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Debate On Addressing The King

Title:     Debate On Addressing The King
Author: Samuel Johnson [More Titles by Johnson]


A copy of his majesty's speech being read, Mr. CLUTTERBUCK-BUCK rose, and spoke as follows:--

Sir, the present confusion in Europe, the known designs of the French, the numerous claims to the Austrian dominions, the armies which are levied to support them, and the present inability of the queen of Hungary to maintain those rights which descend to her from her ancestors, and have been confirmed by all the solemnities of treaties, evidently require an uncommon degree of attention in our consultations, and of vigour in our proceedings.

Whatever may be the professions of the French, their real designs are easily discovered, designs which they have carried on, either openly, or in private, for near a century, and which it cannot be expected that they will lay aside, when they are so near to success. Their view, sir, in all their wars and treaties, alliances and intrigues, has been the attainment of universal dominion, the destruction of the rights of nature, and the subjection of all the rest of mankind; nor have we any reason to imagine that they are not equally zealous for the promotion of this pernicious scheme, while they pour troops into Germany, for the assistance of their ally, as when they wasted kingdoms, laid cities in ashes, and plunged millions into misery and want, without any other motive than the glory of their king.

But the French are not the only nation at this time labouring for the subversion of our common liberties. Our liberties, sir, are endangered by those equally interested with ourselves in their preservation; for in what degree soever any of the princes who are now endeavouring to divide among themselves the dominions of Austria, may be pleased with the acquisition of new territories, and an imaginary increase of influence and power, it must be evident to all who are not dazzled by immediate interest, that they are only fighting for France, and that by the destruction of the Austrian family, they must in a short time fall themselves.

It is well known, sir, though it is not always remembered, that political as well as natural greatness is merely comparative, and that he only is a powerful prince, who is more powerful than those with whom he can have any cause of contention. That prince, therefore, who imagines his power enlarged by a partition of territories, which gives him some additional provinces, may be at last disappointed in his expectations: for, if this partition gives to another prince already greater than himself, an opportunity of increasing his strength in a degree proportionate to his present superiority, the former will soon find, that he has been labouring for nothing, and that his danger is still the same.

Such, sir, is the case of the king of Prussia, who, when he has overrun that part of Germany, to which he now lays claim, will only have weakened the house of Austria, without strengthening himself.

He is at present secure in the possession of his dominions, because neither the Austrians would suffer the French, nor the French permit the Austrians to increase-their power by subduing him. Thus, while the present equipoise of power is maintained, jealousy and caution would always procure him an ally whenever he should be attacked; but when, by his assistance, the Austrian family shall be ruined, who shall defend him against the ambition of France?

While the liberties of mankind are thus equally endangered by folly and ambition, attacked on one side, and neglected on the other, it is necessary for those who foresee the calamity that threatens them, to exert themselves in endeavours to avert it, and to retard the fatal blow, till those who are now lulled by the contemplation of private advantage, can be awakened into a just concern for the general happiness of Europe, and be convinced that they themselves can only be secure by uniting in the cause of liberty and justice.

For this reason, sir, our sovereign has asserted the Pragmatick sanction, and promised to assist the queen of Hungary with the forces which former treaties have entitled her to demand from him; for this reason he has endeavoured to rouse the Dutch from their supineness, and excite them to arm once more for the common safety, to intimidate, by new augmentations, those powers whose ardour, perhaps, only subsists upon the confidence that they shall not be resisted, and to animate, by open declarations in favour of the house of Austria, those who probably are only hindered from offering their assistance, by the fear of standing alone against the armies of France.

That by this conduct he may expose his dominions on the continent to invasions, ravages, and the other miseries of war, every one who knows their situation must readily allow; nor can it be doubted by any man who has heard of the power of the Prussians and French, that they may commit great devastations with very little opposition, the forces of the electorate not being sufficient to give them battle; for though the fortified towns might hold out against them, that consideration will very little alleviate the concern of those who consider the miseries of a nation, whose enemies are in possession of all the open country, and who from their ramparts see their harvest laid waste, and their villages in flames. The fortifications contain the strength, but the field and the trading towns comprise the riches of a people, and the country may be ruined which is not subdued.

As, therefore, sir, the electoral dominions of his majesty are now endangered, not by any private dispute with the neighbouring princes, but by his firmness in asserting the general rights of Europe; as the consequences of his conduct, on this occasion, will be chiefly beneficial to Britain, we ought surely to support him in the prosecution of this design; a design which we cannot but approve, since our ancestors have always carried it on without regard either to the danger or the expense.

