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other hand, were afraid of its too great extension, and did not support it; and the majority of the Conservatives seemed to be doubtful whether it would secure any such end. Of course Mr. Bright, who had then been returned to represent Birmingham, opposed the measure, which he truly said excluded the working-classes, and as was afterwards seen by a remark of Sir E. L. Bulwer, who warmly supported it in a long and remarkable speech, it was not intended materially to extend the franchise in that direction. Quoting Cicero's axiom: "Semper in re publicâ tenendem est, ne plurimum valeant plurimi," he explained it to mean, "The one point that must never be yielded in a state is, that the greatest powers shall not be in the hands of the greatest numbers."
On the 21st of March Lord John Russell proposed as an amendment "that it is neither just nor politic to interfere in the manner proposed in the government bill with the freehold franchise as hitherto exercised in the counties of England and Wales; and that no rearrangement of the franchise will satisfy the house or the country which does not provide for a greater extension of the suffrage in cities and boroughs than is contemplated in the present measure." "With regard to this great question of reform," said Lord John after an able speech, "I may say that I defended it when I was young, and I will not desert it now that I am old."
Mr. Sidney Herbert, disclaiming any party feeling, opposed the amendment. Mr. Gladstone on the same ground gave the government a modified support. As there was no controversy traceable to differences between political parties, he regretted that the house was now in hostile conflict, with a division before them which would estrange those by whose united efforts alone a satisfactory settlement could be come to. He objected to the form of the resolution, but confessed that if they could have had a strong government he should have been induced to vote for it. He saw, however, that after carrying the resolution the opposition would pursue separate courses, but he thought that the government had a claim upon members. In support of
the argument that advantage should be taken of any opportunity to advance the question, he referred to the successive promises and failures of recent years with regard to a measure of reform. "In 1851 my noble friend, then the first minister of the crown, approached the question of reform, and commenced with a promise of what was to be done twelve months afterwards. In 1852 he brought in a bill, and it disappeared together with the ministry. In 1853 we had the ministry of Lord Aberdeen, which commenced with a promise of reform in twelve months' time. Well, 1854 arrived; with it arrived the bill, but with it also arrived the war, and in the war was a reason, and I believe a good reason, for abandoning the bill. Then came the government of my noble friend the member for Tiverton, which was not less unfortunate in the circumstances that prevented the redemption of those pledges which had been given to the people from the mouth of the sovereign on the throne. In 1855 my noble friend escaped all responsibility for a Reform Bill on account of the war; in 1856 he escaped all responsibility for reform on account of the peace; in 1857 he escaped that inconvenient responsibility by the dissolution of parliament; and in 1858 he escaped again by the dissolution of his government." Mr. Gladstone contended that these failures strengthened the misgivings of the people as to the reluctance of the house to deal with this question, made it more hazardous to interpose obstacles, and required the progress of the government bill to completion. He announced that he could not be a party to the disfranchisement of the county freeholders in boroughs; he could not be a party to the uniformity of the franchise; he could not be a party to a reform bill which did not lower the suffrage in boroughs. Unless they could have a lowering of the suffrage it would be better not to waste time upon the subject. He approved that portion of the bill relating to the redistribution of seats, but put in a strong plea on behalf of the small boroughs, which were the nursery ground of men who were destined to lead the house and be an ornament to their country; and he maintained that the extension and the durability of our
THE DERBY GOVERNMENT DEFEATED.
portion of the theme, and having literally demolished the mover of the amendment, sat down amid universal cheers."
But oratory could not save the bill from the effects of the amendment. By the 25th Lord Palmerston seems to have seen his way.
liberty were to be attributed, under provi- | address, he directed himself to the political dence, to distinguished statesmen introduced to the house at an early age. These were reasons for going into committee. If they passed the amendment, it could have no other effect than that of retarding a settlement of the question: it was not the question of the government, but of reform. He urged the house not to let slip its golden opportunity. For himself he should be governed by no other consideration than the simple onewhat course would most tend to settle the question? When he voted to negative the resolution of Lord John Russell, he should give his vote neither to the government nor to party.
