The Annexation of Cracow

The hon. member for Montrose [Mr. Joseph Hume] having made his motion, I shall, without entering on the general argument which has been stated by him and by my noble friend opposite, shortly state to the House the view which I take of the motion which he has made. With respect to the argument which has been stated, that the three Powers were not justified by the Treaty of Vienna in concluding for themselves the consideration, whether the free state of Cracow should be maintained or extinguished–with respect to that argument I cannot but concur with my hon. friend who made the motion, and my noble friend who seconded it. I think it is clear from the words of the Treaty of Vienna, and from the prominence which the arrangement respecting Poland took, both in the conferences which preceded that treaty and in the articles of the treaty itself, that these articles were not immaterial parts of the treaty, but did form one of the principal stipulations upon which the great Powers of Europe agreed at the termination of a bloody and destructive war. Nor can I think that, while the arrangement which placed the Duchy of Warsaw under the dominion of the Emperor of Russia formed the subject of many discussions and a long correspondence, not only between the Ministers of the different Courts, but also of a singular correspondence between the Minister for Foreign Affairs in this country and the Emperor of Russia himself–I say I cannot think that, while that arrangement formed a principal part of the treaty, the arrangement which left one small portion, ‘a mere atom,’ as the allied Powers called it, free and independent, was an immaterial, or an insignificant part of it. It cannot but appear, I think, however small the territory–however small the population of that state–that yet the treaty formed, first between the three Powers and then by all the Powers who were the concurring parties in the Treaty of Vienna, meant that freedom and independence should leave to Poland–should leave to some part of the Polish nation–a separate existence; and that, giving up much,admitting much, to the Emperor of Russia, it was still consecrated, as a principle, that some part of the Polish nation should retain an independent and separate existence.

For this reason, therefore, I consider the existence of Cracow as a state, having been thus secured by general treaty–whatever the complaints the three Powers had made that Cracow was the focus of disturbances; that revolutionary intrigues there found a centre and a means of organization; that there arose from that small state insurrection against the three surrounding Powers; that it was impossible to preserve those Powers from this insurrection: that if these reasons were good and valid–if they were felt to be strong–they should have been stated to England and to France; that England and France should have been invited to a congress, or some species of conference, in which their consent should have been asked to put an end to a state of things which those Powers declared to be intolerable, and which they could no longer permit with safety to themselves. So much, I think, is clear from the papers which record the general transaction of the Treaty of Vienna; and so much also, I think, is clear from the passage which my noble friend opposite [Lord Sandon] has read from the statement of the Prussian Minister of Foreign Affairs, in which he, in words, admits that if the arrangement of the Treaty of Vienna were to be altered and set aside, agreement and concurrence with England and France would previously have been necessary. In the next place, with regard to the reasons which are given by the three Great Powers, and which are stated more especially by Prince Metternich, on the part of the Court of Austria, those reasons appear to me insufficient for the violent proceeding which has taken place. I cannot myself imagine that there could not have been precautions taken, which, however they limited the action of the free and independent state of Cracow, would yet have been a security that its name and its independence would have been maintained; while all danger from refugees, from its being made a place where strangers from all parts of the Continent came and planned conspiracy, might have been encountered and prevented. It does seem to me most extraordinary that, with this little state–this mere atom, surrounded by Russia, by Austria, and by Prussia–these three great and mighty monarchies, with such vast military forces, with such unbounded means, having command of all the roads which lead to Cracow, having the power of marching their troops at any moment into the city of Cracow, having certain rights which were constituted and assigned to them in the Treaty of Vienna–should have found themselves so powerless as to be unable to prevent Cracow becoming dangerous to their peace and welfare. I cannot, indeed, but suspect, especially looking at the latter part of this transaction, when government was dissolved in Cracow–when disorganization took place–that it was not unwelcome, or altogether unpalatable to those three Powers, to be enabled to say, ‘All means of government are gone; Cracow is a scene of anarchy and disorder, and no remedy remains but the total abolition of the existence of that republic.’ Therefore, Sir, both on the grounds of the Treaty of Vienna, the distinctness of the stipulations referring to Cracow, and with regard to the reasons which were urged for its extinction, I think, in the first place, there was a manifest violation of the Treaty of Vienna; and I believe, in the second, that, if the question had been discussed in a congress or conference among the Powers, there is no sufficient proof, so far as we have hitherto seen, that the three Powers would have been in a position to show good cause for the course they have adopted.