In conformity to this maxim of politicks, so clearly founded in equity, and so often justified by the votes of the senate, has his majesty been pleased to declare to us his resolution to adhere to his engagements, and oppose all attempts that may be forming in favour of any unjust pretensions to the prejudice of the house of Austria. 'Tis for this end he desires the concurrence of his senate. I hope every gentleman in this house will agree with me that we ought to declare our approbation of these measures, in such terms as may show the world, that those who shall dare to obstruct them, must resolve to incur the resentment of this nation, and expose themselves to all the opposition which the senate of Britain can send forth against them. We ought to pronounce that the territories of Hanover will be considered, on this occasion, as the dominions of Britain, and that any attack on one or the other will be equally resented. I, therefore, move, that an humble address be presented by this house to his majesty,

To return our thanks for his speech; to express our dutiful sense of his majesty's just regard for the rights of the queen of Hungary, and for maintaining the Pragmatick sanction; to declare our concurrence in the prudent measures which his majesty is pursuing for the preservation of the liberties and balance of power in Europe; to acknowledge his majesty's wisdom and resolution, in not suffering himself to be diverted from steadily persevering in his just purposes of fulfilling his engagements with the house of Austria; also, further to assure his majesty, that, in justice to and vindication of the honour and dignity of the British crown, we will effectually stand by and support his majesty against all insults and attacks, which any prince or power, in resentment of the just measures which he has so wisely taken, shall make upon any of his majesty's dominions, though not belonging to the crown of Great Britain. And that in any future events, which might make it necessary for him to enter into still larger expenses, this house will enable him to contribute, in the most effectual manner, to the support of the queen of Hungary, to the preventing, by all reasonable means, the subversion of the house of Austria, and to the maintaining the Pragmatick sanction and the liberties and balance of Europe.

Mr. FOX seconded the motion in this manner:--Sir, the expediency, if not the necessity of the address now moved for, will, I believe, be readily allowed by those who consider the just measures which are pursued by his majesty, the end which is intended by them, and the powers by which they are opposed.

How much it is our duty to support the house of Austria it is not necessary to explain to any man who has heard the debates of this assembly, or read the history of the last war. How much it is our duty to support it, is evident, as soon as it is known by whom it is attacked; by the ancient enemy of these nations, by the general disturber of the universe, by the formidable oppressors of liberty, exulting in new acquisitions, inflamed with the madness of universal monarchy, and elated with an opportunity of subjecting Germany, by exalting to the supreme power a prince who shall hold his authority only by their permission.

The house of Austria, which has so often stood forth in defence of our common rights, which has poured armies into the field, in confederacy with Britain, to suppress the insolence of that family which nothing could satisfy but boundless power, now demands the assistance which it has so often afforded; that assistance is demanded from us by every claim which the laws of society can enact, or the dictates of nature can suggest, by treaties maturely considered, and solemnly confirmed, by the ties of ancient friendship, and the obligations of common interest.

To violate the publick faith, and to neglect the observation of treaties, is to sink ourselves below barbarity, to destroy that confidence which unites mankind in society. To deny or evade our stipulations, sir, is to commit a crime which every honest mind must consider with abhorrence, and to establish a precedent which may be used hereafter to our own destruction.

To forsake an ancient ally only because we can receive no immediate advantage from his friendship, or because it may be in some degree dangerous to adhere to him; to forsake him when he most wants our good offices, when he is distressed by his enemies, and deserted by others from whom he had reason to hope for kinder treatment, is the most despicable, the most hateful degree of cowardice and treachery.

The obligations of interest, sir, it is not often needful to enforce, but it may be observed on this occasion, that a single year of neglect may never be retrieved. We may, sir, now be able to support those whom, when once dispossessed, it will not be in our power to restore; and that if we suffer the house of Austria to be overborne, our posterity, through every generation, may have reason to curse our injudicious parsimony, our fatal inactivity, and our perfidious cowardice.

With what views the king of Prussia concurs in the French measures, or upon what principles of policy he promises to himself any security in the enjoyment of his new dominions, it is not easy to conjecture; but as it is easy to discover, that whatever he may propose to himself, his conduct evidently tends to the ruin of Europe, so he may, in my opinion, justly be opposed, if he cannot be diverted or made easy.

Nor can we, sir, if this opposition should incite him, or any other power, to an invasion of his majesty's foreign dominions, refuse them our protection and assistance: for as they suffer for the cause which we are engaged to support, and suffer only by our measures, we are at least, as allies, obliged by the laws of equity and the general compacts of mankind, to arm in their defence; and what may be claimed by the common right of allies, we shall surely not deny them, only because they are more closely united to us, because they own the same monarch with ourselves.

