§ Mr. Tennyson
said: —In rising to move the order of the day for the committee upon the East Retford Disfranchisement Bill, I cannot refrain from expressing my deep regret, that a measure, winch rests upon grounds altogether distinct from party considerations,—the failure or the success of which could not affect the stability of any administration,—a measure, too, which I had fondly imagined would be productive of unmixed advantage to the country, should have incidentally occasioned a change in his majesty's government, which, I am persuaded, a vast majority of all thinking men in this country will agree with me in considering, both in itself, and its probable consequences, a great public misfortune.
§ Sir, I call it a great public misfortune, that the sovereign should be thus unexpectedly deprived of the services of those 916 councillors, on whom this House and the nation had mainly depended for wholesome measures and good government at home, and for a wise and enlightened policy in our foreign relations, at a period of peculiar interest in the affairs of Europe, and of the whole civilized world.
§ To whom this calamity is imputable, we have yet to learn. I will not believe that the right hon. gentleman who lately held the seals of the Colonial Department, after having once consented, unadvisedly, in my judgment, but deliberately, on his part—to accept office in concert with the duke of Wellington, would seize upon the first pretext for betraying the administration into difficulties, by wilfully abandoning the position he had thus accepted.
§ On the other hand, I am equally unwilling to suppose that the duke of Wellington, after having courted and won the alliance of the right hon. gentleman, and of the two noble lords who have now retired with him from the cabinet, in order to strengthen the government he was about to form, and to acquire for it, a portion of that confidence and popularity which Mr. Canning's administration had obtained,—I say, I cannot imagine that the noble duke would afterwards avail himself of the earliest pretext for throwing off the right hon. gentleman, as soon as the object for which he sought that alliance seemed to him to be accomplished.
§ Yet, Sir, there are only two recognized modes by which a minister of the Crown can quit its service. One, by his own absolute resignation, the other, by a dismissal on the part of the sovereign. I know of no intermediate course; I cannot conceive any third mode, at least there is none which, in civil tactics, could be deemed justifiable. At a period, then, of public difficulty, either the right hon. gentleman has improperly abandoned his post, or, at such a period, and for some cause to be explained, the noble duke at the head of the government has advised his dismissal from the councils of the Crown. But seeing the right hon. gentleman in his place, I trust he will now indulge us with the fullest information on this important matter. If that information be afforded, I am persuaded it will appear that this bill, which I have the honour to conduct, was not, and could not be, the fundamental cause of what has unfortunately occurred. But, be that as it may, 917 I shall think it my duty to persist in it, on those grounds of public expediency and constitutional policy, which originally induced me to embark in what has proved an arduous undertaking; affected, as it now seems to be, by circumstances and considerations, which do not naturally belong to it. The merits of the measure itself, I have already expounded so much at length on former occasions, that I shall not now add another word, but shall sit down, trusting that in this stage of our proceeding, some account will be given of the recent extraordinary event, which has been attributed exclusively to this bill; but which I am convinced, has had its origin in other and very different causes. I now move that the order of the day be read.
§ Mr. Huskisson
rose and said:—
Sir; the circumstances under which I offer myself to your notice will, I trust, bespeak forme—that, of which I shall stand so much in need—the patient indulgence of this House, without my making any elaborate appeal to their good feelings.
Notwithstanding the example of modern times, more especially the precedents of the last session,—notwithstanding the appeal just made to me by the hon. member who has moved the order of the day,—I, for one, am not prepared to subscribe to the doctrine, that a minister of the Crown, on quitting his majesty's service, is necessarily called upon to give an account either to parliament or to the country, of the grounds on which he has ceased to hold office. For all that he may have done, for any thing which he may have omitted to do, in his official capacity, he is responsible: and I trust that I am not less prepared than any of my predecessors to answer any questions, or to render a full and explicit account, in these respects.
But while I do not acknowledge the abstract obligation of explaining why I am no longer in office, I am willing to admit to the hon. member for Blechingly that there are peculiar circumstances in the present instance which, in justice to the country, and injustice to myself as a public character, render such explanation necessary and expedient.
When my right hon. friend (Mr. Peel) last year retired from the post which he occupied, he found it necessary to explain the motives which had led him, voluntarily though reluctantly, to resign a situation in which he had done such worthy service 918 to the country. I have to state, not the motives which influenced me in relinquishing office, but the circumstances which have caused my removal from it. Of motives I can explain nothing. They belong to others, and all which I will venture to say respecting them is, that I have no doubt they were suggested by what appeared a sense of public duty. But were I to be silent on the events in question,—were I to allow it to remain uncontradicted that I had lightly, inconsiderately, and upon what I must say I cannot but regard as, in itself, a comparatively trivial occasion, sent in my resignation, I should justly, I think, in public opinion, be held responsible for an improper sense of the high trust confided to me, and for a disregard of the duty which I owe to my sovereign; for interrupting at a most important period of the session the course of public business, both in and out of parliament; for having thrown the government and the country into a state of temporary embarrassment, suspending not only the ordinary march of affairs, but, at a most difficult and critical conjuncture, involving in the same suspense our relations with our allies, and the duties which we had to perform, as well towards them, as for the maintenance of harmony and good understanding amongst the powers of Europe. Under such circumstances, to have resigned, as it is said I have resigned, or to be removed, as I contend, I have been removed, without some sufficient and adequate cause, is that mystery which it is proper I should endeavour to explain; because when such great interests are involved, when possibly such fearful consequences may be the result of these inevitable delays, it becomes me to show that the evil, if any has arisen, cannot justly be laid at my door.
The House will recollect that we have had before us, in this session, two bills for disfranchising boroughs accused of corruption. That, at an early period of the session, these bills were both upon our table, at the same time. One of these bills affected the elective franchise of Penryn, and it was proposed to transfer that franchise to Manchester. The other, as proposed by the hon. member for Blechingly, had for its object the transference of the elective franchise from East Retford to Birmingham. On the 21st of March a long and able discussion took place upon the latter 919 proposal. In the course of that debate my right hon. friend stated in substance, that, as there were two bills before the House, he should propose, in the case of one (that of Penryn), to make the transfer to Manchester;—in the other, to open the borough to the hundred. My right hon. friend argued on the expediency of pursuing this course, much at length and with his usual ability. He was followed by several gentlemen on the opposite side of the House, who took a different view from him, and urged that in both cases the elective franchise should be transferred from the corrupt boroughs to great commercial towns. I came down to the House on that evening without any intention of taking part in the discussion. No other person, however, but my right hon. friend having addressed the House from the bench on which he now sits, I rose very late in the debate, and, it would appear that, in the course of the observations which fell from me, I made use of the following expressions: "Did the present case (East Retford) stand alone, I certainly should recommend and support the measure of transferring the franchise to some great commercial town." I do assure the House and my right hon. friend, that, in making this declaration, I did not, at the time, consider myself as outstepping the fair spirit of the line of argument, which he himself had adopted. I wish to state this fairly, because, in the situation in which I stand it is my duty to show that I did not do what would in me have been highly improper, namely, that I did not go further than what I distinctly understood to be the view of my right hon. friend; and I have reason to know that, there were many other members of this House who entertained the same opinion of what had fallen from my right hon. friend as myself. After the explanation which I heard from him in a subsequent debate, I am ready to admit, in equal sincerity, that this was by no means a necessary inference, and that I was committing myself beyond the point to which my right hon. friend had committed himself.
The Penryn bill, transferring the franchise to Manchester, passed this House on the 1st of April, and no further proceeding was had on the East Retford bill till the 19th of May. I understand, I do not know how correctly, the cause of this delay to have been, that my right hon. friend him- 920 self suggested to the hon. member who had charge of this bill, to make it what he called a "waiting bill," depending upon the fate of the other in the House of Lords.
On the 19th of May it was proposed to take a further proceeding in the case of East Retford, and it was then notorious— as I understood in the course of the debate—to every member of this House, that the Penryn bill was in such a state in the House of Lords, as to make it probable, nay, I may say certain, that the elective franchise would either be given to the hundred, or that the bill would be rejected altogether.
I am not at liberty, Sir, to disclose any thing which may have passed elsewhere; but this much I may say without any breach of confidence, and for the accuracy of it, if necessary, I can appeal to my noble friend the late Secretary at War, that my right hon. friend came down to the House on the 19th of May quite aware of the extent to which I was committed by my declaration, already referred to, of the 21st of March, and that all my colleagues knew that, in former cases of bills of disfranchisement, the members of the king's government had felt themselves at liberty to entertain different opinions, and to take different parts, in the progress of those bills through parliament. On this topic I can go no further.
In the debate, on the 19th of May, an amendment to the preamble of the bill was moved by the hon. member for the county of Hertford, not simply to extend, according to precedent, the franchise of East Retford to the freeholders of the hundred, but which went the length of establishing an entirely new right of election. This right depended upon the voter being rated to the amount of 20l. a year—it entirely took away the corporate rights of East Retford; and while it provided that the mayor should be the returning officer, it provided also that no man should be mayor who was not rated to the annual amount of 40l. a year. I stated at the time as I now repeat, that this proposition was a complete anomaly and novelty in the mode in which parliament had hitherto dealt with the rights of electors, and I do not believe that my hon. friend was prepared then, or that he is prepared now, to shew how his machinery would have worked, and how many inhabitants of East Retford would have possessed the right of voting under this new regulation. How the re- 921 turning officer (whether mayor or bailliff) was to be elected, or how it was to be ascertained whether he was, or was not, rated at 40l. a year, I know not. The whole proposition presented so many anomalies, and was so entirely unprecedented, it was so extraordinary in itself, that, offered, as it was, to the House without notice or preliminary information, it seemed to me in every respect objectionable. Instead of remedying the corruption of the borough, it erected one of the hundreds of Nottinghamshire into a new little county, and giving to it rights such as exist no where else, annihilated the franchise of the corporation.
My right hon. friend (Mr. Peel) confined himself to noticing the difference between this proposition and the mere transfer of the franchise to the hundred. He argued in favour of the hundred, and vindicated his own consistency in taking that course. He shewed, I think successfully, that he had himself in the former debate taken a line which left him free to adopt the suggestion of the hon. member for Hertfordshire— barring the anomaly which it proposed to introduce. But it must be clear to every body that, however firm my right hon. friend might stand upon his own ground, it was one upon which there was no possible footing for me. The more he fortified his own defence, the more he left me without one—nay the greater the tenacity of his own successful resistance, the more it seemed to invite an attack (though certainly most unintentionally) upon my defenceless position. Late in the evening it was made accordingly—made by a noble friend of mine (lord Sandon), and made, I am quite sure, without the smallest particle of personal or political hostility towards myself. I use his own expression—"I claim the vote of the Secretary of State for the Colonial Department. I claim it on the very grounds on which his right hon. colleague has rested the defence of his own consistency." When my vote was thus claimed, when I was thus specially summoned, to redeem a positive pledge, publicly given, had I any alternative? I rose immediately after my noble friend to acknowledge the pledge. —And here my right hon. friend will allow me to remind him that, as I rose, he said tome, "be sure you mark the difference between what I said, in a former debate, and your declaration." Independently of the wish thus specifically expressed, it was 922 a duty which I owed to my right hon. friend to endeavour to do so. But, exactly in proportion that I dwelt upon that difference, did I unavoidably point to the different conclusion to which it must necessarily lead us. For the sake of avoiding the inconvenience, and pain to me, of that apparent difference, I adverted to the anomalous novelty of the proposal brought forward by the member for the county of Hertford, and on that ground I proposed to adjourn coming to any vote till after the holidays. Sir, I avow the motive of my proposal, and my right hon. friends on the Treasury Bench know very well to what I allude, when I say that, had an adjournment been permitted, any future difference, which might have been manifested in the progress of the bill, would have been immaterial. Upon sitting down I pressed upon my right hon. friend the expediency of supporting the adjournment. He replied to me, that he must persevere in the course which he had taken that evening. It has been since suggested to me by persons, perhaps, of more discretion than myself that I might have sheltered my consistency in voting with my right hon. friend, under the excuse that the fate of the Penryn bill was not formally known to the House of Commons. Sir, I thought at the time—I still think — that to have done so would have been a paltry subterfuge. Every gentleman who had spoken in the debate—not excepting my right hon. friend himself—had assumed—what indeed was matter of incontrovertible notoriety, —that the Penryn bill would be amended either by transferring the franchise to the hundred—or that it would be rejected altogether. In the former alternative my right hon. friend had indeed a waiting case— and, in that alternative, he would have had to revert to the substitution of a town instead of the hundred of Bassetlaw. But, in either alternative, I was bound to give my vote for a town. The division took place soon after; the House adjourned, and I went home, not, however, without observing the intelligible looks of some, and hearing the audible whisperings of others.—Whether from these omens I magnified to myself the impression, which the vote might make in other quarters next morning, I will not pretend to determine.