Neither, Sir, am I convinced by the instances that are furnished by the Minister of Austria, as to various stipulations of the Treaty of Vienna, which have been altered by uncontested agreement between Powers who were concerned, and whose territories were affected, such as small parts of principalities given by the Duke of Coburg, or others, transferred in consideration of some equivalents to other princes, for the mutual convenience of their respective territories, for the purpose of giving a fair equivalent to each, and of sometimes making a more satisfactory arrangement for all. These are, naturally and obviously, alterations of the Treaty of Vienna, which might take place without any general appeal to all the Powers who have signed that treaty. Such alterations bear, in my mind, no resemblance to an infraction of one of those great and leading and master stipulations in which all the Powers of Europe are deeply interested. Supposing that some arrangement were made between Austria and Prussia for the extinction of Saxony, and that the Great Powers were to ask how they, only two of the parties to the Treaty of Vienna, could agree to extinguish Saxony, what answer would it be–that some little bit of territory had before been exchanged between some of the minor princes, and that then we made no protest? And, as I consider it, the extinction of this free state is an alteration of one of the main and leading provisions of the treaty. But my hon. friend, Sir, not satisfied with the protest which my noble friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has directed to be delivered at the Courts of the three Powers principally concerned, wishes this House to agree to certain resolutions. With respect to the first of these resolutions, my noble friend opposite [Lord Sandon], who seconds the motion, is in complete accordance. With regard to the last he is not so far agreed, and he doubts whether the House ought to affirm it. As to the first of these resolutions, ‘That this House views with alarm and indignation the incorporation of the free state of Cracow into the dominions of the Emperor of Austria, in manifest violation of the Treaty of Vienna,’ I should beg the House to consider that there is a very great difference between that which has been done by my noble friend [Lord Palmerston] in obedience to Her Majesty’s commands, and that which it is proposed to this House to do. It is the prerogative of the Crown to make treaties, to carry on the correspondence and relations of this country with foreign Powers. Every public and every personal communication is agreed on in the name of the Sovereign, and by the command of the Sovereign. If a treaty has been signed and ratified, as this Treaty of Vienna was signed and ratified, by the Minister of England in the name of George III, and of the Prince Regent of England; and if any violation or contravention of that treaty takes place, the person to whom it devolves to make any representation, is obviously, again, the Minister of the Sovereign–the Minister of the Sovereign of England, who has made the original treaty. But with regard to the functions of this House, they are of a very different nature. When there is a treaty made, or a correspondence takes place, upon which it is thought necessary that the opinion and concurrence of this House should be taken, it is usual then for the Ministers of the Crown to ask for that general concurrence. If a treaty of commerce or a treaty of subsidy is signed, that requires the intervention of Parliament, it is usual for the Minister of the Crown to ask for the sanction or concurrence of Parliament to that treaty.