Mr. PULTENEY spoke to the following purpose:--Sir, with what eagerness the French snatch every opportunity of increasing their influence, extending their dominions, and oppressing their neighbours, the experience of many years has convinced all Europe; and it is evident that unless some power be preserved in a degree of strength nearly equal to theirs, their schemes, pernicious as they are, cannot be defeated.

That the only power from which this opposition can be hoped, is the house of Austria, a very superficial view of this part of the globe, will sufficiently demonstrate; of this we were long since so strongly convinced, that we employed all our forces and all our politicks to aggrandize this house. We endeavoured not only to support it in all its hereditary rights, but to invest it with new sovereignties, and extend its authority over new dominions.

Why we afterwards varied in our councils and our measures, I have long inquired without any satisfaction, having never, sir, with the utmost application, been able to discover the motives to the memorable treaty of Hanover, by which we stipulated to destroy the fabrick that we had been so long and so laboriously endeavouring to erect; by which we abandoned that alliance which we had so diligently cultivated, which we had preferred to peace, plenty, and riches, and for which we had cheerfully supported a tedious, a bloody, and an expensive war.

This conduct, sir, raises a greater degree of admiration, as the authors of it had exhausted all their eloquence in censuring the treaty of Utrecht, and had endeavoured to expose those who transacted it to the general hatred of the nation; as they always expressed in the strongest terms their dread and detestation of the French; as they animated all their harangues, and stunned their opponents with declarations of their zeal for the liberties of Europe.

By what impulse or what infatuation, these asserters of liberty, these enemies of France, these guardians of the balance of power, were on the sudden prevailed on to declare in favour of the power whom they had so long thought it their chief interest and highest honour to oppose, must be discovered by sagacity superiour to mine. But after such perplexity of councils and such fluctuation of conduct, it is necessary to inquire more particularly what are the present intentions of the ministry, what alliances have been formed, and what conditions are required to be fulfilled.

If we are obliged only to supply the queen of Hungary with twelve thousand men, we have already performed our engagements; if we have promised any pecuniary assistance, the sum which we have stipulated to furnish ought to be declared; for I suppose, at least, our engagements have some limits, and that we are not to exert all the force of the nation, to fight as if fire and sword were at our gates, or an invader were landing armies upon our coasts.

I have, sir, from my earliest years been zealous for the defence and exaltation of the house of Austria, and shall be very far from proposing that any danger or distress should influence us to desert it; but I do not easily discover by what means we shall be able to afford any efficacious assistance: for the power of Britain consists chiefly in naval armaments, which can be of very little use to the queen of Hungary, and I know not any state that will easily consent to unite with us on this occasion.

If there be, sir, any states remaining in Europe which the French can neither intimidate nor bribe, we ought studiously to solicit and diligently to cultivate their friendship; but whether any, except the Moscovites, are now independent, or sufficiently confident of their own strength to engage in such a hazardous alliance, may be justly doubted.

The late grand alliance, sir, was supported at the expense of this nation alone; nor was it required from the other confederates to exhaust the treasure of their country in the common cause. I hope the debt which that war has entailed upon us will instruct us to be more frugal in our future engagements, and to stipulate only what we may perform without involving the nation in misery, which victories and triumphs cannot compensate.

The necessity, sir, of publick economy obliges me to insist, that before any money shall be granted, an account be laid before the senate, in particular terms, of the uses to which it is to be applied. To ask for supplies in general terms, is to demand the power of squandering the publick money at pleasure, and to claim, in softer language, nothing less than despotick authority.

It has not been uncommon for money, granted by the senate, to be spent without producing any of those effects which were expected from it, without assisting our allies, or humbling our enemies; and, therefore, there is reason for suspecting that money has sometimes been asked for one use and applied to another.

If our concurrence, sir, is necessary to increase his majesty's influence on the continent, to animate the friends of the house of Austria, or to repress the disturbers of the publick tranquillity, I shall willingly unite with the most zealous advocates for the administration in any vote of approbation or assistance, not contrary to the act of settlement, that important and well-concerted act, by which the present family was advanced to the throne, and by which it is provided, that Britain shall never be involved in war for the enlargement or protection of the dominions of Hanover, dominions from which we never expected nor received any benefit, and for which, therefore, nothing ought to be either suffered or hazarded.

If it should be again necessary to form a confederacy, and to unite the powers of Europe against the house of Bourbon, that ambitious, that restless family, by which the repose of the world is almost every day interrupted, which is incessantly labouring against the happiness of human nature, and seeking every hour an opportunity of new encroachments, I declare, sir, that I shall not only, with the greatest cheerfulness, bear my share of the publick expense, but endeavour to reconcile others to their part of the calamities of war. This, sir, I have advanced in confidence, that sufficient care shall be taken, that in any new alliance we shall be parties, not principals; that the expense of war, as the advantage of victory, shall be common; and that those who shall unite with us will be our allies, not our mercenaries.