Perhaps but for some such excitement, easily conceived, by those who cam make 923 allowance for the state of fatigue both of body and mind, in which a man, not in strong health, finds himself after a continuance of fifteen or sixteen hours of incessant attention to business, I should have postponed, till after a night's rest, making any communication to the noble duke at the head of the government. A communication to the same effect I am bound, however, to state that, as a point of honour and courtesy, I should certainly have made. It might have been, I will freely admit it—more cautiously worded than one which was written hastily, and, perhaps, under a too sensitive feeling, but my meaning must have been the same. That meaning was simply this— that having voted on the opposite side of the House from my right hon. friend, (however driven to do so by the force of circumstances, and however unimportant, in my view, the occasion) I was bound to offer to pay the price of that vote, and to relieve the head of the government, in forming his own judgment, from any delicacy which he might feel towards me personally.
Under these impressions, I wrote the letter which I am desirous of reading to the House. And here I may be allowed to say, that I feel considerable difficulty how to proceed; in what way to avoid it has occupied much of my thoughts in the course of this morning. On the one hand, if I state the substance and import of the correspondence which has taken place, I am sensible that I may omit something important, and may expose myself to the suspicion that I have not given a faithful and exact representation:—on the other hand, I know how irksome, and how little acceptable to the House will be a full I detail of the correspondence. But I also know that, on similar occasions, letters of the kind have been read, and I shall, with the permission of the House, follow that example. I have already stated the circumstances in which I was placed; and I will only add, that, I thought I was discharging a duty imposed upon me by a point of honour. I am free to admit, that if the letter which I am about to read had been postponed for a few hours it would have expressed more clearly and explicitly, what it was intended to convey. It was marked "private and confidential"—was dated at two o'clock in the morning of Tuesday, May 20th, and was in the following terms:— 924(Private and Confidential)Downing Street,Tuesday Morning, 2 A. M. 20th May.My dear Duke.—After the vote which, in regard to my own consistency and personal character, I have found myself, from the course of this evening's debate, compelled to give on the East Retford question, I owe to you as the head of the administration, and to Mr. Peel as the leader of the House of Commons, to lose no time in affording you an opportunity of placing my office in other hands, as the only means in my power of preventing the injury to the king's service, which may ensue from the appearance of disunion in his Majesty's councils, however unfounded in reality, or however unimportant in itself the question which has given rise to that appearance.Regretting the necessity of troubling you with this communication, believe me, my dear duke, ever truly yours,W. HUSKISSON.This letter I marked "private and confidential," both inside and upon the cover. I then sent it so marked, and sealed, in a cabinet box to Apsley-house. It will be evident, therefore, that I took all possible precaution to confine my communication to the quarter for which it was intended; and I really must say, that if a member of government cannot have intercourse with the head of the administration, either in confidential conversation, or— in what must often be the unavoidable substitute for it—an unreserved communication in writing—without minutely scrutinizing, and cautiously weighing the possible interpretation of every word he may use in such a private and confidential manner, all that has recently occurred cannot surprise any one.
I may here be permitted to say, that, in the course of a long political life, it has once before happened to me to be placed in a similar situation. In the month of May, 1822, lord Londonderry, then the leading minister in this House, moved the following resolution—a resolution, be it remembered, of which he was himself, the author—"That his Majesty be enabled to direct Exchequer bills, to an amount not exceeding one million, to be issued to Commissioners in Great Britain, to be by them advanced, under certain Regulations and Restrictions, whenever the Average Price of Wheat shall be under 60s. per quarter, upon such Corn, the growth of 925 the United Kingdom, as shall be deposited in fit and proper Warehouses."
Upon that occasion, from circumstances which I need not now detail, but connected with the share which I had had in the corn question, and with the preparing of the report of the committee of the preceding year, I did oppose the resolution of the noble marquis, although he had brought it forward as a measure of government; and the sense of the House was so strongly against it, that it was abandoned. I went the next morning to the earl of Liverpool, and I did then what I have done on the recent occasion, but without a similar result. I thought myself bound in honour to take that course then; and, for the same reason, I took it now.
However little I can admit that this letter, so marked "private and confidential," and written under the circumstances before described, could fairly be considered to convey any other meaning than that which I intended, I am far from maintaining (it is not necessary for me to maintain), that it could not bear a different construction. It appears to have been received by the noble duke about ten o'clock on Tuesday morning. He states, that it surprised him, and I must suppose that he was the more surprised as my letter only referred to what had passed in the House of Commons the night before, without entering into detail or explanation of any sort. Notwithstanding this surprise—notwithstanding the absence of all explanation—notwithstanding the superscription, "private and confidential"—without seeking for explanation—without communication of any sort with me—without allowing himself time to consider even whether his own construction of this letter was not open to doubt—the noble duke hurried away to St. James's, and laid that which, in the abandonment of confidence, had been intended only as an act of delicacy towards himself, at the foot of the throne, advising his majesty, that it was an act of positive and formal resignation.
Being at my office between one and two o'clock—and here it is material to note the hours—my noble friend, the late Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, came to me upon public business of great importance connected with his own department. We discussed it together. At the close of that discussion something which incidentally dropped from my noble friend, led, me to tell him of what I called, in 926 describing it, a little act of unavoidable insubordination, and to say, trifling as it is, political punctilio requires that I should offer to pay the price of it.—A few minutes after this conversation, the noble earl being still with me, I received the following letter from the noble duke;—
(Private.)London, May 20th, 1828.My dear Huskisson;—Your letter of two this morning, which I received at ten, has surprised me much, and has given me great concern. I have considered it my duty to lay it before the king. Ever your's most sincerely,WELLINGTON,The Rt. Hon. W. Huskisson.I immediately put the letter into the hands of my noble friend. He had scarcely read it, before he said, "the duke has entirely mistaken your meaning, I will go instantly and explain the mistake, and the thing will be at once set right." He did so without a moment's delay. In a few minutes he returned to me to say, "I have not met with the success which I anticipated, the duke will not allow that there is any mistake, and persists in considering your letter as a positive resignation, when it was natural to expect that he would be glad to find that he was altogether under a misconception. He does not seem to understand what passed last night." Upon hearing this, I sent to lord Palmerston, and requested of him to wait upon the duke, and explain the course of the transaction. He did so, and, returning to me about five o'clock, told me that the duke continued to adhere to the same construction. I no sooner found that this was the case, than I wrote again to the noble duke. The letter which I will now read.(Private.)Downing St. 20tk May, 3/6 p. M. 1828.My dear Duke;—Having understood from lord Dudley and lord Palmerston, that you had laid my letter of last night before the king under a different impression from that which it was intended to convey, I feel it due both to you and to myself to say, that my object in writing that letter was, not to express any intentions of my own, but to relieve you from any delicacy which you might feel towards me, if you should think that the interests of his majesty's service would be prejudiced by my remaining in office, after giving a 927 vote, in respect to which, from the turn which the latter part of the debate had taken, a sense of personal honour left me no alternative. Believe me, my dear duke, your's very sincerely,W. HUSKISSON.To this I received the following answer, dated the same evening, but which did not reach me till the next morning:—(Private.)London, May 20th, 1828.My dear Huskisson;—I have received your letter of this evening. I certainly did not understand your letter of two o'clock this morning, as offering me any option; nor do I understand the one of this evening as leaving me any, excepting that of submitting myself and his majesty's government to the necessity of soliciting you to remain in your office, or of incur ring the loss of your valuable assistance to his majesty's service.However sensible I may be of this loss, I am convinced that, in these times, any loss is better than that of character, which is the foundation of public confidence.In this view of the case I have put out of it altogether every consideration of the discredit resulting from the scene of last night; of the extent of which you could not but have been sensible when you thought proper, as a remedy for it to send me the offer of 'placing your office in other hands.' Ever, my dear Huskisson, yours most sincerely,WELLINGTON.The Rt. Hon. W. Huskisson.On receiving this letter I will in candour avow that, taking it as an answer to the letter I had sent, and seeing that at this time there could be no possibility of what I had originally intended being misunderstood,—I did think, and I must still say, that this was a harsh proceeding on the part of the noble duke. His first understanding is, that my letter left him no option; his next version is, that I had attempted to do an act utterly unworthy of any man who ever had the honour of a seat in his majesty's councils; that I had attempted to place him and my other colleagues in a situation in which I was driving them to solicit me to remain in office, at the loss of their public character. I perfectly understand that, if I had said to my colleagues in the cabinet, or to the noble duke, "I have sustained a grievance, and, unless you redress it, I will re- 928 sign," there would have been some little appearance of reason in the accusation. I can understand, too, that if, entertaining opinions differing from the majority of my colleagues on any important subject, I had said to them, "Unless you come over to my opinions I will resign;" the reasoning of the noble duke might have been just. What I had said was, "I have done that at which you may justly take offence, and I am ready to pay the price of my conduct." If I had been told in reply, "what you have clone was wrong, but by no means sufficient to require such a penalty as that to which you allude," I should have made no further observation upon the subject. But I must say, that it was painful to me to receive from an individual, for whose personal character I have the most unfeigned respect, and with whom I had acted confidentially in the king's service, more than an insinuation that I was playing a part, for which, indeed, I should have deserved to have been censured in the strongest manner, and even expelled indignantly from the councils of my colleagues. Though I felt myself injured by the noble duke's reply, which I have last read, yet I trust the House will see in my answer that I suppressed any indication of such a feeling.(Private.)Colonial Office, 21st May, 1828.My dear Duke;—In justice to myself I cannot acquiesce for a moment in the construction which your letter of last night puts upon my conduct.You cannot refuse to me the right of knowing the motives of my own actions, and I solemnly declare that, in both my letters, I was actuated by one and the same feeling. It was simply this.—That it was not for me, but for you, as the head of the government, to decide how far my vote made it expedient to remove me from his majesty's service. I felt that I had no alternative, consistently with personal honour (in a difficulty not of my own seeking or creating) but to give that vote;— that the question in itself was one of very minor importance;—that the disunion was more in appearance than in reality; but I also felt that, possibly, you might take a different view of it, and that, in case you should, I ought (as I had once done on a similar occasion with lord Liverpool) to relieve you from any difficulty, arising out of personal consideration towards me, in deciding upon a step to which you 929 might find it your public duty to resort on the occasion.It was under this impression alone that I wrote to you immediately upon my return from the House of Commons.If you had not misconceived that impression, as well as the purport of my second letter, I am persuaded that you could not suppose me guilty of the arrogance of expecting "that you and his majesty's government should submit yourselves to the necessity of soliciting me to remain in my office," or do me the injustice of believing that I could be capable of placing you in the alternative of choosing between the continuance of my services, (such as they are) and the loss to your administration of one particle of character, which, I agree with you, is the foundation of public confidence.If, understanding my communication as I intended it to be understood, you had, in any way, intimated to me, either that the occurrence, however unfortunate, was not one of sufficient moment to render it necessary for you, on public grounds, to act in the manner in which I had assumed that you possibly might think it necessary —or that you were under that necessity— in either case there would have been an end of the matter. In the first supposition, I should have felt that I had clone what, in honour and fairness towards you, I was bound to do; but it never could have entered my imagination that I had claimed, or received, any sacrifice whatever from you, or any member of his majesty's government.On the other hand, nothing can be further from my intention than to express an opinion, that the occasion was not one in which you might fairly consider it your duty to advise his majesty to withdraw from me the seals of office, on the ground of this vote. I do not, therefore, complain; but I cannot allow that my removal shall be placed on any other ground;—I cannot allow that it was my own act;—still less can I admit that, when I had no other intention than to relieve the question, on which you had to decide, from any personal embarrassment, this step on my part should be ascribed to feelings, the very reverse of those by which alone I was actuated, either towards you or his majesty's government. Believe me, to be, my dear duke, your's very sincerely,W. HUSKISSON.From this letter the House will see what 930 were the spirit and feeling in which I acted. Having read a part of this correspondence, I must, in order to render it intelligible, read the whole. The communication which I received from the noble duke in answer to this letter is in the following words:—London, May 21st, 1828.My dear Huskisson;—In consequence of your last letter I feel it to be necessary to recall to your recollection, the circumstances under which I received your letter of Tuesday morning.It is addressed to me at two o'clock in the morning, immediately after a debate and division in the House of Commons. It informs me that you lose no time in affording me an opportunity of placing your office in other hands, as the only means in your power of preventing an injury to the king's service which you describe. It concludes by 'regretting the necessity for troubling me with this communication.Could I consider this in any other light than as a formal tender of the resignation of your office, or that I had any alternative but either to solicit you to remain in office contrary to your sense of duty, or to submit your letter to the king?If you had called on me the next morning after your vote, and had explained to me in conversation what had passed in the House of Commons, the character of the communication would have been quite different; and I might have felt myself at liberty to discuss the whole subject with you; and freely to give an opinion upon any point connected with it. But I must still think that if I had not considered a letter couched in the terms in which that letter is couched, and received under the circumstances under which I received it, as a tender of resignation, and had not laid it before the king, I should have exposed the king's government and myself to very painful misconstructions. My answer to your letter will have informed you that it surprised me much, and that it gave me great concern. I must consider therefore the resignation of your office as your own act, and not as mine, Ever your's, most sincerely.WELLINGTON.I will not stop to examine whether the description of my letter is a very accurate one, or to remark that, if explanation was wanted, the noble duke might easily have 931 sent for me; though, I own, I cannot see the great difference which would have resulted from the substitution of a conversation for a confidential letter.
