PP/GC/PO/98 Letter from Lord Ponsonby to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, concerning Luxembourg and the possibilities of war in Belgium, 13 April 1831
Letter from John Ponsonby, second Baron Ponsonby, [British Joint Commissioner of the London Conference to the provisional government of Belgium], Brussels, to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston: he saw Lebeau that morning and renewed his criticisms of the "mad policy" of Belgium. Ponsonby told him that it was possible he could defend Luxembourg against the Germanic force for a time, but before long his troops and volunteers would find it impossible to survive in the Duchy. With deprivations increasing, their enthusiasm would wane: Lebeau's men lacked discipline almost as much as his levy en masse, and eventually he would be defeated even in Luxembourg. Lebeau probably greatly deceived himself if he thought he could carry on a war in Luxembourg, yet remain unmolested everywhere else. An inevitable consequence of war in Luxembourg, particularly if Belgium were successful, would be that Belgium would be assailed on all sides by those she would have made her enemies. In these circumstances, Lebeau could expect to be helped by France, either by her government under coercion from the French people, or by portions of the people in defiance of their government. In the first case, a universal war would be the result, and in the second, Belgium would have the active power of the French government, as well as the other governments of Europe, against them. The consequences cannot be doubted. If a general war were to break out with France on the Belgian side, Belgium would suffer both the miseries of a country which is the battlefield of the most powerful armies of the world, and the effects of victory to whichever side it fell. If France were victorious, and proved herself strong enough to subdue all Europe, and also able to maintain her conquests, Belgium could become the humble servant of France. If France were unable to subdue the world or maintain her unquestioned pre-eminence as a military master, Belgium would be the only country out of which compensation for losses would be sought, and at the final settlement of a quarrel excited by Belgium, it would be found necessary to deprive her forever of the means of acting thus again. Belgium would be parcelled out as spoil amongst the powerful, lose her independence, constitution, laws and even her name. Belgium is, however, currently willing to risk all this and to reject all the present advantages of a secure peace for perfecting her independence and laws, and all the advantages which time will bring from the interests as well as the friendship of those nations who wish to be Belgium's best friends. Belgium is risking all these things in an attempt to possess a country which she admits is of no value to her, and which she only seeks for such a price because she has made it a point of honour to do so. Ponsonby asked Lebeau if it was consistent with the duty of a minister to allow his country to be placed in such a situation ? Lebeau received all this with calmness, but seemed very alarmed at the prospect before him. He repeated that it was not in his power to check the "elan" of the people and that he must not only appear to act with them, but must actually follow them. He said he hoped England would save the country from ruin, and Europe from war. It was in England's interest to see Belgium as her friend and totally alienated from France, since England desired peace, and ought to do what she could for Belgium. Ponsonby said that Belgians had taken it upon themselves to demand that every government in Europe should submit to be dictated to by Belgium. "You talk of your honor as a justification of every act you may please to perform, of your interests and your rights, asserted and explained by yourselves as being the laws and rule of the rest of the world. You consider the honor, the rights, the interests and the feelings of all other governments as nothing in opposition to your dicta, and you expect to be permitted to do so with impunity. You chuse to bring things to the extremity of force. Let us see what will be the result of your conduct." Lebeau begged that some means be found to relieve Belgium's misfortunes. "You know we mean fairly, you know we are not French, you know that I have not the power to act otherwise than as I do and I should be deborde in a day if I took less popular ground; we are still in a revolution, if we had a King we might be able to do better, we could then be nearly sure of the people, and if we are freed to concede what is now demanded (he meant the limits) before we have a sovereign, we shall be overturned, and anarchy and French Jacobinism, as you call it, will be triumphant." Ponsonby said that he wished to help and was anxious for peace, and assured Lebeau of the friendly feelings of the English government towards Belgium, but said that he could not help him except by advising him to be cautious and to try to gain time. Ponsonby promised that he would represent Lebeau's situation to his government. Ponsonby thinks Lebeau is probably himself "already quite sick of his enthusiasm", but it is true that he has not got the power to check the march of the people, who are pushed on by those who aim to bring the French rabble into action in Belgium and promote a new revolution in France. If the operations of the Diet could be delayed, perhaps all might be settled without war. If the Belgian people could get a sovereign, Ponsonby thinks the present government, or one on "similar antigallican principles" could easily stand. Several of the leading priests and other men of influence in Congress are extremely alarmed and are now convinced of the errors of their former policy. 15 Apr 1831 The letter is marked: "Private" and it is noted on the docket that it was received on 17 April 1831.
Two papers, tied with blue ribbon
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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
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