Mr. WALPOLE then spoke, to the following purpose:--Sir, it is not without reason that the honourable gentleman desires to be informed of the stipulations contained in the treaty by which we have engaged to support the Pragmatick sanction; for I find that he either never knew them or has forgotten them; and, therefore, those reasonings which he has formed upon them fall to the ground.

We are obliged, sir, by this treaty, to supply the house of Austria with twelve thousand men, and the Dutch, who were engaged in it by our example, have promised a supply of five thousand. This force, joined to those armies which the large dominions of that family enable them to raise, were conceived sufficient to repel any enemy by whom their rights should be invaded.

But because in affairs of such importance nothing is to be left to hazard, because the preservation of the equipoise of power, on which the liberties of almost all mankind, who can call themselves free, must be acknowledged to depend, ought to be rather certain, than barely probable; it is stipulated farther, both by the French and ourselves, that if the supplies, specified in the first article, shall appear insufficient, we shall unite our whole force in the defence of our ally, and struggle, once more, for independence, with ardour proportioned to the importance of our cause.

By these stipulations, sir, no engagements have been formed that can be imagined to have been prohibited by the act of settlement, by which it is provided, that the house of Hanover shall not plunge this nation into a war, for the sake of their foreign dominions, without the consent of the senate; for this war is by no means entered upon for the particular security of Hanover, but for the general advantage of Europe, to repress the ambition of the French, and to preserve ourselves and our posterity from the most abject dependence upon a nation exasperated against us by long opposition, and hereditary hatred.

Nor is the act of settlement only preserved unviolated by the reasons of the present alliance, but by the regular concurrence of the senate which his majesty has desired, notwithstanding his indubitable right of making peace and war by his own authority. I cannot, therefore, imagine upon what pretence it can be urged, that the law, which requires that no war shall be made on account of the Hanoverian dominions without the consent of the senate, is violated, when it is evident that the war is made upon other motives, and the concurrence of the senate is solemnly desired.

But such is the malevolence with which the conduct of the administration is examined, that no degree of integrity or vigilance can secure it from censure. When, in the present question, truth and reason are evidently on their side, past transactions are recalled to memory, and those measures are treated with the utmost degree of contempt and ridicule, of which the greatest part of the audience have probably forgotten the reasons, and of which the authors of them do not always stand up in the defence, because they are weary of repeating arguments to those who listen with a resolution never to be convinced.

How well, sir, those by whom the ministry is opposed, have succeeded in hardening their minds against the force of reason, is evident from their constant custom of appealing from the senate to the people, and publishing, in pamphlets, those arguments which they have found themselves, in this assembly, unable to support; a practice which discovers rather an obstinate resolution to obstruct the government, than zeal for the prosperity of their country, and which, to speak of it in the softest terms, seems to be suggested more by the desire of popularity than the love of truth.

Mr. SANDYS spoke to the effect following:--Sir, notwithstanding the confidence with which this motion has been offered and defended, notwithstanding the specious appearance of respect to his majesty, by which it is recommended, I am not ashamed to declare, that it appears to me inconsistent with the trust reposed in us by our constituents, who owe their allegiance to the king of Britain, and not to the elector of Hanover.

It will be urged, sir, by the people, whom we sit here to represent, that they are already embarrassed with debts, contracted in a late war, from which, after the expense of many millions, and the destruction of prodigious multitudes, they receive no advantage; and that they are now loaded with taxes for the support of another, of which they perceive no prospect of a very happy or honourable conclusion, of either security or profit, either conquests or reprisals; and that they are, therefore, by no means willing to see themselves involved in any new confederacy, by which they may entail on their posterity the same calamities, and oblige themselves to hazard their fortunes and their happiness in defence of distant countries, of which many of them have scarcely heard, and from which no return of assistance is expected.

Mr. WALPOLE spoke again, to this purpose:--Sir, though it is not necessary to refute every calumny that malice may invent, or credulity admit, or to answer those of whom it may reasonably be conceived that they do not credit their own accusations, I will yet rise, once more, in vindication of the treaty of Hanover, to show with how little reason it is censured, to repress the levity of insult, and the pride of unreasonable triumph.

The treaty of Hanover, sir, how long soever it has been ridiculed, and with whatever contempt those by whom it was negotiated have been treated, was wise and just. It was just, because no injury was intended to any power, no invasion was planned, no partition of dominions stipulated, nothing but our own security desired. It was wise, because it produced the end proposed by it, and established that security which the Austrians and Spaniards were endeavouring to destroy.

