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Debate On An Address For Papers Relating To Admiral Haddock

Title:     Debate On An Address For Papers Relating To Admiral Haddock
Author: Samuel Johnson [More Titles by Johnson]

HOUSE OF COMMONS, JAN. 24, 1740-1.

Mr. WALLER this day offered the following motion in writing, That an humble address be presented to his majesty, that he will be graciously pleased to give directions that there may be laid before this house copies of two particular letters written by his majesty's secretary of state to admiral Haddock, which had been addressed for before, and of the letters received from admiral Ogle mentioned therein; together with all letters written by admiral Haddock to either of his majesty's secretaries of state, concerning the said letters, and the execution of the orders contained therein.

This motion he supported by arguments to the following effect:--Sir, no man who considers the present situation of our foreign affairs, the expense and inefficacy of our military preparations, the appearance of negligence in our naval expeditions, and the general disappointment of the hopes which the nation had conceived of victories, vengeance, and reparations, can, in my opinion, doubt the expediency of the motion which I have taken the liberty to make.

When the expectations of the nation are deceived, it certainly becomes those who are deputed to watch over the prosperity of the publick, to inquire whence the disappointment proceeds, and either to inform their constituents that their uneasiness arises from their own errour, and that their hopes are destroyed because they had no rational foundation; or to detect the weak management of those by whom the publick measures have been ill-conducted, or the national treasure has been misapplied.

With regard, sir, to the present war, I know not how the nation can be charged with having formed unreasonable expectations. If they considered the speech from the throne, the most authentick declaration of the intentions of the government, they found there the warmest resentments of the injuries which they had sustained, and the strongest assurances of a vigorous prosecution of all those measures which might produce speedy recompense, and inviolable security.

If they reflect, sir, on the preparations for war, on the multitude of ships, the demand of materials for naval equipments, and the high prices at which workmen were retained, they could not but imagine that either some mighty attempt was designed, or some formidable enemy dreaded, and as they know not whom they had to fear, they ascribed the vigour of our proceedings to a resolution of humbling our enemies by one fatal blow, and re-establishing our naval dominion by a single effort.

And justly, sir, might they indulge this pleasing imagination; with reason might they anticipate a triumph over an enemy whose strength bears no proportion to the force that was fitted out against them, and expect that in a few months they should see the ambassadors of Spain supplicating for peace.

To raise their expectations yet higher, their trade was suspended by an embargo, long continued, and in the strictest manner enforced, and the impresses were let loose upon the sailors; they saw nothing omitted, however grievous to the nation, that could contribute to make it formidable, and bore part of the miseries of war without impatience, in hopes of being rewarded by military glory, and repaid by the plunder of Spain.

But, sir, when so long a time has elapsed, and no account is brought of either a victory or a battle, when they hear nothing but that our fleets have visited several neutral ports, and those of the enemy sailed unmolested from coast to coast, and when they are every day told of the losses of our merchants, are insulted in our own channel by the Spanish privateers, and receive no relations of our success upon the shores of our enemies, can it be wondered that they suspect the reality of our designs, or inquire whence it proceeds that their money has been wasted, their trade interrupted, and the liberty of their fellow-subjects invaded to no purpose?

But how much more justly, sir, are they inflamed when they hear of the lucky stratagems, or daring enterprises of those enemies, which a just sense of their own superiority, had induced them to consider as vanquished before the battle, and of whom they had no apprehensions but that their cowardice would always secure them from vengeance? How justly may they murmur when they read, that our fleets leave every part of the enemy's coast where their presence is necessary, and have afforded the Spaniards an opportunity of changing one port for another, as it is most convenient, and at length of joining the French squadrons, and sailing to the defence of their American dominions?

May they not justly, sir, require of their representatives some reason for such inexplicable conduct? May they not reasonably demand an account of the arguments which procured their approbation of measures, which, so far as they can be examined by those who have no opportunity of perusing the necessary papers, appear either cowardly or treacherous?

And what answer, sir, can we return to such remonstrances, unless this motion be agreed to? How can we appease the discontents of our constituents, or discharge the trust reposed in us, without a very minute and attentive inquiry into questions thus obscure and thus important?

Are we to tell our constituents, that we absolutely rely upon the prudence and fidelity of the ministry and admirals, and recommend to them the same implicit dependence? Are we to confess that we have now for two sessions voted in the dark, and approved what we were not suffered to examine and understand?

