§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
rose, pursuant to notice, and said: Sir, I wish to claim the indulgence of the House for a very short time, in order to draw their attention, and the attention of the Government, to reports which have been some time current of the exercise of foreign influence for the purpose of bringing about a change, if not an abrogation, of the Constitution of Spain. My opinion is, that constitutional monarchy is the best form of government that has ever yet been invented by the wisdom of men. By consti- 897 tutional government, I mean monarchy tempered in its action and assisted in its functions by the co-operation of a Parliament. It appears to me, that such a form of government, while on the one hand it secures to a nation that public freedom which cannot be expected from a pure despotism, on the other hand, gives and affords to private individuals that freedom of action within the limits of law which is too often not enjoyed by them under a republican form of government. My belief is that a constitutional monarchy, by affording to property its just protection, encourages industry, and thereby tends to augment the wealth of nations, while, on the other hand, it is also a material instrument in promoting international peace. In a despotic Government, where the destinies of a nation are swayed by a small number of individuals, not responsible to any public body, intrigues, caprice, ignorance and passion are apt to involve the nation where such men govern in all the calamities of war, and also to involve other nations who may be drawn into contact with them in a share of those calamities. Therefore, the existence and spread of constitutional government is a matter of deep importance, not merely to the nations in which that form of government may be established, but also to all other States which may be brought into contact and communication with such nations. I hold, then, Sir, that while constitutional government tends to the internal improvement of each country, it better qualifies each country to perform its functions, and to fulfil its duties as a member of the community of nations. Now, Sir, any man who will cast his eyes over the face of Europe, and viewing it geographically, politically, and historically, must be struck with the great progress which has been made in the diffusion and extension of constitutional government since the beginning of the present century. At the commencement of this century constitutional government was the exception —despotic government the rule; whereas now constitution government may be said to form the rule, and despotic government the exception. At that period England was almost the only country which held out to the world an example of successful constitutional government. She stood like a beacon light amidst the darkness of the waters, pointing out to the other nations of Europe the road to a port of safety and repose. At present the majority of the States of Europe have, more or less— 898 qualify it as you will—in form or substance, the benefit of constitutional government, while those who have it not are comparatively few in number. I lay great stress upon the circumstance which I have mentioned that constitutional government must be looked upon as a great advantage, whatever may be the form in which it exists, and even though in practice it may not at the moment be in actual operation, because where constitutional government exists in form, even though its action may be for a time suspended, yet its free action may be restored by the progress of enlightenment, by the force of reason, by the effect of public opinion, legally and without confusion, whereas when once the form has been abrogated, the liberties of a country cannot be restored without the upheavings of a revolutionary movement.
Now, Sir, among the countries which are at present in the enjoyment of constitutional government, perhaps the most remarkable are Portugal, Spain, Prussia, Sardinia, Greece, Denmark, and Belgium; and most of these States have obtained the advantages of constitutional government within a comparatively recent period. With regard to Sardinia, Greece, Prussia, and Denmark, the change was produced by internal and domestic arrangements, without any direct interference on the part of any foreign Power. In Greece, indeed, the form had been recommended by the Three Powers from the earliest moment of Grecian independence; but the immediate change was brought about by a rising of the people themselves, irritated at the long delay that took place in conferring upon them the advantages they had been led to expect. But in Belgium, Portugal, and Spain, the change was mainly assisted by the influence, and oven by the direct interference, of the British Government; and I think the British Government conferred a great and deep obligation upon the people of those countries by the part which they then took. With regard to the States which have not a constitutional Government, the only important countries still under despotic rule are Russia, Austria, the dominions of the Sultan, and the dominions of the Pope. I believe I may also add Tuscany to the list, because, although the Grand Duke did grant a constitution to his subjects some two or three years ago, I think that latterly—pressed, as I believe, by external influences—he has abrogated that constitution. I do not include Naples in the list of countries which have not a con- 899 stitution because, as far as I am informed, the constitution which the King of Naples gave to his subjects about three years ago, although practically suspended, has not in point of form been abolished. Now, Sir, there came to our shores a very short time ago a distinguished, enlightened, and intelligent Prince, a member of the Royal Family of Naples. That Prince will have an opportunity of seeing with his own eyes, during his visit to this country, that order may be maintained without martial law; that prisons may be sufficient for their purposes without being turned into places of torture—without being converted, if I may say so, into so many charnelhouses; and if those who came into communication with this distinguished Prince used that frankness and freedom of truth which ought to be observed in an intercourse even with princes, I am satisfied that when he returns to his native land be will be able to inform those to whom such information may he useful, that if they wish to reestablish that cordial good feeling between the people of the two countries which is the surest and best foundation of international alliances, that system of persecution, of oppression, and of illegality, which has rendered the Neapolitan territories a by word among the civilised nations of Europe, must necessarily cease to be. Now, Sir, I have said that the English Government had a great share in establishing in Portugal and in Spain that constitutional form of government which has already contributed so much to the prosperity and welfare of Portuguese and Spanish nations. I am sure that any man who has of late years visited the Peninsula, and who was at all acquainted with the state of things which before existed, must have been struck with the vast improvement and the rapidly and annually increasing progress which those two kingdoms evince.