The emperour of Germany, sir, had then entered into a secret treaty of alliance with Spain, by which nothing less was designed than the total destruction of our liberties, the diminution of our commerce, the alienation of our dominions, and the subversion of our constitution. We were to have been expelled from Gibraltar, and totally excluded from the Mediterranean, the pretender was to have been exalted to the throne, and a new religion, with the slavery that always accompanies it, to have been introduced amongst us, and Ostend was to have been made a port, and to have shared the poor remains of our commerce to foreign nations.

This unjust, this malicious confederacy, was then opposed with the utmost vehemence by the imperial general, whose courage and military capacity are celebrated throughout the world, and whose political abilities and knowledge of the affairs of Europe, were equal to his knowledge of war. He urged, with great force, that such a confederacy would disunite the empire for ever from the maritime powers, by which it had been supported, and which were engaged by one common interest in the promotion of its prosperity: but his remonstrances availed nothing, and the alliance was concluded.

When our ancient allies, who had been so often succoured with our treasure, and defended by our arms, had entered into such engagements; when it was stipulated not only to impoverish but enslave us; not only to weaken us abroad, but to deprive us of every domestick comfort; when a scheme was formed that would have spread misery over the whole nation, and have extended its consequences to the lowest orders of the community, it was surely necessary to frustrate it by some alliance, and with whom could we then unite, but with France?

This is not the only fact on which gentlemen have ventured to speak with great freedom without sufficient information; the conduct of our allies in the late war has been no less misrepresented than that of our ministers in their negotiations. They have been charged with imposing upon us the whole expense of the confederacy, when it may be proved, beyond controversy, that the annual charge of the Dutch was five millions.

Nor did they, sir, only contribute annually thus largely to the common cause, but when we forsook the alliance, and shamefully abandoned the advantages we had gained, they received our mercenaries into their own pay, and expended nine millions in a single year.

Of the truth of these assertions it is easy to produce incontestable evidence, which, however, cannot be necessary to any man who reflects, that from one of the most wealthy nations in the world, the Dutch, with all their commerce, and all their parsimony, are reduced to penury and distress; for who can tell by what means they have sunk into their present low condition, if they suffered nothing by the late war?

How this gentleman, sir, has been deceived, and to whose insinuations his errours are to be imputed, I am at no loss to discover. I hope he will, by this confutation, be warned against implicit credulity, and remember with what caution that man is to be trusted, whose pernicious counsels have endangered his country.

Mr. VYNER spoke thus:--Sir, it is, in my opinion, an incontestable maxim, that no measures are eligible, which are unjust; and that, therefore, before any resolutions are formed, we ought to examine not what motives may be suggested by expedience, but what arguments may be advanced by equity on one part or the other.

If I do not mistake the true intent of the address now proposed, we are invited to declare that we will oppose the king of Prussia in his attempts upon Silesia, a declaration in which I know not how any man can concur, who knows not the nature of his claim, and the laws of the empire. It ought, therefore, sir, to have been the first endeavour of those by whom this address has been so zealously promoted, to show that his claim, so publickly explained, so firmly urged, and so strongly supported, is without foundation in justice or in reason, and is only one of those imaginary titles, which ambition may always find to the dominions of another.

But no attempt has been yet made towards the discussion of this important question, and, therefore, I know not how any man can call upon us to oppose the king of Prussia, when his claim may probably be just, and, by consequence, such as, if it were necessary for us to engage in the affairs of those distant countries, we ought to join with him in asserting.

Lord GAGE spoke next, in substance as follows:--Sir, as no member of this assembly can feel a greater degree of zeal for his majesty's honour than myself; none shall more readily concur in any expression of duty or adherence to him.

But I have been always taught that allegiance to my prince is consistent with fidelity to my country, that the interest of the king and the people of great Britain is the same; and that he only is a true subject of the crown, who is a steady promoter of the happiness of the nation:

For this reason I think it necessary to declare, that Hanover is always to be considered as a sovereignty separate from that of Britain, and as a country with laws and interests distinct from ours; and that it is the duty of the representatives of this nation, to take care that interests so different may never be confounded, and that Britain may incur no expense of which Hanover alone can enjoy the advantage.

If the elector of Hanover should be engaged in war with any of the neighbouring sovereigns, who should be enabled, by a victory, to enter into the country, and carry the terrours of war through all his territories, it would by no means be necessary for this nation to interpose; for the elector of Hanover might lose his dominions without any disadvantage or dishonour to the king or people of Britain.

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Samuel Johnson's Writing: Debate On Addressing The King