PP/GC/PO/93 Letter from Lord Ponsonby to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, concerning the policies of the Belgian Foreign Minister, 5 April 1831
Letter from John Ponsonby, second Baron Ponsonby, [British Joint Commissioner of the London Conference to the government of Belgium], Brussels, to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston: the despatch will acquaint Palmerston with the notification from the Belgian government of the occupation of Fort St Marie, together with Ponsonby's reply, and finally the satisfactory arrangement of the affair. Ponsonby wrote his note with a view to helping Lebeau, Minister for Foreign Affairs, but otherwise he confined himself to acknowledging Lebeau's note and promising to pass it on. Bad weather and the precautions of government had prevented any intended outbreak taking place on an earlier night. Ponsonby hopes there will be peace and quiet for some time to come, but he expects that it will only be for a short period. The Association Nationale, directed and governed by Gendebien and company, are the source of all the outrages, including one perpetrated in Ghent, with the intention of inspiring terror and revenge. The Orange party may be said to be extinct, though the national distress which gave it real power exists in greater force than ever. The people generally looked to the Prince for salvation. Ponsonby is doubtful, however, that there are many left who still look to the Prince, and in fact the Prince's conduct has alienated all those who are moved by an honest love of their country. These men intended to place the Prince at the head of a government in Belgium, friendly towards, but totally independent of, Holland. A large majority of all classes of the people were in favour of that arrangement, but nobody, except certain commercial men, was willing even to hear of the restoration of the King's supremacy under any title or pretext whatsoever, and popular feeling was "violently, furiously" opposed to it. The Prince nevertheless "threw himself at his father's feet and gave as the word or order to his intimates his own entire submission to the will of the King". It was known that the King had partisans and agents at work under special orders at Brussels for the restoration of his ancient authority, either in whole or in part. "Those who saw in the Prince the means of a return to order and prosperity saw in the Prince as the tool of the King the civilian cause of civil war and the greatest incitement of a general war." They therefore held back from the plot, and this in Ponsonby's opinion saved Belgium from "infinite calamities", which would have followed the discovery of the Prince's real situation concerning his father, after the seizure of the powers of government by force. The Prince's conduct was the effect of his weakness, and the King's that of his obstinacy. Between them they have destroyed their own best chances even of security. Creditable reports warn of a revolution before long in Holland. Ponsonby thinks they are worth attention, but asks Palmerston not to say that he has hinted at this state of things, nor allow it to be suspected that he has spoken on the subject. He knows some of the Dutch are actively seeking to renew trade with Belgium, and that a considerable trade is carried on through Prussia. He sends a newspaper for Palmerston to look at [not present]. There is a good deal in it which shows the state of the parties. The editors are Frenchmen in the pay or interest of Gendebien, Van der Weyer and company. Lebeau made excuses to Ponsonby for the language he has used in Congress. He says he is obliged to speak so or he would lose the ear of that "enlightened body" altogether. Ponsonby believes this is the truth. Lebeau says he is forced to give in to and to promote all the preparations for war, and that otherwise he would be defeated and a ministry established solely bent on war, which he wishes to prevent as long as the honour and interest of his country will allow. He declares that he believes that the interest of England and Belgium are the same, since England can have no other object than the prosperity of Belgium, and his policy is therefore English. He says all honest Belgians think with him, but the French jacobinical party, helped by the press and the Association [Nationale], are so strong in Congress as to be able to defeat him unless he can rouse public feeling and opinion in favour of England. It is essential for him to be able to show that France has not treated Belgium more kindly than England, and he strongly urges the reception of D'Aerschot, which he says would only be seen as a simple mark of favour, not as a pledge or indication of any relaxation on the part of the government of England of their principles or demands about the limits or other questions. "He says that with that feather obtained, and the hope of the liberation of the navigation of the Meuse, he should be able to maintain his power and that with the nomination of P[rince] Leopold it would be easy to overturn the Association Nationale in a moment." Lebeau received Ponsonby's replies with "great candour and moderation". Ponsonby told him of the conduct towards England and the Conference by his predecessors and the Congress; his predecessors in office had shown the most violent partiality towards France, and the Congress had shown both partiality towards France and a studious neglect of England. In consequence, it could not be expected that England would be prompt to receive an envoy from Belgium, and that France, in so doing, had acted on views of policy which she perhaps had no right to make the guide of her proceedings, and had not observed her engagements to other powers with entire correctness. England might think that her dignity and faith, pledged to a certain extent to the other powers, might cause insuperable present difficulties. Lebeau admitted the justice of Ponsonby's remarks but renewed his entreaties for the recognition of D'Aerschot, whom he said had written to ask to be recalled, saying he could not support the discredit of his situation in London. Lebeau finished by saying that he felt obliged to recall D'Aerschot. Ponsonby said it was certainly premature to take that step, as he had not and could not have received Palmerston's answer to the communications he had made on the subject, at Lebeau's request. "He, after some more energetic expressions of his embarrassment and his hopelessness of being able to preserve the ministry for any good purposes, if England should withhold this mark of her favor, concluded by saying he would not recal[l] D'Aerschot till after the arrival of your reply and determination were known here." Ponsonby had just written the previous words when the messenger arrived with Palmerston's answer. He must communicate