and in the other they had been vox et prœterea nihil. These instructions made no sort of impression on the Neapolitan government; and the consequence was, that more decided measures were adopted, and the policy of the state was completely changed. The Neapolitan advisers were withdrawn, and Sicilian ministers were placed in their stead. Unfortunately, the king made his appearance at that moment. He said unfortunately, because it led to a sort of feeling, that the king did not mean to agree to the changes proposed; and it was feared, that if he pursued the measures which had formerly been sanctioned, he would destroy the prosperity of the country, by annihilating the new constitution. Under these circumstances the hereditary prince was appointed to a commanding situation; and having had the honour of being placed near his person, he could bear testimony to the excellence of his conduct. Sicilian ministers having been appointed, the whole of the new code was carried completely into execution. Every thing went on well. In the course of nine months, 7,000 men were detached to Spain, and in a few months more than double that number were available. The Neapolitan army, which before that period was wholly useless, soon became worthy of assisting the general force. The constitution was faithfully executed in all its parts. The general who commanded well knew the sufferings which the people had undergone; and was anxious to prevent their recurrence. He was perfectly acquainted with the cruelties that were practised in 1809 and 1810; he was aware of the severity exercised towards five barons of the island, who were sent off, a la Romeo, without any trial, and confined in five different places. As he was conversant with the conditions appertaining to the new state of things, he exerted his best efforts to have them properly observed. The conditions required that the lives, liberties, privileges, and happiness of the Sicilians should not be less the care of the state than they for- 1237 merly were. The old constitution of Sicily had existed for centuries, and had been respected by every monarch of Europe. Sicily was free—it had a constitution of its own—certainly a very in-dependant one. Though connected with Naples, it possessed very important privileges. It had its own flag it coined its own money; and it possessed its own parliament. That parliament, it was true, assembled only once in four years; but it exercised the power of voting taxes for that period, and of seeing that they were applied to the purposes for which they were voted During the interval between each meeting of parliament, a deputation was appointed from its own body, to inspect the collection of the revenue, and see that it was applied to no other purpose than that which was intended. When the new Sicilian commissioners came in, they proceeded to reform the abuses that had taken place in the constitution. In 1812, the three houses unanimously agreed on the basis of a new form of constitution. On that occasion, the barons of Sicily presented one of the most glorious spectacles that the world ever beheld: they came forward with the voluntary surrender of their own feudal rights. It was determined to adopt, as far as possible, the form of the British constitution. The three chambers were reduced to two: the words spiritual and temporal formed one, and the Commons the other. The parliamentmet in the years 1813, 1814, and 1815. In 1814, the king resumed the reigns of government, and renewed his oath to observe inviolably the form of government that had been established. In 1815, his majesty went to Naples. With regard to the correct manner in which the various powers of the constitution were executed up to this time, many concurrent testimonies could be adduced; and he thought the noble marquis opposite must have fallen into some mistake when he stated that the instructions of this government, relative to the newly-established constitution of Sicily, were given at the period of our evacuation of that island. The evacuation took place in May, 1814, and the instructions were sent out in September, 1815. Some instructions were, he believed, delivered about the time of the king's proceeding to Naples: because he had learned from two gentlemen who were then at the Sicilian court, that a paper was given in by sir W. A'Court. One of those gentlemen told him, that 1238 before the departure of the king, the British minister gave in a document, stating that, from a total change of circumstances, the influence of England was about to cease entirely in the island: that if the government of Sicily required alteration, this country could have no objection to it, provided the alterations were made conformably with the existing laws and the free consent of the nation: the document concluded with an express statement, that England would not allow any violent or arbitrary change in the existing constitution. This memorandum was given by England to Sicily, when we entirely abandoned the Sicilians to their fate; and it was clear that the writer could have had no knowledge of the papers laid on the table by the noble lord.