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Thursday, September 13, 2018

George Canning: The Fall Of Napoleon

The fame of George Canning [1770-1827], statesman and orator, is based mainly on the liberal policies he pursued as head of the Foreign Office. He supported non-intervention and national and liberal movements in Europe. He recognized on behalf of his country the independence of the republics of South America, and thus paved the way for the estab­lishment of the Monroe Doctrine as an international principle. In a speech at Liverpool in 1814, parts of which follow, Canning expresses the feelings of the British people at the victory over Napoleon.

Can any man now look back upon the trial which we have gone through, and maintain that, at any period during the last twenty years, the plan of insulated policy could have been adopted, without having in the event, at this day, prostrated England at the foot of a conqueror? Great, indeed, has been the call upon our exertions; great, indeed, has been the drain upon our resources; long and wearisome has the struggle been; and late is the moment at which peace is brought within our reach. But even though the difficulties of the contest may have been enhanced, and its duration protracted by it, yet is there any man who seriously doubts whether the having associated our destinies with the destinies of other nations be or be not that which, under the blessing of Providence, has eventually secured the safety of all?

It is at the moment when such a trial has come to its issue, that it is fair to ask of those who have suffered under the pressure of protracted exer­tion (and of whom rather than of those who are assembled around me— for by whom have such privations been felt more sensibly?)—it is now, I say, the time to ask whether, at any former period of the contest, such a peace could have been made as would at once have guarded the national interests and corresponded with the national character. I address myself now to such persons only as think the character of a nation an essential part of its strength, and consequently of its safety. But if, among persons of that description, there be one who, with all his zeal for the glory of his country, has yet at times been willing to abandon the contest in mere weariness and despair, of such a man I would ask, whether he can indicate the period at which he now wishes such an abandonment had been con­sented to by the Government of Great Britain.

Is there any man that has a heart in his bosom who does not find, in the contemplation of this contrast alone, a recompense for the struggles and the sufferings of years?

But, gentlemen, the doing right is not only the most honorable course of action—it is also the most profitable in its results. At any former period of the war, the independence of almost all the other countries, our allies, would have to be purchased with sacrifices profusely poured out from the lap of British victory. Not a throne to be reestablished, not a province to be evacuated, not a garrison to be withdrawn, but this country would have had to make compensation out of her conquests for the concessions ob­tained from the enemy. Now, happily, this work is already done, either by our efforts or to our hands. The peninsula free—the lawful commonwealth of European states already, in a great measure, restored, Great Britain may now appear in the congress of the world, rich in conquests, nobly and rightfully won, with little claim upon her faith or her justice, whatever may be the spontaneous impulse of her generosity or her moderation.

Such, gentlemen, is the situation and prospect of affairs at the moment at which I have the honor to address you. That you, gentlemen, may have your full share in the prosperity of your country is my sincere and earnest wish. The courage with which you bore up in adverse circumstances eminently entitles you to this reward.

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