The debates were long and spirited, and on the second night were graced with the peculiar oratory of Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, who on that occasion rose to an oratorical display which he had never before exhibited; while Sir Hugh Cairns, who as Mr. Cairns had made a great impression during the discussions on the India bill, took the position of a skilful and able debater.
"A night of immense power and excitement," wrote Disraeli in his report to the queen of the progress of that debate. "Two of the greatest speeches ever delivered in parliament by Sir Edward Lytton and the solicitor-general. . . . Both spoke in a crowded house: one before dinner, the other concluding, just down. Never was a greater contrast between two orators, resembling each other in nothing but their excellence.
"Deaf, fantastic, modulating his voice with difficulty, sometimes painful-at first almost an object of ridicule to the superficial-Lytton occasionally reached even the sublime, and perfectly enchained his audience. His description of the English constitution, his analysis of democracy,—as rich and more powerful than Burke.
"Sir Hugh Cairns devoted an hour to a reply to Lord John's resolution, and to a vindication of the government bill, which charmed every one by its lucidity and controlled every one by its logic. When he had, in the most masterly manner, and with a concinnity which none can equal, closed the business part of his
"There is no doubt," he said, "the amendment will be carried, and then what is the government to do? We are told various things. Some persons say the ministry will resign. Sir, I believe no such thing. I think it will be a dereliction of duty on their part if they do resign. I do not want them to resign. I say to them, as I think Voltaire said of some minister who had incurred his displeasure, 'I won't punish him; I won't send him to prison; I condemn him to keep his place.' They took the government with its engagements. They undertook a measure of reform, and they will be flinching from their duty to the crown and the country if, in consequence of such a vote as that proposed by my noble friend, they fling up their places and throw upon us the difficulty of dealing with this subject. . . . But then it is said they may dissolve. I have no greater faith in their dissolving than in their resignation. I am of this opinion, because to dissolve parliament at the present moment implies more than the single will of the government. The concurrence of this house is necessary to its own dissolution. Before the government dissolves it must take another vote in supply, pass the Appropriation Act, the Ways and Means Act, and make provision for exchequer bills which will fall due in May. Now all these operations require the hearty concurrence of the house, and are the government, I should like to know, sure of obtaining that concurrence?"
The amendment was carried by a majority of 39 and parliament was dissolved. The elections brought a gain to the government of about 20 seats, but they were still in a minority.
The new parliament consisted of about 302 Conservatives and 350 Liberals. The Marquis of Hartington moved an addition to the speech from the throne, which being carried was equivalent to a vote of want of
confidence in the ministers, which being carried by a majority of 13 led to the immediate resignation of the government. Then arose another difficulty. The queen had to consider the respective claims of Lord Palmerston and Lord John Russell, between whom a coolness was believed to exist. Her majesty took an alternative course and sent for Lord Granville, then the acknowledged leader of the Liberal party in the House of Lords. Lord John, however, declined to serve under Lord Granville, though he had no objection to take office under Lord Palmerston. This prevented Lord Granville from forming a ministry, and again Lord Palmerston rode triumphantly into power, and not to the dissatisfaction of the nation, who had already forgotten, or had more completely "got at the rights" of his supposed want of consistency in the affairs of the French despatch.
Lord Palmerston was again prime minister with a government in which Lord John Russell was foreign minister, and Mr. Gladstone, chancellor of the exchequer; and it was a period when both those offices would have to be administered with skill and sagacity. But Lord Palmerston, people must have thought, had learnt something or forgotten a great deal on his side also, for no appointment was made to the presidency of the Board of Trade, and it was discovered that the place was kept vacant in the hope that it would be accepted by Mr. Cobden, who was then on his way from a visit to the United States.
It must have been rather amusing to some of Cobden's friends when they heard of this intention, knowing as they did what had been his opinion of the former government under Lord Palmerston as compared to that of Lord Derby.