—With respect to the instructions that had been sent out, he was free to confess that if he had had the framing of them, he did not think he could have drawn up any thing better calculated to satisfy the deep interest he felt in the welfare of Sicily. But what efforts were made to give effect to them? None whatever. They were received with joy in Sicily, but they were immediately followed by the decree of the king, which united the two countries. This act of union not only did not support the Sicilian, constitution, but in fact destroyed it altogether; and made Sicily a province of Naples. Thus was Sicily treated. No country in the world was more attached to England; none bore a greater antipathy to Naples, than the power with which it was thus forcibly united. When Murat was in possession of Naples, the people of Sicily were promised an independent government of their own, if their monarch should ever regain the dominions of his ancestors. That promise, however, was not kept. At the time that the revolution took place in Naples, the feelings of the Sicilians were displayed in the clearest light. About the same period, another revolution broke out in Palermo; but the object of the insurrection in Sicily was evidently different from that of the insurrection at Naples. The first act of the Neapolitans was to attack the people of Palermo; but the resistance of the Palermians was so strong as to force their opponents to retreat. On this subject the House had the evidence of general Church, who commanded at Palermo. An indiscretion of his was said to have occasioned a disturbance; and he had published a justification which com- 1239 pletely established his innocence. General Church said, "That in the middle of a revolting populace, he remained faithful to the sovereign whom he served, and refused to join those who would have compelled him to violate his allegiance." He father stated, "That every body knew, that for a great length of time the Sicilians desired a change, and that the discontent which reigned amongst them was profound." One of the acts of the king was to fix the sum of 1,842,000 ounces as the maximum of the expenditure for Sicily. A grosser imposition never was practised. The calculation was founded on the budget of 1813–14, when the price of produce was nearly double what it was at present. But there were the budgets of 1814–15 and 1815–16, the latter of which estimated the revenue at 1,400,000 ounces; and this ought to have been taken as the standard of expenditure rather than the larger sum. But when the king took on himself to impose what taxes he pleased, how was it possible for the country to go on prosperously? If there were a national council, to examine into the expenditure of the public money, the evil might be controlled: but where the king was a despot, all control was out of the question. By the constitution as now altered, all high offices were to be held by Sicilians. But it was strange to point that out as a praiseworthy provision, which had existed in the constitution of the state for many centuries, Great merit was attached to the king for having agreed to the abolition of the feudal system. His view, however, was, to get rid of the only check that existed against the unlimited power of the Crown. Neither must it be forgotten, that the barons themselves had freely given up their feudal rights. And why did they part with those rights? They parted with them on condition that the king should abandon some of his privileges. In all that he had said, he had no object whatever but to restore to the Sicilians those rights and liberties, which had with so much difficulty been acquired for them. He would conclude with moving, "That an humble Address be presented to his Majesty, humbly to represent to his Majesty, that the House has the mortification to learn that attempts have been made by the Government of the Two Sicilies to reduce the Privileges of the Sicilian Nation in such a degree as may expose the British Government to the reproach of having 1240 contributed to a change of system in Sicily, which has impaired the freedom and happiness formerly enjoyed by its inhabitants; and humbly to pray, that his Majesty will be graciously pleased to interfere, for the prevention of these evils, in such a manner as the honour and good faith of this Nation absolutely require."