But to affirm a resolution which is not thus brought by necessity before the House of Commons–to affirm a resolution merely declaratory of an opinion, that is not the correct nor the regular course of proceeding in this House. For my own part it appears to me, that while it is obviously incumbent on the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and on the advisers of Her Majesty, to declare their sense of any violation of treaty, or of any matter which concerns the foreign relations of this country with other countries, it is not advisable that the House of Commons should affirm resolutions with respect to the conduct of those foreign Powers, unless it be intended to follow up those resolutions by some measures or actions on the part of the Executive Government. For my part I have never admired–and I have always declared in this House that I never admired in this respect–the conduct of the French Chambers with regard to Poland. It has been the custom of the Chamber of Deputies in France annually to protest at the commencement of the Session against the acts of the Emperor Nicholas, and to make a declaration in favour of the nationality of Poland. I think that such annual declarations are illusive; for while they have been made in this manner, they have been followed up by no measures; they are made by a representative assembly, without any action following on that declaration. Be it observed how great is the difference between that and a protest on the part of a Sovereign. The Sovereign, by prerogative, entrusted with this power of making treaties, is forced of necessity to some opinion or other–of tacit acquiescence, of favourable and applauding concurrence, or one involving remonstrance and reproach–some course or other is forced upon the Executive Government of the country. But with regard to the House of Commons, it is not necessary, in the ordinary course of foreign affairs, that this House should at all interfere or declare its opinion on these subjects. I can see no advantage in altering that usual course. I do not think there would be any advantage in bringing these subjects frequently or constantly before the House, with a view to a declaration of opinion–I think the House would gain no respect by a deviation from its usual custom. That is my reason, therefore, while I could have no objections to urge in opinion against this resolution–for I have already declared what is my opinion with regard to the extinction of the free state of Cracow–why I object to its being made a resolution of the House of Commons; and on that point I should be disposed to move the previous question. With regard to the other resolution, I should act in like manner. That resolution says that–

‘Russia, having withdrawn that adhesion [to the Treaty of Vienna], and those arrangements being through her act no longer in force, the payments from this country on account of the loan should be henceforth suspended.’

Now, that is entirely a different question. The arrangements at the time of the Treaty of Vienna involved an union of Belgium with Holland; and there being a debt in Holland which was payable, and the interest of which was payable by Russia, Great Britain took upon herself the payment of the interest of that debt, in consideration of Russia being a party to that arrangement. When, after that, these two countries were separated, Russia no longer attempted to maintain that arrangement; and, therefore, by the letter of the treaty, England might then have said, ‘You no longer maintain the union of Belgium with Holland; and therefore as you do not comply with the letter of that treaty, we are free from the discharge of the interest of that debt.’ But although this would have been in perfect and entire conformity with the letter of the treaty, it would have been most inconsistent with the justice of the case; because the Power that had favoured the separation, and which, from the moment the insurrection in Belgium was successful, favoured, recognized, and aided that separation, was especially England; and for England to come forward and say, ‘You did not maintain the union between Holland and Belgium, an union which we did not wish, which we wanted to see dissolved, we declare ourselves free from the payment of that debt’–to have said so would have been such an evasion of an engagement, that I certainly could not have taken any part in adopting it.

But it was not evaded. England being free from the letter of the engagement, made a new engagement with Russia; and in that engagement she agreed to continue the payment of the interest of that debt. The actual ground for continuing the payment of that interest was, that Russia did abide by the general arrangement of the Treaty of Vienna; and that it was only in consequence of the acts of England herself that she did not maintain the union between Holland and Belgium. But undoubtedly the words were introduced into that convention which were a security to Russia for payment of

‘her old Dutch debt, in consideration of the general arrangements of the Congress of Vienna, to which she had given her adhesion –arrangements which remain in full force.’

Now, these words were certainly used. They were introduced at the request of the representatives of Russia in this country. They were put in, in order to show that, whilst Russia had departed in one principal respect from this arrangement, yet she was not to be accused of any violation of the general treaty, of any bad faith in the matter, because she had only done so at the request of England. But still, as I think, the original arrangement and the general reason of the arrangement remain in full force; and what was that original arrangement? It was, that Russia had agreed with England with respect to the territorial disposition of Holland and Belgium. There was no question at that time of any other arrangement, or of the Treaty of Vienna being violated or disturbed. Russia desired these words to be inserted in the treaty. So far as England was concerned, she did not wish those words to be inserted. It was not the expression of any desire of hers that they were so; but it seemed to be a matter of good faith, that as Russia still maintained the original arrangement, therefore it was right to continue to pay the interest of the debt. Now, I say with respect to the spirit of the agreement, that I do not think it would be just to take advantage of the insertion of these words, and that Russia having, so far as Belgium and Holland are concerned, faithfully preserved those stipulations, having never attempted either to disturb this arrangement, and still less refused her aid to England with regard to any question respecting them, I do not think, in point of fair dealing, we should be justified in refusing to pay the interest of the debt. I do think, however, that according to these words, we might now, as we formerly might have done, refuse to pay this interest. We might say to Russia: ‘You have permitted these words to be inserted–they were inserted with your sanction; and, as they were inserted with your sanction, we will take advantage of these words, and we will refuse any longer to pay the sum.’ That would be conformable to one interpretation of the treaty.