The noble duke talks of the "very painful misconstruction" to which he must have been exposed, if he had not laid my letter before the king. How this "misconstruction" was to arise I know not. It could not arise from me, I am sure; and, as far as I was concerned, the knowledge of the transaction was confined to ourselves. In conclusion, to mark more emphatically his sense of my conduct, he tells me that I must consider my resignation as "your own act and not as mine." But when the noble duke says, that my remaining in office was "contrary to my own sense of duty," I really am at a loss to know what part of my communication justifies this assertion. If I had ever felt so, I should not have waited for the noble duke to call for my resignation. The House will perceive, from what I have just read, that, after all the explanations—verbal and written, which had been given—after all the statements that had been made by my noble friends, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary at War—the noble duke pertinaciously adheres to his own misconstruction of my first letter—He will not suffer me to escape from it, and insists that my resignation is my own act.
After this communication, received on Thursday morning, of course I considered the matter as at an end. My right lion, friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department knows that such was my view. I had only one solicitude left.—As soon as I was informed by lord Dudley and lord Palmerston, on Tuesday evening, of the misconstruction which the duke had put upon my letter "private and confidential," I necessarily assumed that the king had been advised to regard it in the same light. I was, therefore, very anxious, as one of his majesty's servants, to set myself right with my royal master. I immediately wrote to his majesty to solicit the honour of an audience. To my humble request I had received no answer. I took steps to let it be known to the noble duke, that nothing was further from my wish than to appeal to his majesty against the advice, whatever it might be, of his prime minister; —that I only wished to state to his majesty what my real meaning had been, and to relieve myself from the painful light in which I must appear to his majesty, in 932 having laid before him, as a formal and positive resignation, a paper in which, had it been intended for such a purpose, I had been so forgetful of all that I owed to his majesty, for his unvarying and uniform confidence, and, I may add, personal kindness, as to have forsaken his service without one expression of regret, or one assurance of dutiful attachment and respect.
Late on the evening of Friday, I was told, on the part of the duke, that he did not consider the matter as at an end— that as a man of sense and of the world, I must know very well what I ought to do; but that he could suggest nothing, lest it should appear either like dictation or collusion. I said to my noble friend, from whom I received this communication—"this is very oracular, the little sense I may possess I have exhausted in explanation, carried to redundancy, of what I really meant. I have no objection to say any thing that is consistent with truth, but I know the king is impressed with a conviction that I have sent in my resignation, and that I persist in it; and if his majesty has been advised not to allow me an audience in which I might assure him that such was not my intention, there is no further step which I can take with honour to myself, till I have had an opportunity of removing that impression."
I added, that I did not see the fairness, (whilst I was held to a misconstruction disavowed the instant it was known to me), of expecting me to consent to embark in a game of political blind-man's buff, in which (greatly, perhaps, to the amusement of the lookers-on), I might meet with an awkward, if not irretrievable, tumble, without ever catching the object which I was called upon to pursue. This communication, therefore, remained without any result.
On Sunday morning, my noble friend, having again seen the duke of Wellington, came to me between eleven and twelve, and gave me to understand that it was not intended that I should have the audience which, five days before, I had solicited of his majesty. My noble friend, I have since learnt, was further charged to communicate to me, that unless I set myself right with the duke before half-past two that day, he could allow me no further time. My noble friend did not deliver this message. He did not draw a line around me and say in the words of Popilius—"Priusquam hoc circulo excedas, redde respon- 933 sum Imperatori, quod referam."—It is probable that he did not think such a message, under all the circumstances, consistent with good taste; and I thank my noble friend for the delicacy which induced him to spare me this part of his communication. I am obliged to mention this incident, because the omission led to an explanation which I was afterwards obliged to make in an additional letter to the noble duke.
Immediately upon my noble friend's leaving me, I wrote to the noble duke the letter which I am about to read, and which I had intended should close the correspondence on my part. "Downing Street, 25th May, 1828.
"My dear Duke;—On Tuesday last I wrote to the king to solicit an audience. His majesty has not yet been pleased to grant me this honour.
"In the expectation (not unnatural for me to entertain in the situation which I hold) of being afforded an opportunity of waiting upon his majesty, I have deferred acknowledging your letter of the 21st, which, passing by altogether all that is stated in mine of the same date, you conclude in the following words—'I must, therefore, consider the resignation of your office as your own act and not as mine.'
"I will not revert to the full explanation which I have already given you on this subject. Not denying that my first letter might be capable of the construction which you put upon it, I would ask you, whether it be usual, after a construction has been, from the first moment, explicitly disavowed, to persist that it is the right one? It being, however, the construction to which you adhere, I must assume, as you laid the letter before his majesty, that you advised his majesty upon it, and that his majesty is, therefore, under the same misapprehension as yourself of what I meant; the more especially as I have no means of knowing whether my subsequent letters have been laid before his majesty.
"It was for the purpose of setting right any erroneous impression on the royal mind that I sought to be admitted, as soon as possible, into his majesty's presence.
"I was then, as I am still, most anxious to assure his majesty that nothing could have been further from my intention, than that the letter in question should have been at all submitted to his majesty:— to make known to his majesty the cir- 934 cumstances and feelings under which it had been written:—to point out to him that I had taken the precaution (usual between ministers in matters of a delicate and confidential nature, when it is wished to keep the subject, as much as possible, confined to the respective parties), of marking the letter "private and confidential;" that I understood that this letter, so marked specially to guard its object, had been without previous communication of any sort with me, in respect to the transaction referred to, but not explained, in the letter itself, laid before his majesty, as conveying to the foot of the throne my positive resignation.
"I should further have had to state to his majesty the great pain and concern which I felt at finding that a paper should have been submitted to his majesty, and described to him as conveying my resignation of the seals, in a form so unusual, and with a restriction so unbecoming towards my sovereign as is implied in the words "private and confidential;"—that in a necessity so painful (had I felt such a necessity) as that of asking his majesty's permission to withdraw from his service, my first anxiety would have been to lay my reasons, in a respectful, but direct, communication from myself at his majesty's feet; but that, most certainly, in whatever mode conveyed, the uppermost feeling of my heart would have been to have accompanied it with those expressions of dutiful attachment and respectful gratitude, which I owe to his majesty for the many and uniform proofs of confidence and kindness, with which he has been graciously pleased to honour me since I have held the seals of the Colonial Department.
"If I had been afforded an opportunity of thus relieving myself from the painful position in which I stand towards his majesty, I should then have entreated of his majesty's goodness and sense of justice to permit a letter, so improper for me to have written (if it could have been in my contemplation that it would have been laid before his majesty as an act of resignation), to be withdrawn. Neither should I have concealed from his majesty my regret, considering the trouble which has unfortunately occurred both to his majesty and his government, that I had not taken a different mode of doing what, for the reasons fully stated in my letter of the 21st, I found myself bound in honour to 935 do, so as to have prevented, perhaps, the misconception arising out of my letter, written immediately after the debate.
"I have now stated to you frankly, and without reserve, the substance of all that I was anxious to submit to the king. I have done so in the full confidence that you will do me the favour to lay this statement before his majesty, and that I may be allowed to implore of his majesty that he will do me the justice to believe that, of all who have a right to prefer a I claim to be admitted to his royal presence, I am the last who, in a matter relating to; myself, would press that claim in a manner unpleasant to his majesty's wishes or inclinations. I bow to them with respectful deference, still retaining, however, a confidence, founded on the rectitude of my intentions, that, in being removed from his majesty's service, I may be allowed the consolation of knowing that I have not been debarred from the privilege of my office in consequence of my having incurred his majesty's personal displeasure. Believe me, my dear Duke, your's very sincerely,
W. HUSKISSON.His Grace theDuke of Wellington, K. G.This letter was sent to Apsley-house about five o'clock;—between seven and eight I received one from the noble duke, couched, I acknowledge, with great satisfaction, in terms of kindness and regret. It was as follows:—
London, May 25, 1828."My dear Huskisson;—It is with great concern that I inform you that I have at last attended his majesty, and have received his instructions respecting an arrangement to fill your office.
"I sincerely regret the loss of your valuable assistance in the arduous task in which I am engaged. Believe me ever your's most sincerely,
WELLINGTON.The Rt. Hon. W. Huskisson.If any one struck by these words "at last," asks why it was absolutely necessary so precipitately, and without any attempt at previous communication, to carry my private and confidential letter to the king on Tuesday morning, and to advise his majesty that it was a positive and absolute resignation, if there were no inconvenience to arise in delaying to advise his majesty to act upon it for so many days afterwards, 936 I can only state my inability to answer the question.
This letter having been delivered to me about half past seven (as I have before stated), I was surprised, about, an hour later, to receive from my noble friend, the earl of Dudley, the letter, which had been left at Apsley House about five o'clock, unopened. It is on this account that I was obliged to mention the communication which my noble friend had not made to me in the morning. My letter reached Apsley House about five o'clock; but the impression on the mind of the noble duke was, as I assume, that the whole of his message had been delivered to me and therefore, as the time was past, he considered my letter as having come too late. The clock had struck! I immediately wrote again to the duke of Wellington, returning my letter, and begging him to do me the honour to open it.Downing St. 9 ½ P. M.25th May, 1828."My dear Duke;—Lord Dudley has just sent to me, unopened, my letter to you, which I forwarded to Apsley House about five o'clock this afternoon.
"This letter was written as soon as I was given to understand by lord Dudley, who called here after an interview with you this morning, that his majesty had not signified any intention of granting me the honour of an audience. No other mode, therefore, remaining open to me of conveying my sentiments to the king, I addressed myself to you, for the purpose of bringing before his majesty, in the shape of a written communication, what I am prevented from stating to his majesty in person.
"I feel confident that you will not deny me this favour, and you will be satisfied by the contents of my letter (which I now return), that in writing it nothing was further from my intention than to attempt to intrude myself between you and the arrangements, which, upon my removal from office (for such I have considered the result of our correspondence since your letter of the twenty-first) you have received his majesty's instructions to make.