The Marquis of Londonderry
said, that in rising to trouble the house with such observations as appeared to be necessary for the purpose of answering the argument of the noble lord, he was happy to have it in his power to compliment him on the calm, intelligent, and candid manner in. Which he had introduced this subject. He was ready to admit that no individual, connected as the noble lord had been with these transactions could have brought forward a question, of this description with more propriety or moderation. But while he paid his homage to the noble lord on these considerations, he must remark that the' noble lord had chosen rather a late period for making his statement. He now called on the House to come to the conclusion that the conduct of the court of Naples towards its Sicilian subjects was so reprehensible that this country ought to interfere. The noble lord had stated that lie approved of the instructions sent out to sir. W. A' Court: yet it appeared that it was on these very instructions that he founded his complaint. The circumstances to which he alluded took place so far back as 1816; and certainly the conduct of this government was not altered by any thing that had since occurred. Now, if the alterations then made in the constitution of Sicily were of such a description as called for the interference of this country, it was at that period, when the circumstances had recently occurred, that parliament should have been called on to vindicate the national honour. It was a little too late to come to parliament now, in order to criminate the court of Naples on account of circumstances that happened five years ago; more particularly when they were told that Sicily was about to undergo another organization, but of what nature he was ignorant. He certainly did not know the nature of the contemplated change, but it was supposed that it would partake of the character which the noble lord so highly prized, that of a separate and independent nation. It was to possess a government wholly distinguishable from the government of the kingdom of Naples. 1241 It was, therefore rather late to introduce this subject, when Sicily was on the point of becoming a separate, instead of being part of a united government. The happiness and interest of a state were not, however, always secured by its being separate and independent. They all knew with what reluctance Scotland gave up what it deemed its independence; and yet, he believed, the learned gentleman opposite (sir. J. Mackintosh) who certainly had the love of freedom as much at heart as any man, would not willingly go back to that palladium of liberty—to that invaluable blessing—Scottish independence. They lived nearer the period of the union with Ireland; and he knew that many Irish gentlemen could not give up the idea of the separate and independent government of Ireland. They had not had time to get rid of that feeling of partiality; but he believed that a different principle was making rapid strides in Ireland, and that it was now pretty generally, acknowledged, that a combination of government tended more to the happiness of the people, under particular circumstances, than a separate and independent one. The present question naturally divided itself into two views: 1st, What was the course of measures adopted when England was in the military possession of Sicily; and 2dly, when Sicily was evacuated, what duties were imposed on this government, either in consequence of that military occupation, or arising out of any declaration, such as that to which the noble lord had alluded? As to the nature of the connexion of England with Sicily, although government had always felt a strong esteem and affection for that country, yet it was not merely on that account, or to secure the happiness of the people, that British troops were stationed there. It was, in fact, a military occupation. Government, looking at the state of Europe, thought it was necessary for the safety of the royal family, as well as to oppose a barrier to the strides which France was taking over the world, that Sicily should be protected. Her insular situation rendered her more capable of profiting by our naval resources. It was easy not only to defend that country from further molestation, but it was evident that a military position might be established there, from which a diversion might be made in favour of the liberties of Europe, and with the view of rescuing Italy from the French. This was the case; and with the exception of having guaranteed to the Sicilian people, 1242 not to form a constitution, but to protect that part of the dominions of the king of the Two Sicilies, this government had entered into no arrangement of ah express nature with them. Portugal and express were the only two states, as far as he was aware, with respect to which this country had entered into any guarantee of a specific nature. Undoubtedly the people of Sicily were satisfied that Great Britain sent troops to their country without any idea of territorial aggrandizement, and without any view to spoliation; but there was no express assurance given to them, with reference to any new or altered constitution. When the British troops arrived in Sicily, they found the people discussing the merits of a constitution of their own. It was formed, as nearly as possible, on the model of the constitution of this country; and the people flattered themselves that they would enjoy under its protection the same blessings which the people of England enjoyed. It was true that while the British troops were in the country it was found necessary that a strong interposition should take place on the part of the British power, for the purpose of impressing on the mind of the Sicilian government, the propriety of supporting the constitution. If this had not been done, the government, could not have gone on, and the place would not have been fit for a military station. The