PP/GC/PO/103 Letter from Lord Ponsonby to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, emphasising the need for a King to strengthen the Belgian government's position, 20 April 1831
Letter from John Ponsonby, second Baron Ponsonby, [British Joint Commissioner of the London Conference to the provisional government of Belgium], to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston: he has been searching all day for more information about the feelings and resolutions of various parties and individuals on the state of affairs and about their own conduct. He has not met anyone who believes that the government has the power to yield to the demands of the Conference about the limits [of Belgium]. Everyone thinks the Duchy must be defended unless the government is willing to abdicate and give up the administration to the mob. Ponsonby cannot contradict this opinion as he believes it to be correct. Everybody asserts, Ponsonby believes correctly, that with a King, the government would be able to create a strong popular feeling for him and obtain enough strength to administer the affairs of the country, even if the King is absent from Brussels for a while and does no more than consent to accept the crown. "Mons[ieu]r Lebeau when alone with me went so far as to say, `Let P[rince] Leopold accept, whether he be recognized or not, and we will undertake to place the gover[nmen]t in a position to be able to treat.' In saying this he necessarily meant able to yield, though he could not well declare that to be his intention." Leopold's election is certain, with an overwhelming majority. Even Gendebien will vote for him, Van der Weyer is eager to support Leopold, and none of the priests will vote against him. Leopold's nomination would probably calm everything at once and prevent war. One of Ponsonby's sources says that if Leopold rejects the proposals made to him, then he, Van der Weyer, Gendebien and several of the most influential deputies would propose in Congress to make the Belgian government "republican in name and form", form a close alliance with the republican party in France and throw Belgium completely into their hands. Van de Weyer, Gendebien and some others would go to Paris the following Monday to carry out this plan, by which time the result of the proposals made to Leopold would be known. Van de Weyer added that in principle he was in favour of a King, but that such obstacles were continually thrown in the way of electing one, that Belgium was forced to seek a form of government which could be established without consulting the wishes or opinions of any other country. Van der Weyer said he did not doubt the success of his proposition in Belgium, and Ponsonby fears he is correct. Van der Weyer has always believed that Belgium ought not to dispute about the limits, "but should inexorably refuse the propositions about the debt in order to obtain from Holland by compromise, that is sale, such arrangements as were necessary for Belgium." He said that at present the Belgian government did not have the power to yield to the demands about limits, and he held the same opinion as Lebeau on this subject. Comte D'Aerschot arrived in Brussels that morning and informed Ponsonby of his conversation with Palmerston. It was difficult for Ponsonby to elude questions leading to the disclosure of the protocols which Palmerston had told him to keep secret, which the Comte had information about. He succeeded, however, and at the same time made sure Lebeau clearly understood that in Ponsonby's opinion the resolution of the Conference on the question of limits was immovable. Ponsonby hopes he may say freely what he is convinced is the truth concerning the protocols, without being thought lacking in respect for those whose orders it is his duty to obey. After careful enquiry and consideration, he believes that the protocols will not produce any good results. Belgium will resist. Belgium may be defeated in Luxembourg, but what will the Duchy be worth and who will pay for the expense of conquering it ? Luxembourg is too poor to pay a tenth of the expense, and if it could pay, the money would in fact come out of the pocket of the King of Holland. The Dutch have refused to give a shilling towards the defence of Luxembourg and will not pay for its capture. If the money is levied on Belgium, it must be done by force of arms. "How can you enforce the payment of any part by Belgium of the general debt ? That also must be done by arms. Is the Conference prepared to invade Belgium in order to effect such a purpose ? Can France be a party to such proceedings ? and if she be, will you be able to get her out of the country at your pleasure ? Will not a republick in Belgium or any other resolute gove[rnmen]t make the fortresses of use to that party in France, which will befriend her ? The protocoles seem to me to make it necessary to conquer Belgium or to signalize the defeat of those objects they have in view to accomplish. England at once throws away all her influence, she unites Belgium with the Jacobins of France, with the Propagande, whereas by using her power and interest in the Conference to allow things to take their course for a little time longer and not oppose Prince Leopold, everything may be, I think must be, settled to the common satisfaction, and all the evils, inevitable if the protocoles shall be presented and insisted upon, may be avoided. You may blockade the country, you may do what you please to coerce it short of conquest, and you will obtain nothing, but you will occasion the destruction of the happiness of all the best and unoffending portions of this unhappy nation. Having these opinions, I think it would be unmanly to withhold them. I have therefore stated them. To serve you faithfully I must tell you the truth to the best of my ability, for discovering it in this most important business." General Belliard is not likely to be in Brussels before the next Sunday. By that time, Ponsonby may have received instructions from Palmerston. He asks, as a personal favour, for renewed orders to carry forward this affair. 20 Apr 1831 The letter is marked: "Private" on the docket.
Two papers
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John Ponsonby, second Baron Ponsonby, later first Viscount Ponsonby, British Joint Commissioner of the London Conference to the provisional government of Belgium
Belgium: revolt; revolution; independence
Belgium: territorial limits; boundaries
Jean Louis Joseph Lebeau, Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs
Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, later Leopold I, King of the Belgians
Alexandre Gendebien
Sylvain van der Weyer
Philippe Jean Michel, Comte D'Arschot Schoonhoven, alias Aerschot, member of the Belgian Congress
London Conference on Belgian independence
William I, King of the Netherlands, later King of Holland
General Auguste Daniel, Comte Belliard, French Joint Commissioner of the London Conference to the provisional government of Belgium
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