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The unexpected resignation of Lord John Russell's Cabinet in the beginning of 1850 found Lord Derby unprepared with a Cabinet; and his negotiations with some members of the Peelite party were not so successful as to enable him to take office. Warned by this accident, however, he devoted a portion of the recess to the formation of a prospective Government, which the events of last February enabled him to reduce to reality. Of the various attempts upon the public credulity which have been made by the present Ministers since their accession to office, none is more surprising to any one who has followed their recent conduct, than the assertion that they were not playing the party game of an opposition,-that they were mere disinterested bystanders, and suddenly, without any act of their own, found themselves called on to assist the Crown in a difficulty. These statements are wholly unfounded: it was by their own assiduous exertions that the Protectionist party obtained office. If they are possessed of greatness, they achieved it for themselves; it was not cast upon them. Although Lord Derby may have been in the country on the day of Lord Palmerston's motion, the list of his Cabinet was already in existence, and had been shown to some of his friends before that day—a fact which we know cannot be denied.

It would be invidious to scrutinise the names of the persons forming the new Government. Lord Derby himself, and Mr. Herries were the only English Privy Councillors; the Lord Chancellor had been an Irish Privy Councillor; the other members of the Cabinet were new to office, as they were chiefly unknown to fame. We will only remark that, looking to many of his colleagues, we are unable to understand the surprise which was expressed at the appointment of Sir J. Pakington. The Government, it is to be observed, incorporated none of the Peelite party: it included none of the followers of Sir Robert Peel, who had adhered throughout to his commercial policy: it was composed exclusively of determined opponents to the system of Free Trade.

Such being the composition of the Government, the country naturally looked to them for an explicit declaration of their opinions and policy on the subject of Protection, as soon as they had time to deliberate together, and were able to meet Parliament after their re-elections. This reasonable expectation, however, has been very imperfectly satisfied. Their declarations on the subject have been studiously obscure and ambiguous; nor always consistent with one another. The reluctance to speak out has been so great, as to indicate either that they are not sincere and earnest in their opinions, or that they abstain

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1852.

Equivocal Surrender of Protection.

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from committing themselves to any definite course of policy on this class of questions. The contrast between their former confidence and present hesitation is so striking, as to lead inevitably to this conclusion. The following may, however, be considered as the result of such announcements of intention, as have either been afforded voluntarily, or extracted by interrogation. 1. The Repeal of the Navigation Laws is treated as final: no hope of recovering Protection is held out to the shipowners, and they are irrevocably consigned to free competition, without any prospect of a return to dear freights. 2. There is to be no interference this Session with the sugar duties, and the fall of the duties on foreign sugar, which the existing Act fixes for the 5th of July next, is to be allowed to take place without resistance.* Sir John Pakington, however, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, retains his former opinions as to the disastrous effects produced by the Free-trade policy respecting sugar. 3. The shipowners and West Indians may be disregarded with comparative safety; but the owners and occupiers of land are more formidable, and cannot be so lightly disposed of. Accordingly, on the subject of corn, the responses of the Downing Street oracle are peculiarly enigmatical, and might have excited the admiration and envy of the most accomplished priestess of Delphi. Lord Derby declares his wish, but not his intention, to establish a small fixed duty on corn. He thinks it would be advantageous; but will not propose it, unless it could be carried by a large majority in Parliament, and with the general concurrence of the country: conditions which he must well know that a bread-tax can never fulfil. Practically, therefore, though not in distinct terms, Protection on corn is thrown over; and the agricultural supporters of the Government are exhorted to trust in their friends, who will see justice done them, and will try to alleviate their fiscal burdens.

The present position of Lord Derby's Government is, as he himself declared, that it is in a minority in the House of Commons. His Government, therefore, is in office, but not in power; the real power, and therefore the real responsibility for the state

* Under the existing Act, the state of the sugar duties stands thus. The duty on refined sugar, the growth of a British possession, fell to 13s. 4d. per cwt. on the 5th of July, 1851, where it remains. At the same time the duty on foreign refined sugar fell to 17s. per cwt., which is the present duty. The foreign sugar is to undergo three further reductions, when the equalisation will be effected; viz. :—

5th July, 1852

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16s. 4d.

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13 4

of public affairs, rests with the Opposition, who, differing on other subjects, are agreed on the question of Free Trade. The Government has been led by Mr. Disraeli on the principles of an Opposition; and he would achieve a great triumph if he could succeed in putting the Opposition in a minority. For the present the Opposition keep the Government in prison, and stand sentinels at the gate. The plan of letting them out on their parole was tried, but was found unsafe. In this state of things we may perceive the true explanation of the boast of the Government, that their accession to office did not lower the funds or produce a general alarm. But what would have been the feelings of the country if men as inexperienced and incapable as the present Ministers, and holding their opinions on Protection, had come, not merely into office, but into power; had been backed by majorities in both Houses; and had proceeded to carry their opinions into practical effect?