consequence of this interposition was, that the noble lord was "mixed up" in a great variety of remonstrances (a laugh) which were sent in to render the king's interest sufficient to support the then existing state of things: but he certainly never did feel, that in resorting to those remonstrances, the noble lord was doing any thing more than what was necessary for his military occupation of the island. He never supposed that the noble lord was entering into any arrangements with respect to the Sicilian constitution. He did not mean to disguise from the House, that the noble lord had great difficulties to encounter in his situation. It must have been revolting to the feelings of the people to see a foreign army in such a situation as rendered it necessary to interfere with their concerns. He was ready to justify that interference, but still it must have been most unpleasing to the people. As far as he could judge, he never knew a constitution less suited to the genius of a people, or which seemed less likely to work beneficially for them, than that which had been formed; and he believed there was no 1243 feeling more general when the British troops left the island, than that that constitution could not stand. Those who formed it affected to take the British constitution for their model; and he believed they took measure of the table on which he was then leaning, so determined were they to be correct, even in the most minute point of arrangement (a laugh); as far as the administration of government, the raising or the supporting an army, was concerned, no constitution could be more defective; and it was equally inefficient for securing the happiness of the people. At length, all parties determined that a fundamental change should be made. In 1814, sir W. A' Court was authorized to explain to the people of Sicily the reasons which compelled great Britain to withdraw her troops from the island; and it was perfectly true, that in the memorial which he presented on that occasion, he expressed a hope, that whatever changes were made in the constitution, should be worked out by means of the constitution, and not affected, as modern alterations in government were, either by the army or by secret associations. However, after working for near twelve months in remodelling the constitution, the parties intrusted with that duty came to a dead stop. The consequence was, that the two houses addressed the crown, and a royal commission was appointed to effect the desired object. This royal commission also failed; and then the king was called on to renew the constitution of 1812, which it had been found impracticable to carry into effect. This was referred to the council of state, under whose cognizance it was for several months without any good being effected. So that if it were wished to establish the reign of chaos in Italy, those individuals appeared to have pursued the most feasible means for the accomplishment of that object. The noble lord said, that our evacuation of the island was in 1815, and the instructions were sent out in 1816. That was very true; and when our troops left Sicily, this government had no idea of making a constitution for the people of that island. He hoped the making of a constitution for any country unless it was governed by us, would be the last task which Great Britain would ever undertake. He conceived it to be a task which we could not perform; and if we made the attempt, it would render our name odious throughout Europe. He should therefore always set his face against those who in that House complained that 1244 this country would not indulge itself in manufacturing constitutions, or who wished England to become the constant monitor of other states, ready on all occasions to carry remonstrances to the thrones or foreign sovereigns. Those instructions were not issued when our troops evacuated the island, because it had always been our maxim not to interfere unless there was an absolute necessity. The government of this country originally stated, that no spirit of meddling, no desire of spoliation, caused us to send British troops to Sicily; and he had no hesitation in saying, that no instructions would have been sent out to sir W. A' Court, if a communication had not been made on the subject by the Neapolitan government. The government had certainly felt it to be its duty to the Sicilian nation, to lay before the government of Naples, under what state of circumstances we should feel it necessary to interfere on behalf of the Sicilians. But he was not aware of there having been, during the six years that had elapsed since the period of our leaving Sicily, a single instance of a Sicilian alleging that he had been ill-used on account of his previous connexion with the British. So far from it, sir W. A' Court, in a communication made to his Majesty's government, expressly declared, that all the offices in the government, as it had been newly framed, were filled up by those Sicilians who were known to have been in connexion with the British. As far, therefore, as private interests were concerned, he might take some credit for the king of Naples, for a line of conduct dictated by liberal policy, or rather perhaps by a grateful recollection of the eminent services of Great Britain towards him. He himself (lord L.) had anticipated that there would be no end to the persecution, to which the British government would be exposed, from the complaints which were likely to be perpetually preferred by Sicilians, conceiving themselves to have been individually injured by the Neapolitan authorities. To his total astonishment no such cases had occurred. One exception, indeed, might be named, and that was Captain Romeo. With all the respect which he entertained for the noble lord, it was rather too much for the noble lord to bring forward such a proposition as this. It was, in fact, demanding; that his Majesty should adopt a