In a letter to Mr. Lindsay, Cobden had written of the Derby administration: "The present men are most honest, and they are certainly more obliging than the last. In this I agree with you, and it might have been said of any Tory government as compared with any Whig one since I have been in the political ring. I remember when I came into the house in 1841, after the general election which gave
Peel a majority of ninety, I found the Tories more civil in the intercourse of the lobbies and the refreshment-rooms than the Whigs. It runs through all departments. It seems as if the Whig leaders always thought it necessary to snub the Radicals to satisfy the Tories they were not dangerous politicians. But I do not blame them, for they live by it. I do blame those advanced Liberals who allow themselves to be thus used and abused. There is no remedy but in the greater self-respect of the middle class. I fear we have been going the other way for the last ten years. The great prosperity of the country made Tories of us all. .. During my experience the higher classes never stood so high in relative, social, and political rank, as compared with other classes, as at present. The middle class have been content with the very crumbs from their table. The more contempt a man like Palmerston (as intense an aristocrat at heart as any of them) heaped on them, the louder they cheered him. Twenty years ago, when a hundred members of the house used to muster at the call of Hume or Warburton to compel the Whigs to move on under threats of desertion, there seemed some hope of the middle class setting up for themselves; but now there is no such sign.
"You ask me my view of the political situation. It is hard fate for me to be obliged to choose between Derby and Palmerston, but if compelled to do so, I should certainly prefer the former. Nothing can be so humiliating to us as a party or a nation as to see that venerable political impostor at the head of affairs. But how will you prevent his return to power? . . . Half-a-dozen great families meet at Walmer and dispose of the rank and file of the party, just as I do the lambs that I am now selling for your aldermen's table. And I very much doubt whether you can put an end to this ignominious state of things. Until you can, I don't think you are playing a part in any noble drama."
Mr. Cobden had been to America to inquire into the affairs of the Illinois Railway, in which, with some imprudence, as his friends not unnaturally believed, he had invested the
PALMERSTON OFFERS COBDEN A SEAT IN THE CABINET.
greater part of his money. Cobden, in fact, though an able political economist, does not appear to have possessed the qualities necessary for a successful man of business, and his personal affairs were often in a precarious condition. But there were those who did not hesitate to help him in a direct and yet in a delicate manner, for he was, as it were, the property of a cause and a political faith, and his was such a sweet and cordial nature that personal regard was added to esteem and admiration for his public and private character.
During his absence not only had the events which we have described taken place, but during the elections the men of Rochdale had met and decided to choose him as the Liberal candidate, much to the delight of Mr. Bright, who attended their meeting and recommended to them "his political associate, his political brother." Cobden was well pleased, for he admired Rochdale Liberalism. He was eventually returned without a contest.
The following is the letter which was despatched by Lord Palmerston (the new prime minister) to Cobden on his landing at Liverpool. It was dated "94 Piccadilly, 27th June, 1859.
"My dear Sir, I understand that it is likely that you may arrive at Liverpool tomorrow, and I therefore wish that this letter should be placed in your hand upon your landing.
"I have been commissioned by the queen to form an administration, and I have endeavoured so to frame it that it should contain representatives of all sections of the Liberal party, convinced as I am that no government constructed upon any other basis could have sufficient prospect of duration, or would be sufficiently satisfactory to the country.
“Mr. Milner Gibson has most handsomely consented to waive all former difficulties, and to become a member of the new cabinet. I am most exceedingly anxious that you should consent to adopt the same line, and I have kept open for you the office of president of the Board of Trade, which appeared to me to be the one best suited to your views, and to the distinguished part which you have taken in public life. I shall be very glad to
see you and to have personal communication with you as soon as may be convenient to you on your arrival in London."
The invitation was seconded by another letter from Lord John Russell, who said: "An attempt has been made, more or less wisely, to form a government from various sections of Liberals. Recent speeches have prevented the offer of a cabinet office to Mr. Bright. This is much to be regretted; but if you accept, his accession may take place hereafter. If you refuse, I do not see a prospect of amalgamating the Liberal party during my lifetime. In these circumstances, I confess, I think it is a duty for you to accept the office of president of the Board of Trade."
Cobden's own account of the receipt of these letters, and the interviews to which they led, is characteristic and amusing.
"As I came up the Mersey," he says, "I little dreamed of the reception which awaited Crowds of friends were ready to greet and cheer me; and before I left the ship a packet of letters was put in my hand, containing one from Lord Palmerston, offering me a seat in the cabinet as president of the Board of Trade; and another from Lord John Russell, urging me in the very strongest terms to accept it. There were letters from Moffat, Gilpin, and a great many others, advising me not to refuse fer.