The course of the Opposition, since the change of Government, appears to us to have been, on the whole, temperate and dignified, and altogether free from the charge of factiousness, which the organs of the Ministry have been so solicitous to fasten upon it. On the first night after business was resumed, Lord John Russell, Sir James Graham, Mr. Gladstone, and Lord Palmerston, successively declared their opinions that the attempt of the Government to carry on the business of the Session, without the confidence of a majority of the House of Commons, was unconstitutional, and that it was incumbent on them to dissolve Parliament, as soon as the measures necessary for the service of the year could be passed. To the terms prescribed by this imposing concurrence of authorities, the Government have slowly and reluctantly submitted. If they had possessed any self-respect or decent pride, they would have voluntarily sought to extricate themselves from their ignominious position of place without power; they would have been the first to proclaim a wish to shorten their imperial cap tivity, and to be released from their gilded prison; they would not have sought to prolong an interval, during which they have the name, but not the reality, of a Ministry. Such, however, was not the view of his position taken by the 'chivalrous' Lord Derby. Not only was there great difficulty in extracting from the Ministers the assurance required by the Opposition, but a disingenuous attempt was subsequently made to retract that assurance, which retractation was itself subsequently retracted. As soon, however, as the Opposition were satisfied that the Government had a bonâ fide intention of dis solving Parliament at the earliest period consistent with the

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1852. Misrepresentation of the Conduct of the Opposition. 577

public service, they voted the supplies for the army, navy, and ordnance without a division, and with scarcely any discussion; in fact, with a facility hardly justifiable, and certainly quite unprecedented. The only adverse division which has taken. place since the present Ministry has been in office, was in order to prevent them from weakening a measure introduced by the late Government for the prevention of bribery at elections. In this division the Government were defeated.

Since their accession to office, therefore, the new Ministers have shown no disposition to declare their principles of action, to announce their system of policy, or to place their Government on an intelligible constitutional footing with respect to Parliament and the country. Not finding it convenient to set forth their views, and to justify them, they have resorted to the usual expedient of misrepresenting their opponents. We have already shown, by a reference to facts, that their charge of factiousness against the Opposition is unfounded. A similar charge, equally unfounded, has been derived from the meeting in Chesham Place. It is asserted, or insinuated, by the organs of the Government, that at this meeting, Lord John Russell entered into some unholy compact with Mr. Cobden and Mr. Bright, for the purpose of restoring him to office, and that, for this purpose, he promised to support a sweeping measure of parliamentary reform. So far is this from being the fact, that, (as we are informed), Mr. Cobden and Mr. Bright (who attended this meeting as they had previously attended the meetings summoned by Lord John Russell in Downing Street) voluntarily proposed, with the view of settling the Free-trade question, on which all the meeting was agreed, not to insist for the present on their peculiar reform opinions; and the only practical result of the meeting was, to adopt the moderate course of a question to be put to the Government by Mr. Villiers, instead of a hostile motion on Free Trade, as had been previously contemplated in some quarters. That Lord John Russell did not enter into any engagement to change his opinions on the subject of Parliamentary Reform is sufficiently proved by the course subsequently taken by him on Mr. Hume's general motion on Reform, and Mr. Berkeley's motion on the Ballot. The whole edifice of accusations and alarms grounded on the meeting at Chesham Place is baseless and imaginary. Some of the Free-trade party may have thought the meeting unnecessary, but assuredly the Government had no reason to complain of it, as it removed a hostile notice from the motion paper.

The present state of public affairs, therefore, is, that all

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new legislation is suspended, and that the Government are to wind up their affairs as soon as they can, under the inspection, and by the sufferance of the Opposition, with the view of dissolving Parliament when the necessary provision for the public service has been obtained. The new Parliament will decide on the future policy of the country; and until it is returned, everything is to remain in its existing state.

At such a conjuncture as this, the received doctrine* used to be, that the head of a Government declared his principles and policy on the leading questions of the day, and, without specifying his measures, signified his intention of acting 'in accordance with his opinions. If this course were adopted, the appeal to the country would be made upon a definite and intelligible issue. But this is not the course now adopted. A new device has been hit on by the Ministers. They have, it seems, certain abstract speculative opinions, certain preferences and tastes, on political matters; but they have no practical plans or intentions for the conduct of the Government. They are ready to legislate for an Utopia, but not for England. They therefore lay down no plan of policy, by which they abide, whatever may be the result of the elections. They stake the existence of their Government on nothing, and risk nothing for their supporters; but declare that they will accept the verdict of the country, whatever it may be, and govern themselves accordingly.

So far is this doctrine now carried, that a quarterly supporter of the new Government accuses Sir James Graham of misrepresenting Lord Derby, in describing him as favourable to a restoration of Protection. Lord Derby's speeches, it now turns out, though delivered in Parliament, were purely historical, or theoretical. They were speculative lectures on the past history of the country; not the practical advice of a statesman. He condemned the Free-trade policy, and praised Protection; but he never intended to recommend the repeal of one policy, or the revival of the other. We doubt whether this construction of his opinions occurred to the devoted followers, to whom he addressed the appeal of, 'Up Guards, and at 'em,' and whether

* Lord Rockingham, in a correspondence with Lord Chancellor Thurlow, which originated in an overture from the King, and which ended in the formation of his ministry in 1782, lays down the following sound and constitutional doctrine:

I must confess that I do not think it an advisable measure, first to attempt to form a ministry by arrangement of office-afterwards to decide upon what principles or measures they are to act." (Lord Albemarle's Memoirs of the Marquis of Rockingham, vol. ii. p. 459.)

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