measure criminating the conduct of the Neapolitan government towards its Sicilian subjects. As to the Sicilian institutions themselves, 1245 the noble lord had dressed up both the ancient and the modern government of the island in all those gorgeous habits with which it was so easy, in description, to invest any government; but if the House referred to the papers on the table, or even to the documents sent to England during the time that the noble lord was in Sicily, they would find them depicted in a very different manner. The parliament, such as it was hardly ever sat; and it had no powers beyond making certain grants, and the privilege of setting forth certain grievances, as the immediate condition of those grants. To talk therefore of the Sicilian "constitution," generally, was one of those oratorical flourishes which told very well in a debate, but that was really an illusion which the dispatches transmitted by the noble lord himself would serve, in a moment, to dispel. He did protest against the extravagant notion, that the British government was to be held to an eternal interference in Sicilian affairs; for such was the effect of that principle of obligation which was contended for by the noble lord. It would be perfectly unjustifiable and impracticable, unless we had made a specific contract for such interference. Whatever, therefore, had been done, was not to be referred to any general principle of that kind, but was to be tried on the special case of the year 1815. It would be idle to suppose that this country stood pledged beyond what was then arranged to protect the Sicilians against the consequences of any changes which might in future years be worked by ambition, accident, or hostility, or from the influence of any such motive as it was now attempted to charge against the Neapolitan government. But the representations of our own minister warranted no such imputations. Sir W. A' Court was a man of great ability in his line; he could not name, at that moment, the man who was of greater ability in the like capacity. As far as he had seen the dispatches of that gentleman, he could find nothing in the conduct of the Neapolitan government which should alarm the jealousy of this. That jealousy might have been warranted by the adoption of any suspicious measures of concealment on their part; but so far from there being any reluctance to make us acquainted with their councils, they solicited our observation. Sir W. A' Court was invited to be present at a conference where the treatment to be observed towards Sicily was discussed. 1246 His opinion was asked, and they would have been very glad to have involved with in the responsibility of advising them how to proceed in such a matter. Our minister, with great prudence, had laid the business before his government; and he (lord L.) had certainly advised his adhering to the same principle of non-interference which had been all along acted upon. And certainly, seeing that we had already burnt our fingers in another case, where we had attempted rather to settle than to give a constitution, he was not at all disposed to undertake the task of framing a constitution for his Neapolitan majesty. The fact was, that the Neapolitan government, finding that sir W. A' Court was unwilling to mix himself up with any proceedings on this question, said to him in his public capacity—" If you don't like to do this, for fear of involving your own government, do at least, as a private friend, tell us what to do in this case." Here it was that sir W. A' Court had manifested great wisdom and discretion in refusing to commit himself in the matter; and as to what the noble lord had said about no steps having been taken by this government upon receiving a communication of the whole affair, the House, he thought, would not be very much surprised that those lights, which had not broken even on the noble lord till after a period of six years, had not broken upon his majesty's ministers the first moment of receiving the intelligence. Now, in point of fact, he did not believe that at the very moment he was addressing the House a single vestige remained of that system which the noble lord was calling upon them to protest against. He firmly believed that it was no longer in force. Let the House then conceive, if they could, the ridicule which would attach to this country, if it should formally proceed to criminate his Neapolitan majesty for retaining a system of government which had no existence. With respect to the conduct which this government was bound to pursue upon being advised of the course of policy that was adopted by Naples towards Sicily, the only questions they had to ask was, did her proceedings carry with them such a character of malignity-were they so obviously calculated to destroy the rights of the Sicilians, that the British government was bound to interfere on behalf of that people? In short, was this government bound so to interfere upon the advice or representation of the most 1247 enlightened minister abroad? Quite the contrary. The despatches of that gentleman observed, with respect to the then intended changes in the government of Sicily, that nothing in the proposed alterations would affect those who had been engaged in the British service. Neither was it to be inferred from those despatches, that the union of Sicily with Naples produced any where that general tone of discontent which had been represented. When the news arrived in England of the union of Sicily and Naples, he, so far from being dismayed or alarmed, felt some lurking impression on his mind that Sicily would be happier in consequence. He considered that union as calculated to raise her to whatever importance Naples might be supposed to possess. Under all these circumstances, he thought there was nothing which could justify our interference, and that it was impossible for the House to acquiesce in the motion of the noble lord.
