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Lord Derby's Ministry and Protection.
ART. X.-1. Lord George Bentinck: a Political Biography. By B. DISRAELI, Member of Parliament for the County of Buckingham. 1 vol. 8vo. pp. 588. 1852.
2. The Finances and Trade of the United Kingdom at the beginning of the Year 1852. London: 1852. Pp. 60.
INCE the publication of our last Number a change of Ministry has taken place. The Liberal Administration of Lord John Russell has been replaced by a Conservative Administration under Lord Derby. England is thus drawn, with the rest of Europe, into the general vortex of reaction. It might, indeed, be thought that as England had put down the Chartist attempts on the celebrated Tenth of April with so slight an effort, and had suppressed the more formidable Irish insurrection without bloodshed, no reaction would have taken place. And, in fact, the difference between our fate and that of the Continental States is not inconsiderable. While Austria, Prussia, Rome, and Naples are expiating the imprudences of their irregular democratic outbreaks by severe military despotism, coercion of speech and writing, political proscriptions and imprisonments, the destiny of England has been less unhappy. While France is prostrate under the ignominious dictatorship of Louis Napoleon, England escapes with the comparatively gentle infliction of Lord Derby.
The fail of the late Ministry was not owing to any important national event, or to any remarkable change in public opinion; it was not preceded by a foreign war, or by a paroxysm of internal discontent; it was not precipitated by a potato famine, or brought about by any novel combination of parties. Ecclesiastical Titles Bill of last Session had alienated from the Government a section of Irish members, as well as a portion of the Peelite party, who had previously given it a general support. The rupture with Lord Palmerston had detached an able and experienced colleague from Lord John Russell, and had converted him into an active opponent. By the combination of these causes- which were chiefly felt within the walls of Parliament, and did not represent any change in opinion out of doors-the overthrow of the late Ministry was effected, and the Protectionist party found that, after so many unsuccessful attempts, they were at last able to obtain office.
The change of Government was only so far prepared by public opinion, that every Ministry loses a portion of its popularity in the inevitable progress of events. The distribution of the favours of a Government makes some friends,
VOL. XCV. NO. CXCIV.
but more enemies. The defects of the existing Ministerswhatever they may be-and the mistakes which all men of action must occasionally commit, are dwelt on, repeated, and exaggerated; people become tired of the old names, and a desire of trying a new set of men arises. So far as there was any wish for a change of Ministry at the commencement of this year, it was rather of the indistinct and vague character just described, than a positive and lively desire to oust a certain political party, for the purpose of carrying some definite object. Whatever objections might be made to the policy of the late Government, there was nothing in the state of the country, at the commencement of the present year, to indicate that this policy had been erroneous in its principles, or unsuccessful in its results. Under the operation of the Free-trade measures, respecting corn, sugar, and navigation, the revenue of the country had increased, notwithstanding large remissions of taxation; and our foreign trade, both in exports and imports, had received a remarkable augmentation. The interest of money was low, and capital was abundant; yet there was no undue amount of speculation, credit was sound, and the Bank was labouring under a plethora of bullion. We think it unnecessary to repeat, even in a summary form, the statistical accounts of the recent financial and commercial position of the country, as they are set out in the pamphlet named at the head of this Article; they exhibit a state of economical prosperity hitherto unexampled; and as no attempt to dispute their accuracy or completeness has been made by the present Government, since they had access to the official documents, it may be presumed that they show not only the truth, but the whole truth. Nor were our external in a less sound state than our internal affairs. Our relations with every foreign Power were pacific; and wherever feelings unfriendly to us existed, they were owing to circumstances connected with the civil dissensions of the foreign State, not to any act committed by our own Government. Our vast Indian Empire was free from wars, or insurrection; and there was nothing to occupy a British fleet in any of the Eastern Seas. Our colonial dependencies were, on the whole, in a satisfactory state. In the North American provinces, the system of responsible Government had worked with harmony and success, under able governors. The West India islands enjoyed as much material prosperity as the introduction of the system of free negro labour permitted. The Australian colonies had been advancing with as much rapidity as the English settlements in North America had done in the last century with occasional disputes, inseparable from a system of colonial transportation. Ceylon had recovered its
Its proper Denomination.
ordinary tranquillity, after the brief insurrection suppressed by Lord Torrington. In the Cape of Good Hope alone was the state of things unsatisfactory. Here a border-war with savages
similar in its nature to that so long waged by the French in Algeria disturbed the peace of the colony, and necessitated large draughts upon the British Exchequer, without any prospect of advantage to imperial interests. This border-war, however, did not spring from the policy of Lord Grey, or of the late Government. It had grown out of a change, introduced in 1833, by which the Commando system, or method of volunteer reprisals, was abolished, and a system of treaties, or international compacts with the savages, was substituted. The attempt to deal with the Kaffirs as if they were civilised men, well read in Grotius and Puffendorf, has met with the failure which might be expected; but it is to the originators of this policy that the blame of the fruitless and expensive, though by no means formidable, Kaffir wars is to be imputed, and not to the late Ministry, who merely continued the policy established long before their accession to office. One of the worst evils of such a mistaken policy is, that its abandonment is scarcely less difficult than its original adoption was unwise.