"Your letter, communicating this fact, reached me about half past seven this evening. I thank you for the information, and for the kind manner in which you advert to any feeble assistance, which I may have been able to give to your administration, as well as for the expression of 937 the concern with which you have advised his majesty to place my office in other hands. Believe me to be, my dear duke, ever your's, very sincerely,
W. HUSKISSON.The barrier which had been interposed between me and the throne being now removed, on Monday morning I received his majesty's gracious commands to attend his majesty. I did so. Of what passed in the royal closet I am, of course, not at liberty to utter one word; but I cannot be restrained from saying, that I met with a reception from his majesty so gracious, and so far exceeding anything which could have been deserved for services infinitely superior to any which it may have been in my power to render, as well as with so much personal kindness, that I shall for ever retain a warm and grateful recollection of these proofs of his majesty's favour and condescension.
The same evening, I received the following letter from the duke of Wellington, which closed the correspondence.London, 26thMay, 1828."My dear Huskisson;— I have received your letter of yesterday, accompanied by another letter from you dated also yesterday, which I had returned to lord Dudley, under the impression that I ought not to open it without your previous consent, under the circumstances that existed at the time that I received it.
"I have laid both before the king. In answer I have only to repeat, that I considered your letter of the 20th as a formal tender of the resignation of your office; and that the circumstance of its being marked "private and confidential," did not alter the character of the letter, or relieve me from the painful duty of communicating its contents to his majesty, as I did in person.
"Your subsequent letters did not, according to my understanding of them, convey any disavowal of your intention to tender your resignation. I laid them before his majesty and my answers to them, and communicated to lord Dudley that I had done so.
"The king informed me, I think on Wednesday the twenty-first, that you had desired to have an audience of his majesty; and that he intended to receive you on the day but one after. I did not consider it my duty to advise his majesty to-receive you [...] an earlier period.
938 "It is scarcely necessary for me to observe, that your letter to me of the twentieth was entirely your own act, and wholly unexpected by me. If the letter was written hastily and inconsiderately, surely the natural course was for you to withdraw it altogether; and thus relieve me from the position in which, without any fault of mine, it had placed me; compelling me either to accept the resignation which it tendered, or to solicit you to continue to hold your office.
"This latter step was, in my opinion, calculated to do me personally, and to the king's government, great disservice; and it appeared to me, that the only mode by which we could be extricated from the difficulty in which your letter had placed us was, that the withdrawal of your letter should be your own spontaneous act; and that it should be adopted without delay.
"The interference of his majesty, pending our correspondence, would not only have placed his majesty in a situation in which he ought not to be placed in such a question, but it would have subjected me to the imputation that that interference had taken place on my suggestion, or with my connivance.
"I did not consider it my duty to advise his majesty to interfere in any manner whatever.
"His majesty informed me this day, that he had written to you this morning, appointing an audience in the course of the day. Believe me, ever your's, most sincerely,
WELLINGTON.Rt. Hon. W. Huskisson.I will not dissemble to you, Sir, from rumours which reached me in the course of Saturday, and which I know were industriously circulated on that day, that I was enabled to form a shrewd guess at the measure of submission which was expected on my part. If I had been prepared virtually to admit, that the misconstruction put upon my first letter was what I had really meant;—that it was right to hold me to that misconstruction, and, by consequence of such admission, further to force me to acknowledge that the explanations I had given, were not only unfounded, but fairly open to the injurious suspicions by which they had been met;—in short, Sir, if I had said — not in words, perhaps, but in a manner which would infallibly have been so construed,—that I had resigned, and that my resignation was either positive 939 and absolute, or put forth with the unworthy design of trying how far I could raise myself by disparaging the government of which I was a member, I might have been permitted to retain the seals of a Secretary of State. I am addresssing an assembly of gentlemen,—I leave to their personal feelings to appreciate mine on making such a discovery. God forbid that any man should ever be a Secretary of State who could pause on such conditions, and agree to be admitted to his Sovereign only when, and as, the prime minister might permit. He might, indeed, be the chief clerk—the head manager of a great Executive Department,—but he could no longer be a minister of State, and a confidential adviser of his Sovereign. He might, indeed continue to appear among his colleagues, but he would carry into the cabinet a consciousness of his own nullity, and self-degradation; or, if he could for a moment stifle such consciousness, the looks of those around him would not be tardy to remind him of it—to tell him in language, more intelligible than words, that it was time to withdraw for ever from such a place. Then, indeed, would he have relinquished, not only what is now taken from me —the power, and rank, and patronage of high office—but also that which I trust I preserve—public character—personal honour —the undiminished good-will and approbation of my friends, and the chance, as a member of this House, of still continuing to serve my country. These, Sir, are titles which, to win and wear, is, fortunately, not the exclusive privilege of any particular class in this community. They are titles, for which it is my birthright as an Englishman (not being a Catholic), to contend in fair competition with the proudest and wealthiest in the land.
Sir, I began by stating that I had not resigned, and that in respect to the motives of others in removing me from office, as I know nothing, I should say nothing. But this I may say, that when I consented to remain in office, on the formation of the duke of Wellington's administration, I did so contrary to the judgment and to the advice of many friends. I did so exclusively upon public grounds;—upon an offer in which I understood that so many of those with whom I had acted in the former administration were included, that I did not think we should be justified, when our assistance was asked for, in withholding it from the public service. I 940 thought that in our joint acceptance—in our known similarity of opinion—in the Executive Departments which we filled—in our mutual co-operation and confidence—and in the explanations which we had received, we were more likely to uphold the principles and policy to which we were attached, than by any other course of conduct.
Sir, I know by what powerful influences those principles are opposed. My eyes were not shut—how could they be, after what had happened to my late lamented right honourable friend—to the virulence with which those who support them are assailed? Has it been found that these powerful influences were no longer to be stemmed, that they could no longer be resisted?—Has it been declared by them, that the price of their support must be, disconnexion between the noble duke's government and those whom they persecute?—Have sacrifices and victims been required—or, has it, as I incline to believe, been deemed expedient, for the interest of the king's government, to come to a closer union with one party by casting off the other?—If so, I wish the separation had been placed upon its true grounds. I should greatly have preferred to have been told that, from dislike to those measures of policy, which I believe to be for the advantage of the country—from mistrust of their tendency—and from jealousy and apprehension of the power which office gave me of bringing them forward—it was become necessary to allay certain angry feelings, as the only means of securing the steady support of some whose countenance and cordiality are deemed essential to the administration of which the noble duke is the head.
Perhaps, but for this change of feeling —but for this change of policy—words coming from high authority, scarcely more than a twelve-month old might have been recollected. It might have been said of a letter written under all the circumstances which I have already described, "If he was hasty in coming to this decision—if the decision was founded in error, he ought to be informed. He has always been on the best terms of goodwill and confidence with all his colleagues; he never made difficulties, or acted otherwise than with a view to accommodate differences of opinion. Then, if he has taken a hasty or intemperate view of this case, why not 941 come forward and render him the service which he has more than once rendered to others, by representing to him that he is wrong." If the high authority from which I quote these sentiments, so honourable to his character and so considerate to human imperfection, could have been the party to whom I had addressed my letter at two o'clock in the morning, if he could have been told, within four hours after the receipt of it, that he had mistaken the meaning, and that it pointed not at those serious consequences which he apprehended, would he not have said, "I am happy to have been so soon informed of my mistake before the knowledge of it has gone further, and when it is so easy to set it right?" This I know was the answer naturally anticipated by my noble friend, who first apprized the duke of Wellington of his mistake; but the answer which he received, was "no mistake—a positive resignation."
Sir, this was the answer of the duke of Wellington, the head of his majesty's government in May 1828. The authority which I have quoted, was the duke of Wellington, in May 1827, when explaining to the other House of Parliament, why he was no longer a member of his majesty's councils.
Notwithstanding the self and mutual gratulations of the enemies to all improvement; in spite of the blundering zeal of some of that party who find in the pre sent removal of myself and my political friends from office, the only adequate apology which the head of the government can make to them for having admitted us at all—who libel the noble duke by stating, "that they are willing to excuse him because we may have been useful just at first;" in spite of the boisterous exultation, and venerable buffooneries displayed at that meeting, which once a year congregates to attempt a fraud upon the ignorance of the living, and to pronounce a libel upon the memory of the illustrious dead—I say, Sir, in spite of these boisterous exultations, so suddenly substituted for the loud and bitter wailings recently vented from the same quarter, over the progress of religious liberty in this country, and the manifestation of a desire, at least in this House, to extend to Ireland the same blessing—I say, Sir, in spite of all these signs of the times—these untoward omens,—I cannot believe that the triumph of that party is so complete, if so secure, as they anticipate.
942 Knowing the sentiments of my right hon. friend at the head of the administration in this House,—knowing that, with the single exception of the Catholic question, his opinions and his principles upon all questions of public policy have hitherto been in strict unison with my own,— knowing the feelings and views which prevail, at least in this House of parliament, I cannot believe, whatever doctrines I hear laid down by the pretended admirers of discipline and vigour, that my right hon. friend is prepared to subscribe to the principles of those who advocate these doctrines. I cannot believe that he is prepared to admit that the real and substantive power of the state should be wielded according to the dictation of an unknown junta abjuring for valid reasons—reasons which no man who knows them will call in question—all ostensible and responsible stations in the councils of the country, but claiming a veto upon the measures of those who are responsible, and a right to proscribe those whom they do not like;— I cannot believe that my right hon. friend is prepared to uphold the power of such a party against the power of public opinion; —I cannot believe that he thinks with them, that the great business of legislation is to arrest the progress of improvement, and to counteract the growth of intelligence;—I cannot believe that he looks with the same jealous eye as they do at the spread of that intelligence;—I cannot believe that he is afraid, as they are, of its example in other countries, and that with, them he dreads the interchange of mind between the different parts of the civilized world, almost as much as they dread a more liberal and free interchange of the advantages of commerce.—I cannot believe that, with them, he would gladly pay the price of lowering this country to be the fifth or sixth in station among the powers of Europe, if by so doing they could enforce generally over the world the principles of the Holy Alliance, and subject the political institutions, and the civil rights, the moral influence of free discussion and a free press, the expansive mind of man, to the perpetual tutelage of a junta of continental statesmen, of the same school as themselves, but having at their beck the great armies of Europe. I cannot believe that he has such a dread of all improvement as to think that it would be cheaply repelled from this country, by the adoption of such a system as 943 this. Neither can I think that he believes it would be safe to make the attempt.
For my own part, Sir, I shall continue, out of office what I have been in office, —a friend to the institutions of my country,—a sincere believer that they are the best adapted to promote the happiness, and to preserve the freedom of my fellow-subjects; but convinced, at the same time, that, in furtherance of the very principles upon which they were framed by the wisdom of former ages, they are capable of improvement, and may require from time to time, additions and alterations. That moderate and cautious reparations are the true way to preserve the edifice in its present symmetry and strength; and that to neglect those reparations is to risk its destruction. Upon this principle I shall continue to act, and to watch the measures of government, through good report and through evil report, so long as I have a seat in this House and a voice in the legislature of the country.
It only remains for me, Sir, to thank the House for the indulgence which they have extended to me, upon an occasion of all others the most painful and irksome, in as much as their time has, in a great degree, been taken up with an explanation relating to myself. I trust I have made it appear that it is not by my own act that I find myself disconnected with the service of my sovereign. I will not dissemble that the high office from which I have been removed was to me an object of just and honourable ambition;— that I forego with regret the opportunities which it might have afforded me of endeavouring to improve the condition of those distant parts of the empire, placed more immediately under its supcrintendance;—of strengthening their bonds of union with the mother country,— and of rendering them more valuable to it. I will not dissemble that I equally regret the loss of those opportunities, which power might have afforded me, of following up and perfecting those measures of general commercial policy, to which my attention has been turned for several years.—In the eclipse of those prospects, and the loss of that power.— I carry with me into retirement the high consolation of reflecting on the cordial confidence with which, whilst in his service, I was honoured by my sovereign, and the gratifying recollection of the 944 kind assurances of his approbation of my past labours, when I placed at his feet the seals of office. In the mode and circumstances of that removal it would be hypocrisy in me not to say that I derive consolation, from the conviction that, without a more cordial support and a more entire credit for good intentions than it appears I was likely to receive, it would have been worse than useless for me to have continued the unequal struggle in which I was engaged, between the increasing difficulties of a laborious public life, and diminishing health and strength to bear up against them.