§ Sir J. Mackintosh
said, the complaint alleged against the noble marquis and his colleagues was shortly and simply this—that the British government, in its conduct to Sicily, had deviated from that principle which was laid down in the noble lord's own despatch, and had not performed those obligations which they had voluntarily undertaken to discharge. The noble lord had expatiated upon the delay which had taken place in the bringing forward the present motion. But did the noble mover, did any man in Europe know the pledge which had been given by the British government to preserve the ancient rights and privleges of Sicily, before the papers on the table were printed? He should have thought it impossible that instructions should not have been sent out to the noble lord at the time of the evacuation of Sicily. The House had heard, however, what were the facts. From the noble marquis's despatch, it appeared that there had been some previous communication between the two governments. He talked there "of the king of Naples' assurances." These assurances most have been made in 'answer to some representations on the part of this country. Where were they? Where were the instructions from which those representations must have been drawn up? Where was the note of sir W. A'Court, written in;1814? In 1814, this government had not adopted a dread of every thing like popular rights, a terror of public 1248 liberty, the proscription of which seemed to have been sealed at the congress of Vienna. The noble marquis had said a great deal upon the fact of there having been no representation made to this government of any Sicilian alleging ill-usage to have been sustained by him from the new government of his country; and from this he inferred the general satisfaction of the Sicilians with that government. But could he really believe that this abstinence from complaint was a proof of that satisfaction? No government, however wise, virtuous, or beneficent, ever yet existed, against which, in the course of six years, some complaints might not have been preferred; and, under the peculiar circumstances of the case, the silence of the Sicilians was to be attributed to that universal feeling of distrust which the constitution of that system had excited in their minds; which alarmed them by the apparent character of its connexion with this country, and was of such a kind as forbad them to hope for relief from us. When they were themselves exposed to punishment, and when they saw the most distinguished officers of the British government treated with ignominy, was it likely that they should complain? In 1815, the noble lord, going to perform his duty at Naples, was refused admission, on account of acts in Sicily for which he had received the approbation of his own government. After the English government had suffered a distinguished officer, and a friend of the Sicilian government to receive this treatment, was it likely that the Sicilians would complain? The Sicilians well knew that the powers of the alliance gave sufficient guarantee to each other, of suppressing any complaint on the part of the people against their, governments; and they knew that the English government had not disapproved of that guarantee. The main question was, whether the English government had performed their contract with the Sicilians, as to the proceedings which had taken place in that country? This question, as replied to by the noble marquis, involved three propositions. First, there was no evidence before, them, or before Europe of the impracticability of the political-government established in Sicily under the auspices of the noble lord (Bentinck.) Secondly, he would submit to the House, that if the government were really found impracticable, and was proved to be so, instead of the ancient constitution being 1249 restored, the constitution which we were obliged to restore if the one which superseded it should be destroyed, the whole of their ancient constitution had been overturned, all their privileges were abolished, and there was an entire establishment of despotism instead. The third proposition for which he would contend was, that the change which was now made by the king of Naples re-opened the question, and entitled the Sicilians still to have their ancient system restored. If the government of Sicily had been much worse since 1816 than the former government, the king of Naples was placed in the same situation as before by restoring the ancient constitution of Sicily. The noble lord was therefore entitled to support from that House in his motion. First, as to the impracticability of the Sicilian constitution, he must advert to the manner in which the noble marquis had ridiculed the minute imitation which the Sicilians 'showed in 1812 in adopting the British constitution, as the conduct of novices in political knowledge. This ridicule was not very becoming, nor very generous. Commiseration for men struggling for liberty, reverence for the British constitution, ought to have suggested other sentiments. But where were the noble marquis's proofs of the impracticability of the Sicilian constitution? The experience, the personal observation, of the noble mover, were entitled, it seemed, to no regard; but the speculative sagacity of the noble marquis was to be relied on without one particle of evidence. What was it that was found impracticable? It was stated that all were opposed to the constitution. If it were so, he was not disposed to regard all parliamentary opposition to a constitution obtained by any means, as decisive of the character of that constitution. But there was no evidence of this sort. The majority were of opinion that the constitution contained the means of an effectual reform; and an honest administration cooperating with the majority would have given effect to those means. The marquis of Circello was naturally disposed to judge unfavourably of the Sicilian constitution, but neither the marquis nor sir W. A' Court asserted any such thing, as that the* parliament implored their own extinction. He never knew despotism decided to be the proper government of a country with so little pretence of evidence—with so little that was complimentary to the ingenuity or address of its abettors. 