Such answers, sir, to questions so reasonable, will not contribute to increase the veneration of the people either for ourselves, or our constitution; and yet this answer, and this only, they can receive from us, if the papers mentioned in the motion I have made are denied.

Mr. CLUTTERBUCK replied in the following manner:--Sir, this motion, though so warmly urged, and so artfully supported, I can consider only as a repetition of a former motion which was approved by the assembly, so far as it could properly be complied with, nor was any paper then concealed which it would not have been an injury to the nation to have divulged.

If the design of this motion be to promote the success of the present war, and the zeal with which it has been pressed, be incited only by the ardour of true patriotism, I doubt not but it will easily be withdrawn by those who are now most inclined to support it, when they shall reflect that it tends to the discovery of our schemes, and to the overthrow of our designs, that it will expose all our consultations to our enemies, and instruct them how to annoy us with most success, and how to shelter themselves from our intended attacks.

It is the first care, sir, of every administration, that their military designs should only be discovered by the execution of them, and that their enemies, by being obliged to guard all parts, should be weak in all. If, by laying our papers before this house, the Spaniards should come to be informed against what part of their dominions our expeditions are designed, will they not increase their strength, improve their fortifications, and double their vigilance? And if we are thus obliged to form new schemes, must we not impute the defeat of the former to our own imprudent zeal, or unseasonable curiosity?

Mr. SANDYS spoke to this effect:--Sir, that we should demand the schemes laid for the future conduct of the war with Spain was never proposed, nor, as it may reasonably be concluded, ever imagined; for what is mentioned in the motion but the papers relating to the transactions of the two last years.

That it should be necessary to remind gentlemen of the difference between the future and the past, would hardly be suspected by any man not accustomed to senatorial controversies and artifices of state; and yet in the argument which has been offered against the motion, nothing has been asserted but that the orders relating to past transactions are not to be laid before us, lest the enemy should thereby gain intelligence of what we now design against them.

The necessity of secrecy in war needs not be urged, because it will not be denied; but when designs have been laid, and miscarried, the reasons of that miscarriage may surely be inquired, without danger of betraying the councils of our country.

If the negligence of our councils, and the misconduct of our commanders, has been such, that no designs have been premeditated; if a war has been carried on by chance, and nothing has succeeded, because nothing has been attempted; if our commanders have not done ill, and have only done nothing; if they have avoided loss by avoiding danger; we may surely inquire to whom such proceedings are to be imputed, whether the defeat of our designs is to be charged upon the strength of our enemy, or the cowardice of our officers; or whether the inactivity and apparent neutrality of our forces is occasioned by the negligence of our admirals, or the irresolution of our own ministry.

There have been, sir, many incidents in these two last years, of which the examination can be of very little advantage to the Spaniards. I do not know what pernicious intelligence they can glean from an inquiry into the reasons for which Haddock's fleet was divided, and Ogle sent to the defence of Minorca, or for which he afterwards returned.

Nor can I conceive that any advantage, except that of merriment and diversion, can be thrown into the hands of our enemies, though we should seriously inquire into what no man has yet pretended to understand, the wonderful escape of the Spanish squadron. A transaction on which we had dwelt long enough with that admiration which ignorance produces, and on which it may not be improper at length to enable us to reason.

This is an affair, perhaps, much better understood by our enemies than by ourselves, and surely we cannot, therefore, be afraid of informing them of it; at least since the fleet has long since sailed out, and left their coast, we can hardly be restrained in our inquiries by the fear of discovering our future designs.

If, therefore, it be the incontestable right of the senate to examine the conduct of publick affairs, which I suppose will scarcely be denied, this motion cannot be rejected as unseasonable, nor can the papers be refused, without increasing those suspicions which are already too prevalent throughout the nation.

Nor, indeed, for our own sakes, ought we to delay this inquiry any longer, lest by having long acted without being accountable, the minister should form a prescription against our privilege, and, in time, tell us in plain terms that we are his slaves, and that we are not to presume to carry our examinations, however solemn and important they may continue to appear, farther than he shall be pleased to permit; and that, whatever may be the opinion of the people that deputes us, or, whatever ancient claims we may plead to authority, we are now to consider ourselves only as the oppressors of the nation, and the panegyrists of the court.