Mr. Secretary Peel
said:— There is nothing, Sir, that has fallen from my right hon. friend that shall prevent me from prefacing the observations which I have to offer to the House with the expression of my deep and sincere regret at the circumstances which have rendered these explanations necessary. When, in the early part of this year, Sir, I was recalled, without any act or suggestion of my own, into the public service, I own I did all that I could to promote the union of those who had co-operated in the administration at a former period; and my right hon. friend himself can best judge whether, during the period which has elapsed since that re-union was effected, to the very day that his separation from the government took place, I have not acted with a desire to strengthen and confirm that union. I had heartily hoped that the time had at length come, when, being again joined together in the public service, the recollection of the differences of last year might be obliterated among us—I had hoped, that the time had come when public men would not be called on I for personal explanations of their conduct, but when we might be cordially acting together in the public service, and devoting our best energies as ministers to advance the welfare of the state. Sir, I regret that the event has not been such. I deeply regret the necessity of entering into this explanation, and I make the same appeal to the House for indulgence, which my right hon. friend made, whilst I follow his example in explaining fully the circumstances into which he has entered.
Sir, the speech of my right hon. friend referred to two periods of time, and two descriptions of circumstances, quite distinct in themselves. The first period is, 945 that which elapsed previously to the night upon which he gave his vote upon the East Retford question; and the second is, the period subsequently to that vote, in which the correspondence betwixt him and the duke of Wellington took place. In what my right hon. friend stated with I reference to the first period of this transaction, allusion was made personally to me, and the part I had taken; and to that part of the question I will first address myself. My right hon. friend is aware that—restricted, perhaps, by motives of delicacy towards his late friends— he has not narrated the whole of the circumstances connected with the East Retford question; and I hold it to be impossible to come to a fair judgment upon a subject of this description, unless upon a full knowledge of all the particulars. I, Sir, should not have thought it necessary to enter upon the statement of these circumstances; but, as some portion of the statement has been made, I have no alternative but to disregard those restrictions which delicacy may have imposed upon my right hon. friend, and state all that I know respecting the two cases of Penryn and East Retford. Absolving my right hon. friend, therefore, from all secrecy or reserve upon the occasion, and in the full hope and persuasion that he will correct any errors into which I may inadvertently fall, I will in the first place call the attention of the House to the situation in which a minister of the Crown stands with respect to this House in the delivery of his sentiments. Not only is he supposed to speak his own sentiments, but, by the usage of the House, he is viewed as the organ of government, and supposed to speak the sentiments of the government. In this respect, nothing can be more painful than my situation.—Almost every night questions are discussed in this House— sometimes twenty or thirty in one night—of the utmost importance, and upon which, if there were time, his majesty's government would feel it their duty to meet and deliberate. But, Sir, during the session of parliament, it is impossible to give each subject separately, all that deliberate attention which its importance may, in fact, require. The House is very well aware that the details of many of the measures introduced and discussed here, involve principles to which it must be most desirable that his majesty's government 946 should give the utmost attention, before they pronounce a decision. Sir, amongst others were the measures respecting the two boroughs of Penryn and East Retford. And, with regard to these, it was my most anxious wish that no step should be taken by any member of the Administration, which, being the act of an individual, should be misconceived to be the act of the government. I, therefore, Sir, took an early opportunity to submit to his majesty's government that it was fitting, considering the importance of the subject, that we should consider of the course we should take, and that I should be authorised to declare, in this House, the sentiments of government. Connected as those questions necessarily were with some proceedings of a judicial character, I allude to the taking of evidence at the bar, it would, of course, be impossible for the cabinet to pronounce a decided opinion beforehand: but, assuming that there were grounds upon which to act, and that we should be called upon to deal with those boroughs, I was anxious to be prepared, and to assimilate my conduct with the predominant feeling of the government. I, therefore, did, when both franchises were open to be dealt with, present the question as a double question to the consideration of my colleagues. It appeared to me, that, with respect to Penryn, considering the opinion expressed as to that borough by the House of Commons, when the subject was last before it, and considering that the division upon that occasion amounted to a negative upon the proposition for transferring the elective franchise to the hundreds of the county, the most proper course to be pursued was, to transfer it to Manchester. And, with respect to East Retford, I thought that, as in the case of Gram-pound, the franchise might be given to the adjacent hundred. I cannot say that my proposal met with a very ready acquiescence from my colleagues; but I did after that time, consider myself at liberty, as the organ of the government, to give my assent to such an arrangement, while I reserved to myself the right, as an individual, to pronounce my judgment upon the evidence which might be brought before me to substantiate the charge of corruption against East Retford. Reserving to myself this right of judging upon the evidence, according to my conscientious conviction of its value, I did, there- 947 fore, feel it incumbent upon me, as the organ of the government, to take the precaution of ascertaining that course which I might be authorised to call upon its members to support, because I did not think it consistent with honour and good faith to lend the support of the government to any measure in this House, unless I could be satisfied that it would be promoted and advocated with equal zeal in the other. This is what I stated to the members of the government, and this was the ground upon which I proceeded; but, I do declare most solemnly, that I never submitted to them any proposal as to what was to be done, in case of there being only one borough to deal with. With respect to the borough of Penryn, I considered that there had been three several acts of interference upon the part of the House; and I thought it likely that the House of Commons, as a branch of the legislature, would be disposed, not merely as in a court of law, to take into consideration the simple case of bribery proved last session, but that, having before determined to make a forfeit of the franchise of Penryn, it would have a right, in coming to a determination upon the subject, to refer to its own previous acts. In submitting to the choice made by the noble lord for the franchise of Penryn, a choice confirmed by a majority of four to one; I certainly considered Penryn as at the mercy of the House, and I never contemplated the possibility of the bill being lost from defective evidence, as I understand now that it is likely to be. I repeat, therefore, without stopping to inquire whether I was right' or not in thus proceeding upon the supposition, that the proposals I made to my colleagues were founded upon the principle of there being two boroughs whose franchises were to be forfeited.
In this state of things the hon. gentleman (Mr. Tennyson), not waiting until the final decision of the question upon the borough of Penryn, brought under the consideration of the House the case of East Retford. I did not, on that occasion, act hastily. The question of the second borough was coming on before the other borough had been disposed of; and I felt that nothing could be more repugnant to my feelings, upon the grounds of policy and propriety, while there was a chance of the other bill being rejected, not to be able to state 948 the determined intentions of the government. On the very day, therefore, before that fixed for the debate upon the East Retford bill, I took measures for the assembling of my colleagues, in order to lay the question before them. That meeting took place on a Sunday, but no final determination was come to on that day. I repeated my unwillingness to be present in the House at the discussion, unless I possessed some authority to declare the intentions of the government; and on Monday, the very morning of the day on which the division took place, a second meeting of my colleagues was held to reconsider the question. Most certainly I was not authorised, as a member of the government, at that meeting, to give, as their organ in this House, my consent to the transfer of the franchise to Birmingham, even if I had been so disposed myself. My right hon. friend observed, that in the previous discussion I took a different line of argument upon the question from that which I adopted then—
Mr. Peel continued
My right hon. friend says, he made this observation inadvertently, and I thought at the time he had spoken of this matter inadvertently, and in the heat of argument. My right hon. friend said, that if he had only one borough to deal with, he would consent to give it to a great manufacturing or commercial town, and he says that an inference was to be drawn from what I said, which warranted him in thinking that my opinions coincided with his. This is most certainly the very first time I ever heard that any such inference was to be drawn from what I said upon this subject; and I really must say, that in all the discussions which have taken place upon the question, I never heard that any such inference could be drawn from any thing I said, or from any argument I had advanced. Sure I am, at all events, that no authority was given to me by the members of the government to make any admission upon the subject of the single borough. My right hon. friend will recollect, that on the Sunday, when the meeting took place, I told him he was in a different situation from the other members of the government. I said to my right hon. friend, "You have made a declaration upon the subject of the single 949 borough, which may embarrass you: you have already declared, that if there were only one borough to dispose of, you were prepared to give the franchise to a commercial and manufacturing town." My right hon. friend may not recollect this,— very probably he does not. But this I certainly did understand from my right hon. friend, and I think he will bear me out in what I say, that he entered into the views of the government, until the question came to be further considered; and that, on the night when we voted on different sides, he had agreed to support the views of the government. Reserving the right of judgment vested in each individual member of the House and the government, I think my right hon. friend will recollect, that, until the House of Lords came to a decision upon Penryn, he agreed on that night to adhere to the resolution moved by the hon. member for Hertfordshire. My right hon. friend will correct me if I am mistaken; I think, however, my right hon. friend will admit he declared, that when the Penryn bill was disposed of, the time would come for the redemption of his pledge, but at present, he thought the better course would be to adhere to the course adopted by the government. I certainly understood my right hon. friend to acquiesce in this proposition. I am not indeed quite certain that he did not propose it. Upon what night my right hon. friend proposed to redeem the pledge he had given, I do not know; but knowing that he had given his assurance of voting with me on that night, I sat beside my right hon. friend throughout the evening with the fullest impression that he would vote with me, and I did so even after I had heard the speech of my right hon. friend, under the conviction that the further consideration of the bill would be postponed. In the course of the deliberations with my colleagues upon this subject, I observed that this was the first time the disfranchisement of a borough had been made a cabinet question. It was also observed, that upon questions of this kind various opinions might be formed, according to the different constitution of the minds of each individual when applied to a subject involving matter of judicial discussion. If the Penryn bill were thrown out, it was therefore understood that each individual was to be allowed to vote according to his peculiar impression of the merits of the case. I 950 do not know whether we did not come to a resolution of that kind; but this I am sure of, that such was the understanding among us. I deny, however, most positively and most unequivocally, that I ever gave utterance to any opinion upon the course I meant to pursue upon the subject of the single borough. In the haste and anxiety of debate, I may have expressed myself imperfectly; but I deny that I gave any authority to form such a conclusion. I would ask, indeed, after what I have stated, whether it was at all likely that I should do so? I approached the question perfectly free and unfettered, but I felt that, under the circumstances I have stated, I was not at liberty to declare my opinion. In the course of the debate, however, on that evening, my right hon. friend was reminded by a noble lord (Sandon), of the promise he had made upon the subject of the transfer of the franchise of this single borough. And here I must observe, that my right hon. friend has not a little surprised me to-night, by declaring that be could not consent to accept as an apology for not redeeming his pledge, the paltry subterfuge of their having no precise knowledge in that House of what had taken place in the other. Now, unless I am very much mistaken, my right hon. friend argued upon that very occasion, that the House of Commons had no such knowledge of the proceedings of the House of Lords, as would warrant them in concluding that the franchise of Penryn was not to be disposed of in the way they had determined. My right hon. friend contended, at least, that they had no official or formal knowledge of the fact which would authorise them in forming a conclusion. I possess, however, a report of the debate, and I shall take the liberty of reading the passage to which I allude: "It ought not to be forgotten, in considering the present question, that a bill has been sent from this House to the other House of Parliament, and which we cannot know will not pass into a law; and leaving the arguments upon the transfer of the franchise to Birmingham totally out of the question, I think it would be highly inexpedient, without any knowledge, at least without any regular knowledge, of the fate of that bill, to send up a second bill to the House of Lords with a similar provision." After such a declaration as this, I confess, I was surprised to hear the argument of my right 951 hon. friend—[Mr. Huskisson here said, he meant they had no conclusive proof.]— My right hon. friend says, he had no conclusive proof of the loss of the bill. If it passed, then he obtained the objects he desired. But I agree with him that there was no formal information upon which they could proceed, or upon which they could consent to rescind the resolution. I do, however, assure my right hon. friend, that if he had said he must redeem the pledge he gave on that night—if he had told me he thought it would be more consistent to redeem the pledge at once—he never would have heard one single syllable from me upon the subject. We had come down to the House with a different understanding; but if he had said to me that the time was come when he ought to redeem the pledge he had given them, then the matter might have ended without any difficulty. My right hon. friend, however, did vote against the government, and that gave rise to the transactions of which I am about to speak.