1250 If they proceeded in the trials of individuals upon such evidence, and decided as summarily as in legislative measures, their justice was detestable indeed. He believed that the difficulty of effecting a reformation had been held out merely as a pretence for having recourse to despotism. The people were so destitute of experience and political knowledge, as not to think absolute monarchy the best mode of governing them; and that was the proof that they were qualified for no other government. That was the great difficulty of reformation. What want of authority could the noble marquis opposite feel? He had the authority of the ministers of Naples. The marquis of Circello stated the difficulty, of carrying changes into execution as a ground for altering the constitution. Was that the real ground? No. The real ground was the flagitious agreement signed on the 12th of June, 1815, by which the king of Naples bound himself not to allow any form of government to exist in his dominions inconsistent with the principles of the government of his imperial and apostolic majesty in Italy. If the constitution of Sicily had been more practicable, it would, in consequence of this agreement, have been considered more dangerous. If a popular form of government had been found practicable in Sicily, what would become of the maxims by which Austria governed in Italy? So false and fraudulent had this agreement been, that the king of Naples, not satisfied with having at first concealed it from the English government, had concealed it from the noble lord and sir W. A' Court to the end of the year 1817. Did the Neapolitan government think this binding, or did they not? If they did, then they abolished the Sicilian constitution, in compliance with this nefarious article. What evidence, then, was this of impracticability? The Austrian government was not, in fact, oppressive, at least he was not prepared to say so; but an absolute government, maintained by military force. It was a simple despotism. The Neapolitan government then became bound to establish a despotism in Sicily, and determined to perform its obligation at last, however much it might slight its duty to Sicily, and its obligations to this country. After this, what credit would they give to assertions of impracticability without testimony? Would they take the assertion of an enemy bound to destroy the 1251 constitution, determined to overturn that form of government, and only looking out for pretexts, to delude Sicily and its roost faithful ally? On the 9th of June the general treaty of congress at Vienna was signed, and on the 12th this deed was signed, which aimed a secret stab at English honour and Sicilian liberty at the same time. This flagitious engagement its authors concealed for two years. For that time none of its stipulations were known to the very power which was in closest connexion with Sicily, or to the Sicilians themselves. It was very true, that the noble lord had found opposition in Sicily to the constitution established there. But where was that opposition found? There was some delicacy in this point. He would tread gently on the ashes of the dead; he would touch with tenderness on royal names and privileges which were not always tenderly or delicately treated by those at war with them. Whatever opposition existed against the Sicilian constitution, had not been in the two Houses of Parliament, but in the court, in the councils, and, if Europe was not deceived, in the very family of the king. The only friends of England were the friends of the Sicilian constitution. The lovers of liberty naturally become attached to England. The English constitution had been the ancient standard, England the classic ground of liberty. All who attempted to obtain their own freedom thought of England with reverence. Thus the Sicilians had acted; and with such feelings had they supported the military enterprises of the noble lord, and sent troops to Spain, for the purpose of aiding the general struggle for national independence. They had then no idea that an English minister would say that their political extinction was a point which it required the microscopic eye of a Lilliputian to descry.