Mr. WALPOLE next rose, and spoke to this purpose:--Sir, it cannot be denied to be reasonable that all those papers should be laid before the senate, which can be communicated without injury to the publick. Of this number we may justly imagine the orders sent to the admirals, in which the time of their departure is fixed, and many others which may be of use to inform the house, but cannot enable the enemy to judge either of our force or our designs.

But it is evident, that there must be others included in this motion, which our regard for the success of the war, and the prosperity of our country, ought to determine us to conceal, and such as are never exposed by any administration; it is, therefore, proper to limit the address to papers of a certain kind, or a certain date, which may be considered by the house without benefit to our enemies, and for the examination of which a day or two will be more than sufficient.

Mr. PULTENEY spoke in substance as follows:--Sir, I know not what number of papers the wisdom of the administration will allow us, but, if we judge by the time proposed to be spent in examination, we shall not be distracted with a great diversity of subjects; intelligence will be very penuriously dealt out, and if we submit to their choice of the writings which shall be laid before us, our inquiry will probably end without any discoveries made either by our enemies or ourselves.

But I hope, sir, we shall not be so cheaply satisfied, nor exposed by the fear of one enemy, to the insolence of another. I hope we shall resolutely continue our demands of information, while a single line is concealed, from which any light can be expected.

There may, indeed, be circumstances in which our demands, however loud, will necessarily be vain. It is not impossible that we may suspect those transactions of deep art, and secret contrivance, which have been the consequences of mere indolence, and want of consideration. Our great ministers have been, perhaps, only doing nothing, while we have imagined that they were working out of sight.

Misled, sir, by this notion, we may call for the orders that have been despatched in these two last years, when, perhaps, our secretaries of state have been fattening on their salaries without employment, and have slept without care, and without curiosity, while we have been congratulating ourselves upon their vigilance for our preservation.

Or if orders have been given, it is to be considered, that the end of inspecting orders is to compare them with the conduct of the admirals to whom they were directed: from this comparison, I doubt not but many gentlemen expect uncommon discoveries; but to check all unreasonable hopes before they have taken possession of their hearts, for unreasonable hopes are the parent of disappointment, I think it proper to remind them, that to draw any conclusions from the orders, it is necessary to understand them.

This consideration alone is sufficient to redress the ardour of inquiry, for every man that has had opportunities of knowing the wonderful accomplishments of our ministry, the depth of their designs, the subtilty of their stratagems, and the closeness of their reasoning, will easily conceive it probable that they might send such orders as none but themselves could understand; and what then will be the consequence of our idle curiosity, but that we be led into a labyrinth of endless conjectures? For we have long ago found that no explanations are to be expected, and that our ministry are too wise to discover their secrets to their enemies.

Let us, therefore, examine the naked facts which have fallen within our observation, and endeavour to inform ourselves of the meaning of these secret orders by the execution of them.

Admiral Ogle was despatched from Haddock's fleet to protect Minorca, and, in his absence, the Spanish squadron sailed away. Perhaps he was ordered to watch Ferrol and Minorca at the same time, and not understanding how that was to be done, neglected one part of his charge, by an attention to the other: as a watchman who should be employed to guard at once the bank in London, and the treasury in Westminster.

Admiral NORRIS, sir, sailed lately forth, I suppose, in pursuance of orders, with a very formidable fleet, and after having lost sight for some days of the British coast, sailed back again with great precipitation. Whether his orders were only to sail forth, or whether, when he examined them farther, he could not understand them, I pretend not to determine; but it may reasonably be imagined that his orders were of the same kind with those of our other admirals, because they produced the same consequences.

I have been told, that formerly our commanders were ordered to burn, sink, and destroy; and that in those times it was not uncommon for a British admiral to do much mischief with a strong fleet; but it is evident that the style is since changed, for our admirals are now very inoffensive, and go out only to come back. I, therefore, think the motion highly necessary, and such as ought to be complied with.

Admiral NORRIS here rose up, and spoke thus:--Sir, I am not conscious that my conduct in any part of my life has exposed me to be justly treated with contempt and ridicule, and what I have not deserved I will not bear.

If any gentleman in this house can accuse me of having neglected my duty, or deserted it, let him not spare insults or invectives, let him now expose my cowardice or my carelessness, let him prove me unworthy of trust or of command.