I have now stated all I know upon this subject, and the course I pursued through the deliberations. My right hon. friend says, he saw looks that he did not like since he gave the vote, from some persons, and heard of observations being made by others, which had given him great dissatisfaction. I do not know whether mine are the looks which my right hon. friend did not like, but I must say, that my right hon. friend is very much deceived if he supposes that I looked with any displeasure upon the occasion, or that I attached more than a very slight importance to the difference of opinion which had been expressed. Knowing the understanding which prevailed between us upon the course which was ultimately to be adopted, I was prepared to meet my right hon. friend with feelings very little altered. I should have thought, and I say it with perfect sincerity, that it would have been better if my right hon. friend had stated to me the grounds of the vote he intended to give, before he did give it. My right hon. friend, however, proposed that the decision upon the question should be postponed; but, after what had passed, I had no alternative but to press the question to a division. I assure the House, and my right hon. friend, that I never preferred any complaint upon the subject of my right hon. friend's vote to any member of the ministry; and nothing ever gave me 952 more surprise than to find that the consequence of that vote was a tender of the resignation of my right hon. friend's office. I had never conveyed to any one the slightest expression of dissatisfaction; and nothing, I repeat, surprised me more than that tender of resignation. With this observation I close the first of those periods embraced in my right hon. friend's speech.
I now approach the second and subsequent part of these transactions, and I confess I do so with feelings of the most painful interest—the more painful, because my right hon. friend has made several observations upon the conduct of the noble duke at the head of the government, necessarily and unavoidably in his absence; but some of them in a spirit which I deeply regret. Regret them, I say I must, because I know the intentions of that noble duke; and if I did not know them, I can assure the House, most solemnly, I would not be here to address them from this place, and upon this occasion. I repeat, therefore, that I do think some of these observations were made in a spirit not calculated to do justice to that noble person, or to give a perfectly fair representation of those circumstances which led to the present occurrence. In order to understand this part of the question, I must take leave to refresh the memory of the House, by reading that letter upon which the whole question mainly depends.—Namely, whether the first letter to the noble duke did, or did not contain a formal resignation of his office. On the morning when my right hon. friend separated from his colleagues—on that particular day when the question of East Retford was discussed —he undoubtedly quitted them with every mark of friendship and cordiality. My right hon. friend certainly left his colleagues under an impression that they were all about to take the same course. The next morning, however, at two o'clock, he addressed a letter to the noble duke at the head of the government, endorsed "private and confidential," and couched in these words:—
Downing St., 2. A. M. May 20th."My dear Duke:—After the vote which, in regard to my own consistency and personal character, I have found myself, from the course of this evening's debate, compelled to give on the East Retford question, I owe to you as the head of the 953 administration, and to Mr. Peel, as the leader of the House of Commons, to lose no time in affording you an opportunity of placing my office in other hands, as the only means in my power of preventing the injury to the king's service which may ensue from the appearance of disunion in his Majesty's councils, however unfounded in reality, or however unimportant in itself the question which has given rise to that appearance. Regretting the necessity of troubling you with this communication, believe me my dear duke ever truly yours,
(Signed) "W. HUSKISSON.Now, Sir, I ask any man at all acquainted with political affairs, and the usages of public men, whether the expressions in this letter do not amount to a formal tender of resignation [hear, hear]. Certainly it is not an unqualified, absolute resignation, but, when a minister of the Crown addresses the head of the administration in such terms as these—"I lose no time in affording you the opportunity of placing my office in other hands; as the only means of preventing injury to the king's service"—and "I regret the necessity of troubling you with this communication"—could any one put any other interpretation than this—"I tender you my resignation?" My right hon. friend has coupled his case very dexterously with slight circumstances, for the purpose of giving a character of harshness and injustice to the course which has been pursued towards him. But I beg leave to remind my right hon. friend of the circumstances under which this event occurred. My right hon. friend, I will confidently say, had received no slight from me or from any other member of his majesty's government. I understand, however, that very great surprise was felt abroad, at the disagreement of two members of the cabinet with respect to the East Retford question. For my own part I attached very little importance to the circumstance; but undoubtedly rumours went forth, that there was great disunion amongst his majesty's ministers, and that the East Retford question was the cause of it. Just at the time when these reports were flying about, my noble friend received the letter which I have just read, telling him that he was at liberty to place the office then held by my right hon. friend in other hands. My right hon. friend says, he sent this communication in a box, and 954 that it ought to have been considered private—just the same as a verbal communication. But why, I ask, should it be so considered? If a person wished to avoid all appearance of disunion—if he were desirous of discountenancing rumours which attributed serious difference of opinion to ministers—if, at the same time, he still found it necessary to make an explanation in a quarter where there existed perfect cordiality and kindness, (which was the case till this letter was written), was it not the fair and obvious course to wait personally on the first minister of the Crown, and to declare his views and sentiments on any particular point? Nothing was more easy than for a person thus situated to say "I have done so and so: if I have done that which renders it necessary for me to quit office, I am ready to give it up." Discussion and explanation might then have followed, and the difference might perhaps have been settled. But was it the same thing to send a letter stating, that an opportunity was given to the head of the government to place in other hands the office held by a cabinet minister? This course was taken, too, at the very time when my right hon. friend resided, and was transacting business, within two or three doors of my noble friend in Downing-street. If my right hon. friend's feelings were so alive, as no doubt they were, with respect to this question, why did he not write to the noble duke, saying that he would take an opportunity of calling on him for the purpose of explaining? I am not now speaking of transactions in common life; but such I maintain, is the course which a member of the administration ought to pursue, if he wished to relieve my noble friend from any embarrassment into which he supposed his conduct was likely to plunge him.
I here beg leave to say one word of tenders of resignation. I think that such tenders, on the part of ministers of the Crown, ought to be very sparingly dealt with. I think no government was ever constituted, as to be constantly unanimous upon all points. Where twelve or thirteen gentlemen of education meet together to discuss questions of great importance, there will undoubtedly be shades, and strongly marked shades, of difference in their opinions: unless they are pleased to bow to the opinion of some one man, each individual will be at liberty to state his own 955 views; and of that liberty he will of course take advantage. I think it is perfectly honourable for any man to adhere to his own peculiar ideas, in matters that are of general moment. If his principles are disapproved of,—if his conduct is opposed to that of the great majority of his colleagues on a variety of questions,—then his course is clear, and he is at perfect liberty to retire. But I do think that caution should be used—that an intermediate course should be adopted—before a tender of resignation is made, when it might be avoided. I do not mean to say that circumstances may not sometimes justify a prompt tender of resignation; but I do contend that such a system ought to be sparingly resorted to. It certainly has this tendency—it relieves one individual from responsibility, while it imposes that responsibility on another. I am, however, bound in candour to say, that I do not think my right hon. friend sought any advantage of that kind from the course which he has taken. In my opinion, my right hon. friend acted hastily and unthinkingly; but as an honest man, I feel myself called upon to declare, that I believe my right hon. friend had no intention to create embarrassment, or in any way to weaken the government, by pursuing that line of conduct. It is, however, a course which is calculated materially to embarrass the parties who are at the head of the government. If, when my noble friend received that letter, he had said, "I will not accept this resignation, you must still continue in office," what would have been the consequence? Would not the feeling throughout the country have been, that my right hon. friend's services were so extraordinary, that the noble duke had refused to accept his resignation,—that he had, in fact, solicited him to remain, as the only means of carrying on the government? Such would have been the inevitable construction put upon the transaction; and, as my noble friend had done nothing to deserve it, he ought not to have been exposed to such a construction. My right hon. friend says, that his letter was marked "private and confidential," and therefore should not have been treated as an official document. Now, Sir, I do not think that public men attach much importance to those terms. I am myself, from foolish habit, perhaps, accustomed to endorse my letters, connected with public business, with the word "private" or the words "private and confidential." I do 956 not, however, rely upon this point; but I contend, that no superscription or endorsement of "private and confidential" can alter the case if the letter be of a public nature. If it relates to an important public act, the mere saying that it is marked "private," cannot alter its tenor or bearing. No public man can, by such means, envelope in secrecy public acts of great importance. It cannot be said, that the words "private and confidential" stamp that letter as one which was addressed to my noble friend under ordinary circumstances. Again, I will say, that the character of the letter depended on the matter it contained, and the terms in which it was couched, and not on the superscription. That letter referred to a vote given in the House of Commons, and to "disunion" which was likely to result from it. The letter adverted to a vote in the House of Commons, and my right hon. friend speaks of the duty which he owed to the duke of Wellington as the head of the administration, which duty impelled him to tender the resignation of his office. What, then, does my right hon. friend mean by having his letter marked "private and confidential?" His letter said, in effect, that a minister of great importance held his office on so precarious a tenure, that he felt it necessary to tender his resignation. As that was the case, could the noble duke conceal the circumstance from his colleagues—could he keep his knowledge of this declaration from the Crown? I cannot, under these circumstances, give to the words "private and confidential," the importance which my right hon. friend wishes to attach to them; and I do not think that they could or ought to have prevented my noble friend from communicating the contents of that letter. Those words undoubtedly could not relieve my noble friend from communicating the letter to his colleagues and to his majesty. The answer to that letter shows the view which my noble friend took of the subject, and also the situation of embarrassment in which he was placed. My noble friend wrote thus:—
London, May 21, 1828."My dear Huskisson,—In consequence of your last letter, I feel it to be necessary to recall to your recollection the circumstances under which I received your letter of Tuesday morning.
"It is addressed to me at two o'clock in the morning, immediately after a debate 957 and division in the House of Commons. It informs me, that you lose no time in affording me an opportunity of placing your office in other hands, as the only means in your power of preventing an injury to the king's service which you describe. It concludes by 'regretting the necessity for troubling me with this communication.' Could I consider this in any other light than as a formal tender of the resignation of your office, or that I had any alternative but either to solicit you to remain in office contrary to your sense of duty, or to submit your letter to the king?
"If you had called on me the next morning after your vote, and had explained to me in conversation what had passed in the House of Commons, the character of the communication would have been quite different; and I might have felt myself at liberty to discuss the whole subject with you, and freely to give an opinion upon any point connected with it. But I must still think that if I had not considered a letter, couched in the terms in which that letter is couched, and received under the circumstances under which I received it, as a tender of resignation, and had not laid it before the king, I should have exposed the king's government and myself to very painful misconstructions. My answer to your letter will have informed you that it surprised me much, and that it gave me great concern. I must consider, therefore, the resignation of your office as your own act, and not as mine. Ever yours most sincerely, (Signed) WELLINGTON.
