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urged in this house, that common fame is a foundation sufficient for an enquiry : but this is a doctrine which I never could subscribe to, because, if it were allowed in its full extent, we could never be a session without an enquiry; for I never heard of a minister who was not, every year of his administration, accused by common fame of having done something amiss. I must therefore be of opinion, that a parliamentary enquiry ought to have something more solid than common fame to rest
But whether this be a right opinion or no is a question that can have nothing to do in the present debate; for the late treaty of peace is not so much as accused by com :non fame. By every one who considers the circumstances to which both we and our allies were reduced, it is allowed to be a better treaty than could be expected : and as the decree of a judge is generally supposed to be just, when neither of the contending parties is pleased with it, so the late treaty has this in its favour, that it is more exclaimed against in France than it is in England.
An enquiry into the conduct of our ministers, with regard to the late treaty of peace, cannot therefore, sir, be said to have even common fame for a foundation, and if we have no foundation for enquiring into that treaty; we can have no foundation for enquiring into any transaction previous to it; for surely we ought not to inflame the nation, and expose our own characters and the dignity of this assembly, by setting on foot an enquiry into • an affair which is not condemned by common fame, unless we had proofs of some wicked design or egregious misconduct. I say, sir, expose our own characters and the dignity of the assembly, because when a parliamentary enquiry is set on foot, the people always conclude, that something wicked or very weak has been done, and they justly expect to see the authors punished, or at least removed from our national councils. If they are disappointed in this expectation, they always suppose, that many of us have been bribed to screen the guilty, and
conceive a very unfavourable opinion of this august as. sembly. This is a most dangerous consequence, and might prove fatal to the constitution of our government; and yet, this must always be the consequence of our enquiring into any transaction, which can neither be accused of weakness or wickedness; for unless something of this kind does appear, no parliamentary punishment
But supposing, sir, that there has been some little neglect or imprudence in the management of any public affair, and that the managers not only deserve, but would probably, upon an enquiry, meet with a parliamentary punishment or censure ; yet the dangers to which the nation is exposed by every such enquiry, do a great deal more than over-balance the advantages that can be expected from it. The noble lord was pleased to say, that as such an enquiry is always carried on by a secret committee, there could be no danger of any secrets being thereby discovered, that mighc any way prejudice the honour of the crown, or the interest of the nation ; but in this I must differ from his lordship; for I shall always look upon it as a certain maxim, that the more persons a secret is committed to, the greater is the danger of its being discovered. Besides, our privy-counsellors are always sworn to secrecy, which will always be a bar to their discovering any of the secrets of government, as the noble lord himself was pleased to observe; for, surely no man will wantonly tell a secret, when he knows that the person he tells it to, must look upon him as a perjured knave: but I never heard that the members, even of our secret committees, take any oath of secrecy; there. fore, we have reason to be afraid of their discovering secrets out of mere wantonness; especially, when we consider how fond men are to shew that they know more than the rest of mankind.
The' noble lord was pleased to advance another doc. trine, sir, in which I cannot agree with him : he was pleased to say, that a wise and upright minister can be
put to no great trouble by an enquiry into his conduct ; but I must beg his lordship's pardon. If an innocent man were to be tried for murder, can any one think, that it would give him no concern, or that the preparing for, and making his defence, would take up no part of his time? The most prudent and most innocent man may be brought to suffer by false witnessess, or by misapprehending the evidence, either for him or against him; therefore, he must give close attention during the whole time of the trial, to prevent or expose falsehood, and to have the evidence on both sides clearly and rightly understood. This is the very case of a minister, whose conduct is enquired into by parliament; his character, perhaps his life, is at stake; and, therefore, during the whole course of the enquiry, let it be of never so long continuance, he must give the closet attention to its proceedings; he must take care to prevent or expose any false witnesses against him; he must take care to have proper witnesses, and proper vouchers for his desence; and he must take care to have the whole evidence, on both sides, distinctly and rightly understood. Can a minister, in such cir. cumstances, have time to mind the public business of the nation ? Ought we to bring any one of our sovereign's ministers into such circumstances, without any previous proofs of strong presumptions of his being guilty ? Even then we ought not, unless some very great national advantage may be expected from the result of the enquiry.