But my own conscience acquits me, and I defy any man to produce and support his accusation; nor can you, sir, [Footnote: Addressing himself to Mr. PULTENEY.] who have thus contemptuously treated me, allege any thing against me that may justify your neglect of decency: that you have transgressed the rules of decency is the softest censure that your behaviour admits, and I think it may with equal propriety be asserted, that you have broken the laws of justice.

Mr. PULTENEY replied in this manner:--Sir, I shall submit to you and all who hear me, whether I have treated the honourable gentleman's name with any contemptuous freedom of speech. The usual method of mentioning an expedition is that of naming the commander, who is not thereby necessarily included in the censure of an unsuccessful attempt, and I am very far from calling his courage and capacity into question.

Not that I shall ever think it necessary to make an apology for expressing my sentiments with freedom as a member of this house, in which I shall always speak what I think, and in what manner it shall appear to me most proper, nor shall I fear to repeat without doors what I say here.

Sir Robert WALPOLE next rose up, and spoke to this purpose:--Sir, as I am not acquainted with any measures pursued by the administration, which it is their particular interest to conceal, I am desirous that all papers should be laid before the house which will not afford our enemies any opportunity of obviating our designs.

What necessity there is for this address I cannot, indeed, discover, because I know not any foundation for suspicion of either negligence or treachery, which have been both insinuated in this debate.

Nor are the ministry, however ludicrously their abilities have been treated, afraid of discovering their ignorance, by laying before the house the orders which they have given to our admirals; orders of which they are far from doubting that they will appear, upon a candid examination, rational and proper.

The chief objection to this motion arises from its unreasonableness, and the necessity which it will produce of assigning to a fruitless inquiry those hours that may be more usefully employed.

Mr. PITT replied in terms to the effect following:--Sir, it is my opinion, that our time cannot be more usefully employed during a war, than in examining how it has been conducted, and settling the degree of confidence that may be reposed in those to whose care are intrusted our reputations, our fortunes, and our lives.

There is not any inquiry, sir, of more importance than this; it is not a question about an uncertain privilege, or a law, which, if found inconvenient, may hereafter be repealed; we are now to examine whether it is probable that we shall preserve our commerce and our independence, or whether we are sinking into subjection to a foreign power.

But this inquiry, sir, will produce no great information, if those, whose conduct is examined, are allowed to select the evidence. For what accounts will they exhibit but such as have often already been laid before us, and such as they now offer without concern: accounts obscure and fallacious, imperfect and confused, from which nothing can be learned, and which can never entitle the minister to praise, though they may screen him from punishment.

Mr. PELHAM spoke as follows:--Sir, I am confident that no man engaged in the administration desires to be screened from the most rigorous inquiry, or would defer to exhibit the papers a moment for any other reason than his regard for the publick.

I am confident, that nothing could so much contribute to advance the particular and distinct interest of the ministry as the publication of all the writings that relate to the present war, by which it would incontestably appear that nothing has been omitted that could promote our success, that our commanders have been sent out with orders to act with the utmost vigour, and that our preparations have been not disproportioned to the importance of our design.

It will appear that no former ministry have given greater proofs of their zeal for the publick interest, or have more steadily pursued the most proper measures by which it might be advanced.

I am not, indeed, certain that those who now call so loudly for information would be prevailed on by any degree of evidence to suspend their censures. Them, who are now dissatisfied, I shall despair of influencing by reason or testimony; for they seem to inquire only to condemn; nor is this motion, perhaps, made so much for the sake of obtaining information, as of harassing the ministry with delays, and suspending affairs of greater importance.

This motion was agreed to, and upon another motion made by Mr. SANDYS, it was resolved,

"That an humble address be presented to his majesty, that he will be graciously pleased to give directions, that there may be laid before this house a copy of the reasons sent by admiral Cavendish, in pursuance of an order from the commissioners of the admiralty, which had retarded the sailing of admiral Ogle's squadron, so much beyond expectation."


"That an humble address be presented to his majesty, that he will be graciously pleased to give directions, that there may be laid before this house a copy of the reasons transmitted by admiral Ogle, that did prevent him from sailing, pursuant to his repeated orders for that purpose, and particularly to those sent him by the commissioners of the admiralty."

[The end]
Samuel Johnson's Writing: Debate On An Address For Papers Relating To Admiral Haddock