William Pitt the enemy of peace
Upon his return to power in London, William Pitt broke the Amiens peace treaty and declared war on the FrenchRepublic. With enormous financial backing, he set up the third coalition, which included England, Austria, the Kingdom of Naples and Russia.
To guide us through the events that led to the resumption of hostilities, we will call upon two eyewitnesses: State Councillor Thibaudeau, and Méneval, Napoleon’s secretary.
Thibaudeau: Although the peace of Amiens enjoyed great popularity in England, the English ministers only considered it a temporary armistice. This was quite evident in the debates in Parliament and in the protection granted to the plotters who prepared to leave for France to assassinate Napoleon.
The First Consul declared, “It is not I who will break the peace. I do not intend to be the attacker, but I have too many responsibilities to leave the initiative to our enemies. I know them well. They will either take up arms against us or will give us sufficient reason to go to war. I am ready for both possibilities.”
In spite of this tense situation, English people were rushing to France and toParis, in particular. After ten years’ absence, they were impatient to visit this nation of the Revolution and to see the extraordinary man whose victories had propelled him to the head of the government. They expected to find an exhausted country, an impoverished people, and ruined landscapes. With envy and astonishment, they beheld the prosperity of the country and the splendour of Paris
The audiance that the First Consul granted to the diplomatic corps on September 15, 1802 was a crowded affair. Merry, the English plenipotentiary, introduced Napoleon to a certain number of very distinguished English guests, most of whom were members of the parliamentary opposition; among these was James Fox, who ignited Napoleon’s curiosity. The First Consul made a point of winning over this famous man. He told him: “In truth, there are only two nations in Europe, the west and the east. France, England and Spain are very close to each other; they have the same practices, practically the same religion, the same feelings. They are members of one family. Whoever tries to start a war between the nations of the west is actually attempting to start a civil war. I am pleased to see that you share my opinion.”
Suddenly, in a speech delivered on March 8, 1803, the King of England asked Parliament to accord his ministers absolute power to employ every means necessary to safeguard the honour of the Crown and the interests of the nation. These precautions were necessary to counter the great preparations under way in the French and Dutch ports.
Bonaparte called on Lord Whitworth, the English ambassador: “Sir, you can kill the French, but you cannot intimidate them. I do not understand the reason for your King’s message. Our preparations are limited to an expedition to Louisiana. Two thousand men and three boats were delayed by ice at Dunkirk, but they left for Santo Domingo on the same day as the king’s message. The English ministers must have known all that; if not, why they did not ask for an explanation?
The English are so used to dominating Europe and have met with so little resistance that they are vastly irritated whenever they encounter any. They say that we are preparing an invasion of England. We want nothing from England other than respect for the terms of the Treaty of Amiens.”
On May 1, 1803, during a meeting of the Council of State, the First Consul made his intentions known: “The English ministers have put lies into the mouth of their King, and all Europe knows it. There were never any preparations for war in France. Their government is seeking to arouse the anger of the nation by a contemptible lie. For two years I have borne the insolence of the English. I allowed them the freedom to betray their insincerity to the utmost; they took that for weakness and redoubled their insolence to the point that their ambassador dared say to me: ‘You must do this or that, or I will leave France in seven days.’ Is this the way to speak to a great nation? I told him, ‘Submit your written request; I will study it with my government.’ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘my orders are to communicate with you verbally.’ Is that their idea of negotiating? They are making a serious mistake if they think they can dictate their orders to a nation of forty million people.”
The only bonds that can reunite two great nations are justice and the observance of the conditions of treaties. The country that suffers from their violation will be debased if it does not resist. If it condones such violations, it will descend into servility.
On May 14, 1803, Napoleon declared: “The departure of the English ambassador is too serious a matter to pass without comment. As long as our ambassador remains in London, it would be improper to publish papers on the recent negotiations. However, since the departure of the English ambassador was not actually a declaration of war, we must preserve some hope of peace, although personally I do not believe in it at all.”
Fontanes distinguished himself before the Legislative Corps in a speech that was as noble as it was vigorous: “If the English,” he said, “make war on us, France will be once more ready to defend itself with the weapons that conquered Europe. France does not want to declare war, but it knows perfectly well how to wage one. Once more, our country is in the centre of civilized Europe. England can no longer claim to be the defender of the fundamental principles of society; the Revolution shook them to the very core. It is now up to us to defend the right of nations and the cause of humanity by repelling the unjust attacks of a nation that negotiates in order to mislead, which demands peace in order to prepare for war and which signs treaties only to trample them underfoot. Upon a signal, France will unite with single-minded allegiance around the hero to whom it is so devoted. The spirit of partisanship that dissolves in his presence shall reappear once more transformed into zeal and courage. Everyone understands that no one but this brilliant man is able to assume the burden and the greatness of our new destiny. The emigrants who have recently returned will be the first to defend their country.
I propose that a great deputation be sent to the First Consul with the mission of expressing our devotion to him and our assurance that the French people, ever more confident in his great leadership, will freely accord him every means he needs to ensure that the war we must now engage in is short, glorious and decisive."