Now, Sir, it is a maxim in physics that action and reaction are equally opposite, and to a certain degree that maxim is true also in regard to political affairs. In the year 1848 there was a great outburst in Europe of long pent-up discontent, and many Governments, struck to the heart with terror, were induced in the momentary panic to make to fear concessions far greater than those which they had long refused to the calm and steady voice of reason. The crisis passed away; the fear vanished; and then came the reaction, and that reaction, I am afraid, is still continuing with unabated vigour. There are two 900 parts of Europe to which I fear that reaction is particularly applied at the present moment—I mean Sardinia and Spain. Now, Sardinia may he held up to the world as the embodiment of the success of Parliamentary Government. The constitution was given to the people of Sardinia by the spontaneous act of their sovereign; and during the short period—only two or three years—for which that constitution has been in force, nothing can exceed the harmony with which the Sovereign, his Ministers, the Parliament, and the people have co-operated for the public and national good. Now, Sir, it would be indeed a calamity if that constitution were to he overthrown. I will not pretend to know or to guess whether certain events which have recently occurred in Sardinia do or do not indicate that influences are at work for the purpose of overthrowing that constitution; but it is manifest that to those who are conscientiously imbued with a conviction that the political principles on which that constitution is founded, are vicious and erroneous, the existence of such a state of things must be an eyesore. Now, Sir, I do not ask Her Majesty's Government to step out of their way for the purpose of undue interference in the affairs of any foreign State; but thus much I take leave to say, that, considering the great political and commercial interests which this country has in the maintenance of the independence of the Sardinian Monarchy and in its prosperity, I do hope the Sardinian Government will never apply in vain for the countenance, the support, and even the counsel of the Government of Great Britain in moments of difficulty and danger.
Now, with regard to Spain, the same opinion prevails. It is thought that external influences are at work for the purpose of inducing a material and fundamental change in the Government of that country. I may, no doubt, he met with the reply, that any apprehension of that sort is vain and groundless; that there is no nation in the world so jealous of foreign interference as the people of Spain; and that the Spanish people may be safely left to take care of their own interests. Now, if that were said with regard to France or with regard to Germany, I should implicitly acquiesce; because we know that the people of Fraece, and the Germanic nation, would neither accept nor permit—far less would they solicit — interference of any sort or kind, the most distant or remote, with respect to their internal affairs. But, 901 though the Spanish people are proverbially known to be, perhaps, the most jealous of foreigners of any nation in the world, it does so happen that, from political circumstaces which it is unnecessary for me to enter into, there is probably no country or Government which has, for a long course of time, been more frequently and more importantly swayed by external influences than the Government of Spain. If all parties could agree to leave Spain or any Other country entirely to itself, every one ought to observe and obey such a rule; but if influences of one kind are at work for the purposes of producing what we think evil, then I say there can be no rational objection urged to the exercise of influences of another kind, with the view of counteracting that evil, and of procuring or maintaining good. Sir, I am not disposed to think that there is any great foundation for the reports to which I have alluded. At least, there is no great apprehension that, if these reports be true, the influences in question could operate any material or injurious results; because, at the head of the Spanish Government, holding the highest place under the Spanish Crown, is a distinguished statesman, who, I know, looks back with just and honourable pride to that treaty of Quadruple Alliance which he took so great a part in framing and in concluding, and which no doubt was the foundation upon which the constitutional Government of Spain as it now exists has been based. I cannot, therefore, for a moment entertain the belief that that noble statesman would consent upon any conditions whatever to reverse his own work, and to undermine that fabric which is based upon foundations so honourably laid by himself. But, nevertheless, one man or one set of men are not sufficient to secure the destinies of a great country. I may be asked what it is that I wish from Her Majesty's Government, and what is the specific object with which I have drawn their attention to this matter. Why, Sir, we are often, I believe, mistaken in the estimate we form of men and things in foreign countries; but foreigners are also most grievously mistaken, in some respects, in the estimate which they form of men and things in this country. There is a prevalent opinion on the Continent that with every change of Ministry here there is a great and entire change in the foreign policy of the country. Sir, I hold that to be a complete error. We, all of us, divided as we are into political parties of 902 every possible shade of opinion, may be at variance upon domestic matters; and the opposite parties in the country frequently take different views of particular and detailed transactions of foreign policy, or of the manner in which the general foreign policy of the country may be caried out; but the great outline of the foreign policy of England is, if I may so, stereotyped. It is guided by the great and permanent political and commercial interests of this country. It can never vary in principle, although it may no doubt vary in its detailed