The right hon. W. Huskisson.Such was the view which the noble duke took of the course adopted by my right hon. friend, as well as of the state of embarrassment in which he would be placed, if he did not receive his proffered resignation. To me it appears impossible that my noble friend could have acted otherwise. There was in fact no alternative for my noble friend at the head of the government, but to solicit one of the ministers to remain in office, or to adopt the course which he did by carrying the letter to the king. I grant that fair allowances should be made for the feelings of the individual minister under the circumstances in which he was placed; but allowances ought also to be made for the feelings of my noble friend, who, having but one alternative, was obliged to choose between solicitation or acting upon the resignation, such as it 958 was; and I must say, for my own part, that I think the noble duke was perfectly justified in the course which he took upon the occasion. If my right hon. friend was of opinion, at any time after the transmission of his letter, that there was not sufficient cause to call for his resignation, the course was open to him to write and say so. That my right hon. friend did not think proper to avail himself of that course is a circumstance upon which I shall never cease to feel the deepest regret.— But my right hon. friend has complained of a message which I understand to have been conveyed by my noble friend, lately at the head of the foreign department (earl Dudley) from the noble duke; the message was merely that "Mr. Huskisson is a man of sense." I am sure, that if such was the message, and I have such confidence in the honour and unimpeachable veracity of the noble earl as to believe that it was— the expression could not have been intended in any other way than as the assertion of a fact; and neither that nor any other expression which my noble friend might have used could have been intended as a slight towards my right hon. friend. A great deal, I allow, must depend on the manner. It is evident that there was nothing in the expression, unless my right hon. friend has said, it was intended as a sarcasm. But is such the interpretation to which it was fairly liable? On the contrary, is it not natural that my noble friend, feeling the difficulty in which my right hon. friend was placed, and feeling also that he was a man of sense to deal with that difficulty, should have expressed that he was so? That my noble friend did not make any distinct proposition on the subject can be accounted for by other considerations than the wish to force my right hon. friend to actual resignation. If the noble duke had suggested any terms, it might have looked like dictation; if he had resorted to any solicitation, it might have had a tendency to lessen his consequence, as the head of the government, in the eyes of the world. I understood, from my noble friend to whom I have before alluded, that the message of the noble duke was not intended as a sarcasm; that the noble duke stated, "Mr. Huskisson is a man of sense, he knows how to act upon this occasion;" and I think my noble friend represented the noble duke to have added, "and he knows I am not a person to require any admission or conduct from him 959 which could be inconsistent with his personal honour." I am much mistaken if my noble friend has not represented the noble duke to have used these words, or words to this effect. If the expression had been conveyed in the manner which my right hon. friend has erroneously supposed, I am ready to allow, that it was a most uncourteous proceeding, and that the natural and necessary effect of it must be, to prevent all advances to conciliation, But so far from wishing to prevent conciliation, the noble duke waited until two o'clock on the Tuesday, before he took the letter to the king. My right hon. friend has said, that the noble duke returned his letter to him unopened, because it had not arrived before two o'clock. That, too, has been complained of as an uncourteous proceeding; but when I have stated the circumstances in which my noble friend was placed, I will appeal to any man in the House, whether he could have acted otherwise with honour and delicacy? The noble duke had not received this letter until after he had been with the king, and sir George Murray had actually been appointed the successor of my right hon. friend. Under these circumstances, the noble duke thought it probable that the letter might allude to past transactions, which were no longer open to arrangement, and felt that he should not be justified in opening the letter, and availing himself of its contents. Can conduct like this be compared to the act of a man who returns a letter from want of courtesy, or in a disposition to cast a slight upon the writer? When shortly afterwards, I met my noble friend, and understood from him that he had returned the letter, I will not disguise from the House that I expressed a hope that my noble friend returned it in such a manner as to show plainly the motive and ground upon which he had done so. The answer of my noble friend was, that he had received it after he had been with the king, and after a successor had been appointed to Mr. Huskisson, and that he did not feel himself justified in reading its contents. He did not therefore return it in an uncourteous manner, or with any feeling of disrespect or inattention towards my right hon. friend. I only state this to show how necessary it is to consider the circumstances before we come to a decision upon these transactions. With respect to the first letter of my right hon. friend, I believe that my noble friend 960 did not consider it in the light of an absolute resignation. But, though not an absolute resignation, it was a formal tender of resignation from a minister engaged in a most important department: and it was a tender which was not followed up by any subsequent communication, calculated to remove the impression that it was tendered with a view to be acted on. In all the subsequent letters there was no withdrawal of the first; which, although it was not an actual resignation, was a tender of it; on the contrary, every one of them referred to that letter. This I believe to have been the actual state of the case, and I never can speak on the subject, without expressing my regret at the circumstances from which arose its necessity.
My right hon. friend, in conclusion, referred to a subject of still more importance. The insinuations, rather than the direct assertions, of the hon. member who opened this debate, gave it to be understood, that there was some want of confidence in the government towards my right hon. friend, and that advantage was taken of a casual circumstance, in order to get rid of his services. I now beg to repeat, that if I were not as firmly convinced as it is possible for a man to be, that this was not the case, and if I were not perfectly satisfied that such injustice never existed, nothing upon earth could induce me to remain a member of the cabinet. My right hon. friend has asked, whether a portion of the aristocratic interest did not signify to my noble friend, that their support was only to be purchased by the exclusion of my right hon. friend from the councils of the sovereign. I say, in answer, that the lime for such an interference has gone by. I do not believe that any such influence has been exerted, and I am sure that if such an attempt were made, it would be repelled in the manner it would deserve. I say, Sir, that, up to the hour of my right hon. friend's resignation, there was the most perfect cordiality between the other members of the cabinet and him, and that not an idea was entertained of excluding him from the councils of the government, on account of any influence, or of any thing he had done. It is, therefore, a mistake to suppose that my right hon. friend has been, or can have been, excluded from the king's government by such representations. My right hon. friend has done me, the credit 961 to say, that, he believes me incapable of acting with subserviency under any circumstances in which the cabinet may be placed. I know not from what considerations my right hon. friend has come to this conclusion, but I hope it is from a knowledge of the course which I have always pursued. I stated, at an early period of the session, that I thought the government of this country could not be conducted upon any extreme principles—that it could not be conducted by selecting any one interest as the favourite, but that that course, call it compromise if you will, or by any other name you may think proper, was a wise policy which attempted to reconcile conflicting interests, and to do justice alike to all. I never will, in any advice which I may give to the king, be swayed by Mr. Cunning's principles, or lord Liverpool's principles, or by the principles or system of any other men. I know nothing of the systems of individuals as a member of the government. It is easy to imagine systems, and to attach nick-names to opinions, but I will decide upon each question that comes before me by its own merits, by the circumstances of the case, and by the complexion of the times. I will act upon all occasions without tying myself down to any peculiar principles. As to the separation which has occurred, I avail myself of this opportunity to state, that, so far as I know, it has not taken place in consequence of any difference, either of policy or of prinples, amongst the members of the government. And, with respect to my noble friend, I will ask, with the money and other supplies of the year not voted, can it be, for a moment, imagined, that the noble duke would be studiously desirous of breaking up the administration, or whether he is a man likely to act from secret views, which he would not openly avow? I say that the conduct of my noble friend, throughout the whole of his administration, affords the most complete refutation of any such idea. I say that my noble friend, from the first moment he accepted his present office, attempted to unite the government; and, by the spirit of moderation and the proof of temper exhibited by him, endeavoured to lay the foundation of a stable administration. I do not disguise from myself the difficulties of the situation in] which I am placed: I do not disguise from myself the difficulties in 962 which the country is placed; but I hope that I shall be found capable of taking the medium between the presumption of confidence and the timidity of despair.—I shall give my best services to my sovereign, so long as he shall be pleased to command them. Whatever difficulties I may have to encounter, or however exposed I may be to the calumnies by which public men are assailed from all sides, I shall devote to the last hour every energy I may possess, to the maintenance of that post in which my sovereign has placed me [loud cheers].
§ Lord Palmerston said
—Sir, I feel that I owe it as a duty to myself and to the House to explain such parts of the transactions adverted to in the speeches of my right hon. friends, as far as I was connected with them, and as far as they have relation to the grounds that led to my retirement from office. With respect to the borough of East Retford, my right hon. friend, who spoke last, will confirm me in the statement, that I very early acquainted him with the preference that I entertained for transferring forfeited franchises to large manufacturing towns, rather than to extend them to the hundred. However, as, in the case recently brought before parliament, there were the franchises of two boroughs, Penryn and East Retford, to be disposed of, I considered it a reasonable proposal, that one of them, Penryn, should be transferred to a large manufacturing town, Birmingham, for instance, and that East Retford might be thrown into the hundred. This was in the case of two boroughs being to be disfranchised: but I never concealed from my right hon. friend, that in the event of there being only one borough, I should prefer the transfer of that one to a manufacturing town; otherwise the House of Commons would be acting on a rule which my right hon. friend himself deprecated; namely, that there should be a settled precedent for transferring a forfeited franchise either to a manufacturing or to an agricultural district. This rule, it appeared to me, would be acted upon, if, after having extended the forfeited franchise to the adjacent hundreds in the cases of Shoreham, Cricklade, and Ailesbury, an additional instance should be afforded of disposing of a new disfranchised borough in a similar way. It certainly was the impression on the minds of those who were present in the cabinet on the previous 963 morning, that there was an understanding that it was an open question, on which eventually every member of the government was at liberty to vote according to his opinion. It is true that that implied liberty was perhaps more especially applicable to some subsequent stage of the bill. But, after what passed on the night of the debate, my right lion, friend, as a man of honour, had no alternative but to vote as he did. He had no option: he told me at the time that he had none; and. I entirely agreed with him in the view which he took of the subject, and I voted accordingly. Sir, I have stated this in order to relieve my right hon. friend from the imputation, that the course which he took on the question was adopted by him in order to embarrass his majesty's government; or that it was an unfair abandonment of my right lion, friend, the Secretary of State for the Home Department. Should such an imputation be cast upon my right hon. friend, come from what quarter it may, it is wholly unfounded. My right hon. friend had no choice. For myself, I was prepared to vote as he did. Even if circumstances had permitted the delay of that vote until a subsequent stage of the measure, the same consequences would have taken place, only that in that case there would have been an opportunity for intermediate explanation.—But, Sir, the great objection which has been urged to my right hon. friend's conduct has been placed, not on the vote which he gave on the East Retford bill, but on the letter which he wrote to the noble duke at the head of his majesty's government, which letter, it is alleged, contained a formal resignation of his office; and it has been contended, that having once written such a letter to the noble duke, his grace had no option but to submit the letter to his majesty. Sir, in the first place, my right hon. friend has stated, that the letter in question was written at a very late hour, when he was labouring under circumstances of great physical fatigue and exhaustion, as well as of strong mental excitement. My right hon. friend has stated, that if he had postponed writing- the letter until the next morning, he should probably have expressed himself with more coolness and distinctness and in a manner that would have rendered his meaning less liable to be misunderstood. My right hon. friend has also said, that he does not complain 964 of the sense in which the noble duke understood his letter when his grace first received it. But this, Sir, I must declare, that let that letter have been susceptible of what meaning it might, I think that, taking into consideration all the circumstances under which it was sent and received, there was an extraordinary degree of precipitation on the part of his grace in acting upon it, and in determining to submit it to his majesty, without having taken a single step, directly or indirectly, to ascertain the spirit in which the letter was conceived. It maybe said that when the head of a government receives from a member of that government a letter which he understands as containing a resignation of his official station, it is his duty to communicate such letter without delay to his royal master. But, Sir, I deny that this letter was of that character. I maintain that it was a letter perfectly capable of a satisfactory explanation. In fact, my right hon. friend did on Tuesday, twice offer an explanation to the noble duke; once by my noble friend at that time Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and again by myself. I did not know what had occurred until four o'clock on Tuesday, when my right hon. friend sent for me, and communicated it to me. I immediately went in search of the noble duke, in order to describe the transaction, and to state the circumstances which had led to the course pursued by myself as well as by my right hon. friend; and also to explain the sense in which I understood my right hon. friend to have written his letter. After a conversation with his grace of considerable length, I returned to my right hon. friend, and told him that his letter had been understood by the noble duke, in a sense very different from that which he intended; and I suggested to him the expediency of giving an explanation in writing. That explanation my right hon. friend accordingly gave. On the following day, my right hon. friend repeated his explanation; detailing minutely the sense in which he wished his original letter to be understood. What was the consequence? On Thursday my right hon. friend received from the noble duke the letter which he has just read to the House — a letter passing wholly by all the explanations which my right hon. friend had offered, both verbally and in writing, and fixing my right hon. friend's first letter with a meaning which 965 my right hon. friend had repeatedly declared was not that which he intended to convey; but which was consonant to the impression made upon his grace's mind in the first instance, before he had received any explanation whatever from my right hon. friend. When that letter was shown to me, I felt that the door was closed against all further attempts at reconciliation. I felt that when my right hon. friend's explanations were left wholly unnoticed— when, instead of its being said to him, your explanation is not sufficient, and pointing out to him where it fell short, in order to enable him to fill up the gaps and supply his deficiencies—when, instead of this, came a letter passing by all the explanations that had been given — I felt, that from whatever causes this conduct might spring, there was no chance of any further explanation