Research Subjects: Government & Politics

King George's Declaration on the Breakdown of the Peace, 18 May 1803, And Related Documents.

Part I: Introduction

By Tom Holmberg

This declaration spells out the views of the British government on the causes of the failure of the Treaty of Amiens.  It was directed both at the domestic and foreign public.  Both Britain and France were actively attempting to sway public opinion at home and abroad, blaming the other for the eventual renewal of hostilities.  Neither side wished to appear to be the one who broke the peace.

Also included are the questions sent to the French commercial agents in Great Britain discussed in the King's Declaration, the article published in the Hamburgh newspaper also mentioned in the Declaration outlining the French case for the rest of Europe, and the response of two members of Parliament in opposition to the King's message.  See also, elsewhere on this site, a copy of Sébastiani's report, referred to in the documents below.

Great Britain complained that Napoleon's insistence on Britain prosecuting émigré journalists publishing calumnies against Napoleon and his family and incitements to assassination were a violation of the freedom of the press.  Yet as seen below, Britain was equally incensed over French propaganda in the newspapers of Europe.

Wilberforce, William (1759-1833) is best known as the leading exponent for the abolition of the slave trade.  Born into a prosperous merchant family, Wilberforce met future Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger at Cambridge.  Wilberforce first entered Parliament at age twenty-one and served there from 1780 to 1825.  A conversion to evangelic Christianity spurred his interest in issues such as the abolition of the slave trade, limited reform and Catholic Emancipation.  Wilberforce's support for reform causes led to his being named an honorary French citizen in 1792, an action which was later to be an embarrassment to him.  After 1815 Wilberforce supported the Corn Laws and supported laws to suppress working-class agitation.  Though a Tory, much of Wilberforce's early Parliamentary support for abolition came from the Whigs.

Fox, Charles James (1749-1806)--Whig orator, Eton and Oxford educated, Fox enter Parliament in 1768 and served for 38 years, most in the Opposition.  Opposed British policies in America and supported liberal parliamentary reform.  Served as foreign secretary in 1782, and again in 1783, but was in bitter opposition after Pitt became prime minister.  Fox opposed the war with revolutionary France.  Served again as foreign minister in Grenville's "Ministry of All Talents", but his attempts to negotiate a peace with France in 1806 failed.  In ill health at the time of his appointment to the ministry, Fox died in September 1806.  Fox was profligate in his habits and never achieved his early potential.  Fox is buried in Westminster Abbey beside his bitter rival William Pitt the Younger.  

Source: Parliamentary History of England,… 1803 London : Hansard, 1820.





Placed on the Napoleon Series: January 2002


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