application to cases which may arise. Making, then, these observations, not in any spirit of hostility to Her Majesty's Government, not even in any spirit of distrust of Her Majesty's Government, in regard to the matters to which my observations apply, and certainly not in a spirit of enmity to any foreign Power whatever, but believing that a crisis may be impending over Spain — deeply impressed with the vast importance, not only to Spain herself, but to this country, and I may say, to the whole of Europe, which attaches to the maintenance in Spain of the constitutional Government which, after such a struggle, has been established there—convinced as I am, that if any cause whatever were to overthrow that Government, its overthrow would only be the first scene of a new tragedy which, through the desolation of the country, through the immolation of a vast number of victims, through the destruction of all or the greater part of the bravest and most eminent men of Spain, would at last lead to nothing less than the overthrow of that fabric so temporarily established, and to a revival of the system of liberty, under perhaps a somewhat different form—being convinced of these truths, believing and knowing that great weight attaches in Europe to the knowledge of the disposition and feeling of the British Government—being perfectly persuaded, that however much the gentlemen who now fill the offices of Government may differ from those with whom I have acted upon these matters of detail, they, nevertheless, attach no less importance than we do to the maintenance of constitutional government in countries allied to and in political relation with England, my object is to elicit from Her Majesty's Government some declaration or statement of opinion upon those points which may disabuse those persons on the Continent who think that the arbitrary system will receive the countenance of Great Britain under the 903 present Administration; and I, therefore, hope that the security which is derived from the fair influence of the British Government on the liberal cause of constitutional government in Europe, may on this occasion receive some support by a declaration from some Member of Her Majesty's Government.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, I have listened with the attention which the importance of the subject and the high character of the individual who has addressed you naturally commanded, to the observations of the noble Lord; but I cannot help contrasting those observations with the remarkable notice which I find upon the paper to-day. The noble Lord has there intimated that he will "call the attention of the Government to reports which have lately circulated in Europe as to the exertion of foreign influences with a view to effect changes in the constitution of Spain." Now, the noble Lord has not favoured us with any enumeration in detail in reference to these reports, nor has the noble Lord informed us as to what foreign influence, or to the influence of what foreign Powers, he adverts. Certainly it may be agreeable to the noble Lord, or to any Member of this House, to elicit general declarations of opinion upon subjects of this importance from those who may be administering the government of the country; but, as a general rule, I should have thought it was extremely inconvenient that a Minister should be called upon in his place in Parliament to express such opinions without some facts or reasons being brought before the House to justify so unusual an appeal. There may have been, and there may be, rumours of the nature to which the noble Lord alludes; but at present no one can point to any facts leading to the conclusion that any foreign Powers have combined, or are combining, to effect a revolution in the constitution of Spain. If, therefore, I touch upon this subject, I do so that there may be no misconception in the minds of hon. Members, after the appeal of the noble Lord, of the feelings of Her Majesty's Government upon thi3 important question. And here I may be permitted to mention to the House a circumstance which occurred when we first acceded to power, and which will at once evince the feeling of the Government with respect to the constitution at present existing in Spain. Her Majesty's Minister at Madrid at that time was a noble Lord who had been promoted to that high office 904 by our predecessors in the Administration; and that noble Lord thought it his duty, under the circumstances of a change of Government, to offer to Her Majesty the resignation of his post; but, considering— as we did consider—the high character and abilities of that distinguished individual, his acquaintance with the Spanish character, and his sympathy with the cause of constitutional government in Spain; believing, also, that he was one who, if any exigency occurred, might approach with friendly counsels the Government, or even the Throne of that country, we humbly advised Her Majesty not to accept his resignation. The noble Lord, therefore, continued in his post, and, so continuing in his post, has pursued the same policy he had hitherto pursued. That noble Lord, I am sure, from the instructions he has always received from us, will not violently or actively interfere or interpose in the Government of Spain—he will not take any steps which might justly excite jealousy on the part of the people of that country; but I am also equally satisfied that the noble Lord will never look with an eye of unconcern upon any attempt, especially on the part of a foreign Power, to interfere with the domestic government of Spain, or to assail those free institutions which have been established mainly by English influence and by English arms, and which we believe have, on the whole, greatly conduced to the welfare and progress of that country. I am quite sure also that that noble Lord, though he would on no account take a course which would be hostile to the feelings of the people of Spain, would never be slow in that friendly counsel which I think it would be his duty, under those circumstances, to offer to the Spanish Government.