These, sir, are inconveniencies and dangers which should make us, at all times, extremely cautious of en. tering upon any enquiry into the conduct of our ministers; but the greatest and most dangerous inconvenience I have not yet mentioned ; that is, the discredit it brings upon our administration at all foreign courts. is like a gentleman's having a suit brought against him for his whole estate : let the suit be never so ground. less, no man will give him credit till it be determined ; and in the mean time he may lose an opportunity of making great improvements. The case may be the same
with this nation. As my worthy friend upon the floor has already hinted, we have still several articles to settle both with France and Spain, relating to our commerce and plantations. Could our ministers expect any suc. cess in the negotiations for this purpose, should they be brought under, what I'may call a parliamentary prosecution ? And as both France and Spain feel as yet the smart of the wounds they received from our navy, if those points are not settled whilst that smart remains, we may afterwards find it very difficult, if not impossible, ever to procure any settlement, without a new war. Both these kingdoms have reason to dread the power of this nation, whilst we are cordially united amongst ourselves: France owes its being to our divisions under Henry VI. and its present grandeur to our divisions under Charles I. and Spain owes its present low condition to our cordial union under queen Elizabeth and queen Anne. liamentary enquiries have always fomented divisions in this country, if any such thing should be now set on foot, they will expect the same consequence, and will haughtily reject the most reasonable proposals our ministers can make.
The present is therefore, sir, the most improper time we can choose for enquiring into any late transaction, were there really a good ground for such an enquiry: but when there is not the least ground; when our mi. nisters are not so much as accused by common fame of having pursued any wicked or weak measures ; when they have brought our enemies to yield up by a peace all the conquests they had made during the course of a successful war, an enquiry would not only be groundless, but madness; for as to the insinuations thrown out, as if our success in the war had been defeated by the rivalship of two contending ministers, or as if any thing had been neglected in the treaty of peace, on purpose to shew the people of this nation, that they must not expect any redress by entering into a war against the good liking of some gentlemen; they do not require any answer, because I know of no rivalship that has lately been between ministers, nor do I know of any gentlemen that were ever against entering into the war; and after we had entered into the war, it is evident from facts, and confirmed by the large debt we have contracted, that we did all we could to obtain success. It is manifest, that we did not spare our money, and our enemies themselves confess, that our troops did not spare their blood. If our allies did not likewise exert their utmost strength, or if their troops did not at all times appear so forward to spill their blood in their country's cause, are our minis. ters to blame? Or, can this be a reason for our enquiring into the conduct of our ministers?
But it seems to be some people's way of thinking, sir, that every misfortune ought to be charged to the account of our ministers : though in this country, ministers have less power than in any other, yet we seem to think, they have more power than was ever granted by God Almighty to any human creature. If an expedition be disappointed by contrary winds or tempests, our ministers are charged with the disappointment, as if they had command of wind and weather. If an enterprize fails by the neglect or incapacity of the officers employed, our complaints presently run high against our ministers, though every one knows, that by the nature of our constitution, our ministers are often obliged to employ officers, on whose care or capacity they have little dependence. In short, some people amongst us seem to
. treat our ministers as the Turkish Janizaries do their commanders. If they have good success, their com. mander is a wise and great general, let his success be never so accidental, his blunders never so conspicuous : whereas, if they meet with bad success, the whole blame is laid upon the commander, though often owing to their own cowardice or sedition. But in one respect there is a wide difference ; for in this way of judging, the Turkish Janizaries are constant and uniform; whereas, in this country, let a man who but yesterday loaded the Vol. I.