Those whom we consulted, who were the highest authorities that we could consult with regard to the interpretation of Acts of Parliament bearing upon treaties–the legal authorities who are usually consulted on those subjects–have told us, that they think, according to the spirit of the arrangement, according to the spirit of the convention, the money ought still to be paid. It is at most, state it as favourably as you can for the hon. gentleman’s motion, a doubtful point, upon which, if you wish to take advantage, you might claim that advantage from words inserted in the convention. According to my opinion, you would be acting against the spirit of the treaty in order to take advantage of a plea which, I think, in a court of law, might perhaps be urged in order to get rid of a contract, but which as between nations, ought not to be used. I think, in so considering this question, we should lower our position. I think we should deprive ourselves of that advantage which we now have if we were to reduce this to a transaction of pounds, shillings, and pence. I consider that in late transactions in Europe, although, on more than one occasion, and by different Powers, our wishes have not been complied with, our desires have not been listened to, our protests may have been disregarded, yet there does remain with us a moral strength nothing can take away. There is no treaty the stipulations of which it can be imputed to England that she has violated, evaded, or set at naught. We are ready, in the face of Europe, however inconvenient some of those stipulations may be, to hold ourselves bound, by all our engagements, to keep the fame, and the name, and the honour of the Crown of England unsullied, and to guard that unsullied honour as a jewel which we will not have tarnished. With that sentiment, Sir, if I should ask my noble friend to go to the Court of Russia, and say, ‘To be sure you have violated a treaty–to be sure you have extinguished an independent state. We have allowed this to be done. You shall hear no threat of war. We will not arm for the purpose. We will admit that the state of Cracow is extinguished. We will admit that her inhabitants are reduced to subjection. The names of freedom and of independence to them are lost for ever. But this we will do. There is a claim of some thousand pounds which we can make against you, which we now pay, and which we will now throw upon your shoulders; and in that way we will revenge ourselves for your violation of treaties’–we should be taking a part, we should be using language which is not becoming the position England has hitherto held; which is not becoming the position I wish her in future to hold against the world. Having thus stated as shortly as I could the views I entertain upon the subject, I ask you not to come in this House of Commons, which does not usually interfere with the foreign relations of this country, to any idle resolution upon which you don’t intend to act; and I ask you, in the next place, not to lower this question to a mere question of money value, not to go and demand how much this Russian-Dutch stock may be worth in the market, but to preserve that which, as I think, is of inestimable value; I wish you to allow, as this House has hitherto allowed, by its silent acquiescence, the protest which the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has delivered, to remain in full force, as a declaration upon our part–a declaration which will have its value, depend upon it, in regard to future transactions–that we do not abstain from the observance of treaties which we believe to have been violated; and let us be able to say that we have sought no interest of England in this matter. We have not looked to any interest, either large or petty, in regard to ourselves; we have regarded the great interests of Europe; we have desired that the settlement which put an end to a century of bloodshed should remain in full force and vigour. We have declared that sentiment to the world, and we trust that the reprobation with which this transaction has been met, will, in future, lead all Powers, whoever they may be, who may be induced to violate treaties, to consider that they will meet with the disinterested protest of England, so that her character shall stand before the world untarnished by any act of her own.