Sir, I do not undervalue the effects of the Quadruple Treaty. This I would venture to say on the part of Her Majesty's Government, that if there be persons— especially if there be any foreigners, as I am to infer from the address of the noble Lord this evening—who are attempting to disturb that system of government which has now for some time existed in Spain, and has existed on the whole for the general benefit of that country—if there be persons of that kind and of that description who are exercising those influences, all I can say is, that we hope that those who are most interested in the Throne of Spain will remember the circumstances under which the present dynasty occupies that 905 throne; and that the question will naturally arise, and will generally be asked—if the system, the ancient system, which was subverted in Spain, is to be restored, why then should not the Spaniards recur to the dynasty which was also subverted, and why should they (whether it be in Spain or in Portugal) not be brought back to the positions which they have forfeited, if the system with which they were identified is to be restored, and is to be pursued? I make this as a general observation in reference to the surmise of the noble Lord; but I must express my confidence, notwithstanding the noble Lord has dilated upon these rumours—and I cannot believe that one of the vast experience and great acuteness of the noble Lord would have touched upon the subject without some reasons sufficient for his own conviction— I must express my opinion that, notwithstanding these rumours, and notwithstanding the vain theories of a few individuals, the persons who exercise the greatest influence in Spain are persons who are resolved to uphold the constitutional system that at present prevails; and I believe the influence of their counsels and the exercise of their power to be such as gives me every hope that none of those painful consequences to which the noble Lord adverts as possible will happen in that country. Sir, if I take a general view of the working of the constitutional system in Spain, although I am not myself prepared to eulogise in such unmeasured terms the constitutional systems prevalent in Europe, as the noble Lord; still I must say this of the constitutional system prevalent in Spain, that it has been strictly a domestic system; that the constitution has been developed for the purposes and advantages of the subjects of her Spanish Majesty; and that there has never been any attempt at an offensive propagation from that country into other countries. I think the same observation may be made also with respect to Piedmont—another instance to which the noble Lord adverted, as a country also subject to these myterious dangers and these prevalent rumours. There is no doubt that in no modern instance has the Parliamentary system been more successful than in Sardinia; and there has also been that absence of propagation of their political system into other countries, which generally is a symptom of the want of success of the constitutional system in the country itself. I do not know that I need say more on the present occasion. I am quite 906 sure the noble Lord would not have taken the step he has taken, especially in the present state of the public business, without feeling that he was justified in doing it. I trust the House will not be led into any discussion upon this subject. I trust the House will give Her Majesty's Government credit for wishing to carry on the foreign affairs of this country in that spirit which will respect the rights of nations, and which, in respecting the rights of nations, will, they believe, best secure the blessings of general peace. I do not know from whom these menaced dangers are to occur, whether these violent courses, these fatal consequences, upon constitutional Governments are to arise from the jealousy of monarchs, or from the violence of multitudes; but this I hope, that after the experience of 1848, after the humiliating catastrophes incurred both by monarchs and multitudes in that and succeeding years, I hope that they have learnt this lesson— that the present existing civilisation is opposed to all extreme opinions. In my opinion, both sovereigns and people, in every instance, have escaped considerable perils, great though may be the cost; but of this I feel convinced, that whether it arise from the highest or from the lowest quarter, whether it be from despotic monarchs or from Red Republicans, the spirit of disorder if it again arises in Europe, will not so speedily be allayed.
§ SIR DE LACY EVANS
said, that, remembering that the representatives of Russia, Austria, and Prussia had come to put down constitutional government in Spain, when he was in that country—remembering how they subsidised rebellion against the constitution—he felt that the most vigilant attention was required on the part of the Government of this country to maintain and preserve intact the free constitutional system of government which had been fortunately successfully established in the Peninsula.
§ House at rising to adjourn till Monday next.