"I was completely taken by surprise by all this, for I had heard nothing of the change of government, and was twenty-five days without having seen the latest news from England, namely eleven days' passage, and fourteen days which we were behind the news when I left Quebec.
"I went on shore and proceeded to the hotel, where my troubles began. More than a hundred of the leading men of Liverpool assembled in the large room to present me with an address, which was put into my hand by Mr. William Brown. Afterwards Mr. Robertson Gladstone from the Financial Reform Association, Mr. Rathbone from the American Chamber of Commerce, and the president of the Peace Society, all presented addresses, to which I was obliged, without a moment's notice, and with my head still
swimming with the motion of the sea, to deliver replies. It was really like killing one one with kindness. I have come on here [to Manchester] to see my friends, and hear what they have to say. A deputation from Rochdale is over also. And I have an address from a number of persons, including Bazley and H. Ashworth, wishing me to accept the offer of a seat in the cabinet. Indeed, almost without exception, everybody, Radicals, peacemen, and all, are trying to persuade me to it.
"Now it really seems to me that they must all have gone mad, for with my recorded opinions of Lord Palmerston's public conduct during the last dozen years, in which opinions I have experienced no change, were I suddenly to jump at the offer of a place under him I should ruin myself in my own self-respect, and ultimately lose the confidence of the very men who are in this moment of excitement urging me to enter his cabinet. So great is the pressure put on me, that if it were Lord Granville, or even Lord John, at the head of affairs, I should be obliged, greatly against my will, to be a right honourable. But to take office now, without a single declaration of change of view regarding his public conduct, would be so monstrous a course, that nothing on earth shall induce me to do it. I am going to town this afternoon, and shall forward him my answer on my arrival. I listen to all my friends and say nothing, but my mind is made up."
On arriving a day or two later in London, Cobden lost no time in calling upon Lord Palmerston. He wrote a full account of all that passed between them to Mr. Sale, his brother-in-law in Manchester.
"London, 4th July, 1859.-I thought it best on my arrival in town to go first to Palmerston, and explain plainly and frankly everything. On calling on him I was most pleasantly welcomed, and we talked as usual for a few minutes on everything but what I went about. At length I broke the ice in this way: 'You have acted in so manly and magnanimous a manner in pressing me to take office in your cabinet, that I feel bound to come and talk to you without reserve upon the subject. My case is this. For the last twelve
years I have been the systematic and constant assailant of the principle on which your foreign policy has been carried on. I believed you to be warlike, intermeddling, and quarrelsome, and that your policy was calculated to embroil us with foreign nations. At the same time I have expressed a general want of confidence in your domestic politics. Now I may have been altogether wrong in my views; it is possible I may have been; but I put it candidly to you whether it ought to be in your cabinet, whilst holding a post of high honour and emolument derived from you, that I should make the first avowal of a change of opinion respecting your public policy? Should I not expose myself to severe suspicions, and deservedly so, if I were under these circumstances to step from an Atlantic steamer into your cabinet? Understand, I beg, that I have no personal feelings which prevent me from accepting your offer. I have opposed you as the supposed representative of what I believed to be dangerous principles. If I have ever been personally offensive in my opposition it was not intended, and assuredly you never gave me any justification of such a course.'
"In reply he disclaimed any feelings of a personal kind, and said that even if there had been any personalities, they never ought to be remembered for three months; and he added in a laughing way that he thought Gibson had hit him quite as hard as I had. Then he commenced to combat my objections, and to offer, with apparently great sincerity, a variety of arguments to show that I ought to enter the cabinet, dwelling particularly on the fact that as questions of foreign policy were now uppermost, and as those questions were in the hands of the executive, it was only by joining the government that I could influence them. 'You and your friends complain,' he said, ‘of a secret diplomacy, and that wars are entered into without consulting the people. Now it is in the cabinet alone that questions of foreign policy are settled. We never consult parliament till after they are settled. If, therefore, you wish to have a voice in those questions, you can only do so in the cabinet.' This was the argument I found it most difficult to answer, and therefore he pressed it more strongly.