The recent change of Ministry has installed the leaders of the Protectionist party in office. This is the name by which they are best known; though they have sometimes, by a strange misapplication of an old political phrase, assumed the appellation of the Country Party,' in the sense of the party connected with agriculture. Either name, however, points with sufficient accuracy to their origin and distinctive opinions. They were the tail, or, if we may be permitted to use another old political expression, the rump of the Conservative party of 1845. When Sir Robert Peel, at the end of that year, decided to propose an immediate suspension and an ultimate repeal of the import duties on corn, in order to meet the emergency created by the failure of the potato crop, all his Cabinet (after some differences of opinion, and a consequent resignation of office) acceded to
* The meaning of the terms Court and Country party, which have existed since the time of the Civil War, is fully explained by Hume in his Essay on the Parties of Great Britain' (Part i. Essay 9.). We need scarcely inform our readers that the 'Country party' is the national or popular party, and has no connexion with the sense of country as opposed to town, and as connected with agriculture. Thus Hume says that the Cavaliers were the Court party, and the Roundheads the Country party;' a sentence which ought to cause the First Commissioner of Works to abjure all further connexion with the Country party.'
both these propositions, with the exception of Lord Derby, who agreed to the former, but dissented from the latter. Lord Derby, in consequence, retired from Sir R. Peel's Cabinet, leaving his colleagues and the other subordinate members of the Government to carry the Repeal of the Corn Laws. As soon as this object had been effected, a change of government, as is well known, took place. But, in the mean time, Sir Robert Peel found that the great body of his unofficial supporters seceded from him, refused to adopt his course on the Corn Laws, and placed themselves under the leadership of Lord Derby. Their leader, however, had been called up to the House of Lords; and a demand instantly arose for a general to lead the headless, but compact band in the House of Commons. It was at this crisis that Lord George Bentinck and Mr. Disraeli stood forward as representatives of the vindictive and resentful feelings of that division of the Conservative party who resisted the Repeal of the Corn Laws as a measure detrimental to their interests. Of these feelings, the one from conviction, the other from the possession of a natural talent for sarcasm, rendered themselves fit exponents. The parliamentary war was waged with the tomahawk and scalping knife, in the true Indian style; and every opprobrious epithet which the language of debate would tolerate was directed by them against Sir Robert Peel, amidst the vociferous cheers of the country gentlemen, some of whom believed that the ruin of half the country was involved in his abandonment of Protection; and all of whom thought that by this act the main buttress and prop of their rents was cut away.
The history of this crisis of the formation and policy of the Protectionist party has been written by Mr. Disraeli in the volume placed at the head of our Article. Considering that it is, in substance, a panegyric of one of the two leaders of the Protectionist party in the House of Commons, written by the other, strict historical impartiality is not to be expected; nevertheless, we are bound to say, that the narrative of facts appears to us to be, in all material points, accurate, and that where the judgments are not such as we can concur in, the language used is temperate and fair. As a complete history of the crisis, it is chiefly defective in omitting Mr. Disraeli's own share in the invectives against Free Trade and Sir Robert Peel; but this omission was an inevitable consequence of the biographical treatment of the subject. Lord George Bentinck was not a man of much ability; and his political knowledge and experience were, on account of his previous pursuits, very limited. Nor had he any remarkable oratorical talents: his ordinary mode of
1852. Mr. Disraeli and Lord George Bentinck.
speaking was, indeed, from his slow delivery and his emphatic enunciation of the most insignificant words, painfully laborious. But he was nevertheless peculiarly well fitted to head the Protectionist troops at this emergency. He had, in the first place, a sincere and undoubting belief in the doctrine of Protection: he really thought that the country would be ruined by Free Trade. He had rank, wealth, social position, and knowledge of the world; he had unbounded confidence in his own opinions; he was proud, contemptuous, and dictatorial, in the extreme; and he had a dogged, unflinching perseverance, which nothing could divert from its purpose. He likewise seems to have considered a political party as a partnership formed for a common advantage; and hence he glowed with indignation against the treachery of Sir Robert Peel, in sacrificing the interests of his landed followers, and exposing them to the danger of a diminution of rent, for a mere alleged public benefit.
Such being the origin of the Protectionist party, its opinions and policy could not be doubtful. Lord Derby in the one House of Parliament, Lord George Bentinck and Mr. Disraeli in the other, and, after the lamented death of the former, Mr. Disraeli alone, —produced and reproduced, in every shape, and on every occasion, the arguments in favour of the Protectionist, and against the Free-trade policy. Corn was, of course, the leading topic, because it directly affected the pecuniary interests of the Protectionist party in Parliament. But Colonial protection was not neglected, and a large part of the Session of 1848 was devoted to a discussion of the sugar duties, consequent on the exertions of Lord George Bentinck to maintain a protective duty upon foreign sugar. In a subsequent Session, the repeal of the Navigation Laws was resisted, in both houses, by the combined strength of the Protectionist party; and various motions were made, from time to time, by Mr. Disraeli for the relief of the agricultural interest, on the ground of their losses by the repeal of the Corn Laws. The principal object of the latter motions was to represent the landed interest as the victim of an unfair system of local taxation, and to recommend the transfer of various local burdens to the Consolidated Fund. On all these subjects the Protectionist party were peculiarly zealous and active. They exhibited, however, on all occasions the character of a party opposition; and they availed themselves of all opportunities which presented themselves of weakening the party in office, and of censuring its measures and conduct.
*See chap. xxvi. of Mr. Disraeli's Biography.