what Palmerston so plainly orders him to state, but he hopes that Palmerston will not disapprove of him for trying at the same time to induce Lebeau to suspend the recall of D'Aerschot for a few days. He believes that the refusal will actually tend to throw Belgium into the arms of France. It will destroy the present ministry or force it to take other views of policy. They appear to be passionate about the limits, but Ponsonby does not despair of bringing them to reason, or something like it. There has been an extraordinary increase in opinion in favour of Leopold, and Ponsonby hopes that the plan may meet with universal approval. The active people seem to think their honour is concerned in the question of Luxembourg, but as Palmerston will see in the GAZETTE Ponsonby is sending, they are willing to give any pecuniary compensation to the Nassaus and to take any engagement of any sort to the Diet, and the Nassaus agree with this. As for Maastricht, even the government is willing to have it garrisoned by Prussian troops "(What would France say ?)" and most people concede that Belgium has little claim to the left bank of the Scheldt. They do wish, however, reasonably enough as it would be generously advantageous, to possess the canal from the Sass of Ghent to Terneuse, and the sluices by which it is in the power of whoever holds them to inundate a large portion of Belgium. They promise at the same time not to construct a bridgehead or any fortification there. Consideration should be given to how much value the question of D'Aerschot holds when the favorable inclinations of the present Belgian ministry are taken into account, and the likely loss of their power if D'Aerschot is rejected, or at least of a change of policy. Thought should be given to the influence the rejection would have on the majority of the people and the advantage it will give to France, and also the importance of having at least the good will of Belgium on the English side if hostilities break out. There is a chance that wounded pride and other foolish but natural feelings may hurry the Belgian government and country into measures which will force France into a war, even if she is disinclined at present to begin war. The rejection threatens to put an end at once to all peaceful means of overcoming the difficulties which Belgium has caused. Ponsonby is not aware of the value of the motives, of the points which induce Palmerston to decide against considering receiving D'Aerschot. Ponsonby will keep until the following day what more he has to say, as he must see Lebeau again before he writes. He wishes he could have even a short conversation with Palmerston, and has even thought of setting off himself for London for that purpose. "Time presses so fearfully upon us." General Belliard acted very well and in the best spirit over the Port St Marie affair, so demonstrating his desire to prevent war. He has also recently said as much in conversation. Ponsonby has been told that Belliard is "a great intriguer and personally disposed to embroil affairs", but this may all be false. Ponsonby finds it difficult understand the manner of Bresson's letter and still less what the plenipotentiaries ["P.P."] could have intended to say to him. Ponsonby writes "I presume they did not intend to tell ..... " and tails off. The Belgian government has been in doubt whether or not to dissolve Congress and call together the Chambers. The dissolution is strongly urged by the opposition, who expect, with good reason, to obtain a great share of power in Chambers elected while the country is under the influence of terror, and when hardly any of the "better sort of people" will consent to be elected either as senators or deputies. Ponsonby has not yet heard what the government has decided, and believes that the decision has not in fact been made. The Minister told Ponsonby he would take all measures necessary to prepare for war, and it was proposed in Congress to mobilise the civil guard. The motion was carried in the committee to empower the government to put the guard on permanent duty at their pleasure. The aim is to prevent the agitators in Congress having the power to force war immediately, which it is thought they could do if the guard had been actually ordered out. Troops have been ordered to Luxembourg and Lebeau told Ponsonby they would certainly resist the Germanic troops. Ponsonby told Lebeau the Belgians would be well beaten. "He said they could only die. He is somewhat of an enthusiast and man of the day, but I believe honest. His faults may be more those of error than of selfishness." Lebeau's colleague, Sauvage, and the Minister of War are also said to be honest men. Ponsonby will despair if they are turned out of office. He sends a private letter just received from Bagot [not present]. The accounts from Konigsberg about the new insurrection in Poland may add to the difficulties in Belgium. Ponsonby hopes Palmerston will excuse the observations he makes of the D'Aerschot business. He does carry out Palmerston's orders and only tries to induce Lebeau to be patient for a while. He feels the French wish to embarrass things in Belgium, and dreads the advantage they will obtain. It is not impossible that the Belgians might suddenly elect Leopold in Congress. Would he accept, what would Palmerston say, and what France would do ? 5 Apr 1831 The letter is marked: "Private" and it is noted on the docket that it was received on 7 April 1831.
Four 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
Jean Louis Joseph Lebeau, Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs
Alexandre Gendebien
Ghent, Belgium
William Frederick, Prince of Orange, later William II, King of Holland
William I, King of the Netherlands, later King of Holland
Sylvain van der Weyer
Phillipe Jean Michel, Comte d'Arschot Schoonhoven, alias Aerschot, Belgian representative at London
River Meuse, alias Maas, France, Belgium, Netherlands
Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, later Leopold I, King of the Belgians
London Conference on Belgian independence
House of Nassau, Dutch royal family
Maastricht, Netherlands
Sass of Ghent, or Sas van Gent, Netherlands
Terneuse, or Terneuzen, Netherlands
General Auguste Daniel, Comte Belliard, French Joint Commissioner of the London Conference to the provisional government of Belgium
Charles Joseph Bresson, later Comte Bresson, former French Joint Commissioner of the London Conference to the provisional government of Belgium
Etienne Noel Joseph, Comte de Sauvage, Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs
C.d'Hane de Steenhuyse, Belgian Minister for War
Sir Charles Bagot, British ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary at The Hague
Konigsberg, Prussia; later Kalingrad, Russia
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