—He should be sorry to follow the noble marquis in the sort of special pleading which he had had recourse to in discussing a question of national engagement. He should be ashamed to answer a species of argument which would imply that, because the abolition of feudal rights had succeeded the occupation of Sicily by an English army, therefore we were bound to restore the oppressions with the privileges of a former period. He should be ashamed to contend' against such logic. He believed he must have misapprehended the noble marquis. If this country were to restore its 1252 government as existing at any former period, would all the restrictions of-the feudal system form a part of that restoration? The English government were bound to restore to the Sicilians the ancient constitution, so far as that was essential to liberty, and to preserve all tile improvements which had been quietly introduced. The noble marquis said, that the new constitution removed every difficulty, and that the old was full of defects and difficulties. Why? Because the new constitution was a simple despotism. The noble marquis was grossly misinformed if he supposed that the king had not been bound to call the parliament together once in the four years. He was compelled to do that every four years which the king of great Britain was compelled to do once every year. Our ancestors had been for centuries struggling before they compelled their king to hold regular parliaments. This power alone was of the utmost importance, and now it was taken from the Sicilians. The king had the power of changing taxes at his pleasure. Suppose he should by such changes treble his revenue, where were the means of resistance? Where was the member for Aberdeen, to detect the imposition? Thus, then, the parliament of Sicily became as miserable a dead letter, as could be detected in the annals of a first cheated; and then oppressed nation. The noble marquis regarded as a ridiculous absurdity the coupling of grievances with supplies. Good God! Did we live to hear such a practice treated with derision in the British House of Commons? He asked, wherein the constitution now given to the Sicilians could be distinguished from the most absolute monarchy? It was a very fashionable topic, that certain nations were not fit for political liberty. Where in the world had any nation become qualified to enjoy liberty, without the possession of it? The Italians were now in the same situation as the English three centuries ago. They were now struggling, as we had done while laying the foundation of the noblest fabric of liberty the world ever saw; and by the same struggles they might yet be restored to their ancient splendor and glory. Two years in Sicily was decided to be experience enough of the impracticability of liberty, and absolute monarchy was restored. What would have become of England if it had been compelled to renounce its liberty after so short a trial? 1253 That House, which by means of the struggles of liberty, had risen to be the greatest representative assembly the world ever saw, ought not to condemn liberty, because there had been a difficulty in establishing it during the first two years of the experiment. If there were Englishmen who countenanced the last changes in Sicily, their opinions were not English. The hon. member here entered into a history of the present character of the Sicilian councils, which he characterized as worse than the parliaments of Paris in the worst of times. None of its members were recommended by character to the good opinion of their fellow-citizens. They were ready and obedient slaves. It was a naked despotism, instead of the constitution which had been pretended to be accepted in 1816, as saving the honour of the nation. The noble lord had guaranteed the constitution by good faith and national honour. This country could not depart from that engagement without perfidy and dishonour. There was an acknowledged interference. As soon, therefore, as the constitution of 1816 was withdrawn, we were bound to place the Sicilians in the same situation as before. The noble lord now proposed a motion, which called for no censure, and manifested no severity. It only asked something more of their ancient privileges for the Sicilians, than the constitutions of 1821 or even 1816 had given. He should rejoice if any improvement were derived by a defenceless people from the interference of Great Britain, who had offended deeply against them. Their ancient constitution had not been supported by 10,000 foreign troops. It had not been formed by Austrian bayonets. In the last decree, there was one passage so flagrantly insulting that he could not read it^ without indignation. It was—"as much independence as was good for them." That was no independence at all. Sicily did not seek independence of Naples, as Scotland or Ireland had once been separate from England. She sought not separation as a country, but independence in its government. When, therefore, he found foreign mercenaries dictating a constitution, which would be degrading to an Asiatic slave—when he found them ^saying that they would give as much independence to the Sicilians "as was good for them," he could not adequately express his indignation and abhorrence, at such a shameful abuse of terms.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 35; Noes, 69.
|List of the Minority.|
|Birch, Josh.||Monck, J. B.|
|Cavendish, hon. H.||Martin, J.|
|Clifford, W. J.||Milton, lord|
|Calthrope, hon. F.G.||Newman, T.|
|De Crespigny, sir W.||Newport, sir J.|
|Dickinson, W.||Palmer, C. F.|
|Dundas, T.||Robarts, col.|
|Griffiths, J. W.||Rumbold, J.|
|Grattan, J.||Scarlett, J.|
|Grenfell, P.||Sykes, D.|
|Hume, J.||Smith, R.|
|Hamilton, lord A.||Tierney, rt. hon. G.|
|Harbord, hon. Ed,||Whitbread, S. C.|
|Hurst, R.||Webb, col.|
|Hutchinson, hon. H.||Wood, ald.|
|Mackintosh, sir J.||TELLERS.|
|Maberly, J. jun.||Bentinck, lord W.|
|Maxwell, J.||Abercromby, hon. J.|