Ménéval: The English ministers were deeply aggrieved to see the Americans become the masters of Louisiana. In one stroke, they lost their last hope of regaining supremacy in America. A few days after the agreement was signed, they declared war on the FrenchRepublic. But Louisiana had become the property of the United States and England could no longer undertake any action there. England moved ever closer to breaking the treaty. Ten thousand young sailors were recruited. The militia was recalled under the false pretext that a formidable armada was being prepared in the ports of France and Holland. No matter how many sincere and convincing explanations were given to the English ambassador, it was to no avail; the ministers had made up their minds. It was obvious that when they signed the peace of Amiens, the English government had only wanted an armistice, which they intended to break as soon as they saw fit.
France had scrupulously honoured every commitment it had undertaken in signing the peace of Amiens. The French had evacuated the Kingdom of Naples and the Roman States in less than three months, whereas the English had made no move toward evacuating the island of Malta. It was obvious that they intended to prolong their occupation. The English newspapers published the most scurrilous articles insulting the First Consul, and spread false reports about him. The hatred of France even manifested itself in the Houses of Parliament. Through articles in the Moniteur, almost all of which were dictated by the First Consul, these defamatory attacks were countered with dignity and indignation. Attacks from an enemy government were perhaps understandable, but this was from a country that had recently been reconciled with France.
Lord Whitworth, who had organized the assassination of Tsar Paul 1, had been named English ambassador in France, and his mission, to all appearances, was to end the peace. The English government crowned its series of aggressions with a proclamation based on false pretexts, and its declaration of war was prefaced by the seizure of French and Dutch ships. The English, true to form, had begun open hostilities before the breaking of the treaty. It was in reprisal for this illegal, unjust seizure of men and boats, carried out in violation of international laws, that the first Consul ordered the arrest of all English citizens, whether civilians or military, on French territory at the time of the declaration of war.
Negotiations, however, continued with the English ambassador, who had remained in Paris. The First Consul made every effort to preserve the peace, and declared that, although he could permit no exemption from the Treaty of Amiens, he wished to give England every guarantee of safety it considered necessary.
On April 25, Lord Whitworth verbally presented the ultimatum of his government, which said that England would continue to occupy Malta for ten years, and that it was to be given Lampedusa, a small island in the Mediterranean, which belonged to the Kingdom of Naples. The ambassador declared at the same time that if this ultimatum was not accepted within seven days, his orders were to request his passports. And indeed, he left Paris...
The break in the Peace of Amiens jolted Napoleon out of a calm and peaceful existence, for which, sadly, he was never intended. If his inexhaustible activity had not been diverted towards another goal, one wonders what he might have achieved in times of peace, with the creative power of his genius and the ascendancy that he owed to the splendour of an incomparable glory. He had united the olive branch of peace and the laurel wreath of war. The whole of Europe was at peace. What glory could he still wish for? To stimulate agriculture, industries, science and the arts. To make France as happy as a result of its peacetime achievements as its wartime victories had made it powerful and respected. But such dreams of peace and prosperity, in which he took infinite pleasure, were about to be dispelled by the turbulent course that he was now obliged to follow. If he had allowed any illusions about his future to enter his mind, they would be from now on forever banished. England’s treacherous behaviour had made an indelible impression on his sensitive spirit filled with feelings of national pride and honour. The odious plots against his life concocted by the English ministers and paid for with their money, the arrival of sixty assassins spewed up on our shores to carry out their cowardly, loathsome mission, the clandestine intrigues aimed at corrupting the French Generals who had distinguished themselves on the field of victory, the lies and corruption that poured in from every side, all this filled him with the deepest indignation. He was obliged to admit that it was futile to dream of peace in the face of this relentless enemy. His habits changed; he set his sights higher still in order to be equal to the formidable circumstances created by our eternal enemy and emerged with even greater stature. He became extraordinarily active in the face of adversity. From that day forth, a new life began for him, a life of action, of conflict, a life devoted to the most difficult tasks, filled with danger of all kinds and the most audacious and brilliant plans, a life from which he would not be distracted in any way, even for an instant. Like an intrepid athlete, he undertook the gigantic struggle that was to produce such wonders, to carry him so high and to bring him down so low.
In closing this chapter, let us give the word to Napoleon himself. On Saint Helena, he dictated to Las Cases: “William Pitt set fire to the universe and history will remember him in the same way as Herostratus: as the author of flames, bitterness and tears. This twenty-five-year universal conflagration, the devastation of Europe, the rivers of blood, all this was his doing. Posterity will recognize it; this man who was so vaunted in his time will one day be considered nothing more than an evil genius. There is no doubt that the death of James Fox (in 1806) was one of the most fateful dates of my career. If he had continued to live, the whole affair would have taken a very different turn; the cause of the people would have carried the day, and together, we would have built a united, prosperous Europe”
It is true that the person responsible for the misnamed “Napoleonic” wars was William Pitt. It was also he who, ultimately, was responsible for the conflicts that devastated Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries, including the two world wars.