leading to a satisfactory result. That conviction I communicated to my right hon. friend; and the impression upon my mind being, that the removal of my right hon. friend from his majesty's government, under all the circumstances by which it had been attended, would render it advisable for me to withdraw also, I requested an hon. friend of mine to postpone for me until after the holidays a notice of motion which I had given in this House What was the situation in which my right hon. friend was left from the Thursday to the Sunday? He had explained, as far as human ingenuity could explain it, the sense of his letter; but his explanations had not been accepted. He had expressed a wish to give an explanation of his conduct to his sovereign, but he was debarred access to him. I do not mean to say that it is inconsistent with constitutional principles, or that the head of the government had not a right to advise his sovereign as the noble duke did. He might fairly say to his majesty, "this is a question between me and a member of the government; let me conclude the matter." I do not deny that the noble duke might so advise his sovereign; but I think it was due to my right hon. friend to afford him some clue by which he might discover what was wanted to explain his conduct satisfactorily. My right hon. friend who spoke last, has said, that resignations ought to be sparingly used, as they give the person who makes them an undue advantage over his colleagues in office. I agree with my right hon. friend, that where a difference of 966 opinion prevails in the cabinet on any subject, the person who differs from his colleagues, and tenders his resignation, is placed in a situation of advantage, because he cannot remain in office, and withdraw his resignation, unless the point on which the difference exists be conceded to him. But, Sir, my right hon. friend did not say to the noble duke at the head of the government, "If you will not do so and so I will quit your government." He said simply, "I have acted in a certain manner; I had no choice but to act as I have done, I do not require you to enter into that question now; but if the rest of the government object to what I have done, and you think it necessary to advise my being removed from his majesty's service in consequence of it, I shall not consider it a ground of complaint, or imagine that you have dealt hardly by me." That was the language of my right hon. friend. Indeed, so far from his letter being a call upon the government for concession, the fair construction of it, as explained by the subsequent correspondence, is, that it was a concession made to the head of the government — a kind of amende for the vote that had been given. I do not think it fair, then, in the right hon. gentleman to place my right hon. friend's removal from his situation in the government, to the score of his letter, as if that was a resignation, when it was over and over again explained that my right hon. friend did not wish to quit his post, and that his letter merely meant that, should the head of the government think it requisite, he was ready to comply with his wishes.—We next come to the transactions of the last few days. I must say, that notwithstanding the explanation which my right hon. friend (Mr. Peel) has given of them, it was perfectly impossible for my other right hon. friend to have remained in the ministry, after receiving the communications which were made to him. Without meaning to express any opinion upon feelings which, being in the breasts of others, I cannot judge of, but drawing inferences from the facts which are before us, I cannot see any one in the whole course of these transactions, from the beginning to the end, which, indicates a desire to retain my right hon. friend in office; but many I see which are perfectly reconcileable with a desire for his retirement. That was the impression which a view of the whole facts and 967 correspondence made on my mind. And then arose the question for my consideration, as to what course I should take. I had been a party to the vote which had induced my right hon. friend to write the letter, but as his retirement was put upon his letter, in which I was not concerned, and not upon his vote, I was not placed on precisely the same ground. It may be presumption in an humble individual like myself to imagine it of importance to any one in this House, or elsewhere, as to what the grounds of my retirement from office were, but it will be a satisfaction to set myself right with the public on this, to me, interesting subject. My main reason, then, for joining the government formed by the noble duke was, the confidence I felt in my right hon. friend being a member of it. I have, Sir, very strong feelings relative to certain general principles, of the greater part of which my right hon. friend has been the powerful advocate. It is upon his support of them that his public reputation is founded. I felt that as long as my right hon. friend was a member of the government, I had a security that I should never be placed in the embarrassing situation of having singly to withdraw myself from the councils of his majesty, or of being obliged to give my assent to measures of which I could not approve. I had not the presumption to suppose that I could myself give effect to any particular system; but while my right hon. friend was in the cabinet I knew I was safe. Such being the ground on which I joined his majesty's government, the retirement of my right hon. friend, proceed from what cause it might, naturally forced upon me the consideration whether, with the views which I have described, I could continue to belong to that government. The circumstances attending the removal of my right hon. friend afforded such strong and unequivocal indication of feelings and impressions in the cabinet, different from those which I had believed to exist, that I could not have reconciled it to my mind, even if I had had no share in the vote in question, to continue in the cabinet after my right hon. friend had quitted it. Sir, I must say, that there is a striking contrast between the manner in which my right hon. friend has been recently treated, and the manner in which he was treated in January. In January, no indisposition whatever was shown towards him. In 968 January his motives suffered no misunderstanding. On the recent occasion his explanations were unnoticed; his own declaration of the sense in which he intended his expressions to be understood was unavailing. It was impossible to observe this marked slight without feeling that so great a change must proceed from some cause or other. It was impossible for me not to feel that that cause was a diminished confidence in my right hon. friend. When, therefore, I saw this change of sentiment towards my right hon. friend, and found that he had been removed from his majesty's service, I thought it was high time for me also to withdraw; because I felt convinced that the principles which my right hon. friend had maintained were no longer to be upheld. Nor was that impression mine alone. I appeal to any gentlemen in this House, who know what is passing in the world, whether they have not seen persons active in meetings, dining together, and running about the town in ecstacies of exultation at what had taken place, avowedly on account of the change which is to be wrought. I appeal to them to say, whether the language of those persons does not prove my assertion, that my impression is that of others. The persons who held this language are the avowed supporters and well-wishers, if not the actual organs or advisers, of the present government. What are we to conclude, when we hear these persons talking of "cleansing the Augean stable"—of "expelling traitors from the camp,"—of "turning out persons whom it might be useful to take in for a moment, and who might be permitted to remain if they became docile?" When we hear that language from those who can have no wish or desire to misrepresent the sentiments of those they support, can I be wrong in my impression that there was an altered disposition towards my right hon. friend? It is clear that these persons whose language I have repeated, have the same impression as myself; and they speak with open heart, for they can have no disposition to impute to the government any thing which they would think likely to throw discredit upon it. All they have said has been matter of boast, and an indication not to be doubted. We are, however, told, Sir, that the principles of the government are to undergo no change. I am rejoiced to hear it, for if the prediction be verified it 969 will be conducive to the advantage of the host interests of the country. It has been said, that to speak of the principles of this man or that man is an ambiguous phrase; but, Sir, I say that the course of measures which have been pursued for some years past has been founded upon principles which have mainly upheld the most important interests of the country, contributed to promote its internal welfare, and raise it in the estimation of other nations. The manner in which our foreign relations have, for some years, been managed, have raised this country to a point of proud pre-eminence, which, in no former period of our history has been surpassed, and rarely equalled. This situation has not been gained by lawless violence, but by the confidence inspired by our justice, moderation, and the enlightened wisdom, of our councils. It is tins that has gained us the respect of all the nations of the civilized world, and made the king of this country to be chosen the arbiter of other States, and to be placed in a situation of greater dignity, than was ever attained by the conqueror who lately ruled France. It is a situation too, which, as it was not obtained by violence, but by wisdom, and the influence of our councils, is so much the more worthy of envy and admiration. Sir, it is said that the course which has placed the English king and nation in this situation will be continued. I trust that it will; but I must confess that there are prognostics and symptoms in the times, which inspire me with apprehension on this point. There are sounds in the passing breeze, which, like unto voices of mysterious and directing spirits, seem to warn us of danger not far distant. I trust that the omens may be falsified, that the predictions of good may be fulfilled, and that the voices may pass as whispers of the empty wind. I will hope that government will not endeavour to destroy that which has cost so much labour to rear. I will trust that government will not promote the giving of "one cheer more," to the ascendancy of this or that faction; that it will not league itself with the assertors of arbitrary and intolerant principles, I trust that government will found their claim to the approbation of the people by maintaining, not in this country alone, but wherever their measures may extend, the ascendancy of liberal, wise, just and enlightened principles. Sir, it is only by pur- 970 suing such a course that they can obtain the confidence of the House and the public: it is only by pursuing such a course that they can secure the permanence of their own power.
§ Mr. Huskisson.
— I should not have trespassed again on the indulgence of the House, in explanation, had not much of the debate turned upon matters which it is material should not be misunderstood. My right hon. friend, in the first part of his speech, alluded to the proceedings which took place concerning East Retford. He stated, that I meant to have voted as he did. I am bound to say, that his statement is perfectly correct. I came down to this House fully intending to vote with my right hon. friend. Nay, such was my intention nearly up to twelve o'clock on that night. Up to that hour I saw no necessity for not giving that vote. It having been settled in the cabinet that morning, that it should be an open question, my vote was not material one way or the other: but after that hour, an attempt was made to lay down an entirely new proposition, with respect to the elective franchise, I therefore proposed an adjournment of the question, until we could decide upon this new principle. If my right hon. friend will refer to what I said, he will see that I opposed the substitution of Manchester for Birmingham on a technical objection. What I said was, "if we were to send up a second bill, with the word Manchester in it, we should be guilty of a manifest inconsistency." We had a right to presume that the bill in the Lords would not transfer the franchise to Manchester; but still it was urged, that, whilst it was in the Lords, we could not send up another bill with the same name to it. We were not to know that that bill would ever pass; and we were bound to proceed upon the knowledge which we had, that the Penryn bill would not transfer the franchise to another town. I knew my own intentions; I knew that I had it not in contemplation to speak in the debate of the 21st March; nor could I have any motives for outstepping the limits assigned by my colleagues. If I did, it was inadvertently, but whether it was so or not, I was bound by it. This, however, is a point which I do not think it necessary to enter into further. From the imperfect manner in which I expressed myself, my right hon. friend must have greatly misunderstood me in that part of my speech, 971 where I mentioned what passed between my noble friend at the head of the Foreign Department and myself. My right hon. friend understood me to say, that I received a message from the duke of Wellington to tell me that I was a man of sense. On Thursday morning, after considering the matter as at an end, I was told by my noble friend, that the matter was not by the noble duke considered as at an end. After that communication my noble friend gave me his impression of some things, which the noble duke had said complimentary to me. I understood my noble friend to say, not that the duke had said I was a man of sense and a man of the world, but that I was not an unreasonable man. With respect to another point, I am the last man in the world to asume that the duke would wish me to do any thing inconsistent with my personal honour; for he has gained too much of honour himself not to be aware of its value. I conceived myself entitled at that time to write to my noble friend at the head of the Foreign Department, and I stated to him, as I now state to the House, that at the time in question I had received no such communication; nor do I know what its purport would have been, but I am to presume that it would have been to the effect, that any answer of mine would, after a certain time, have come too late; that is, that my letter would be taken as a resignation, if I refused, previous to a certain time, to make a retraction of it. I am also to presume, that the duke of Wellington acted under a different impression from that which influenced me at the time I am referring to, when he returned my letter unopened. Knowing, as I now do, the circumstances under which that letter was returned, I cannot attribute it to any uncourteous disposition entertained towards me; but the fact is, that at the time it was returned to me I had not been apprised that a definitive time had been appointed, after which it would be futile for me to make any communication on the subject of my contemplated resignation. In the answer which I received from my noble friend, he stated, that I was quite right in the construction I put upon the circumstance of my letter having been returned unopened, and actually it afterwards turned out, that previously to that period, the noble duke had taken his majesty's commands as to the appointment of my successor. I deny 972 that the communication which I forwarded to the duke had been previously made known to my noble friend at the head of the Foreign Department, however confidential and intimate the footing may be on which we stand. The letter in question was only known to three persons of whom his majesty was one. It is perfectly an error to suppose, that I made any communication on the subject which reached the newspapers, or which directly or indirectly could pass to the various channels of information abounding in the metropolis, and I would fearlessly ask any one who knows me, whether such conduct be at all consistent with the character which I trust I have always borne. It was alleged, that the report made a great impression; yet how is this consistent with the fact, that it was not till two days afterwards that the slightest intimation of it appeared in this town, where gossip is sought after and circulated, and where public events are made the subject of such constant discussion? I say, that these particulars were not known beyond the number of three, unless they were communicated by the duke of Wellington. It is upon these grounds, that I humbly conceive I am not to be held to such misconstructions as might unintentionally be put upon my words or conduct. I feel so strongly the inconvenience of these explanations, that nothing but a sense of duty to myself, and of respect to the House, could induce me to occupy their attention at such length as I have done.
said, that he was not disposed to take a part in discussing the very extraordinary transactions which had given rise to the explanations of the right hon. gentleman, and to the speech of the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department. That which was of the most importance to the House, and to the country, was, the character and intentions of the government formed after the resignations. That it was, in many essential particulars, both with respect to the individual composing it, and, if he might so speak, with respect to the principles of its construction, different from that which had preceded it, no man could entertain a doubt. On this subject, however, he abstained for the present, from making any observations.—He was willing still to wait and watch the proceedings of the government; but if he had thought that vigilance was necessary at the beginning of 973 the session, assuredly, to say the least, it was as necessary now. What the measures of the new administration might be, it was impossible for him, or any body present, to say; but he certainly derived great comfort from two pledges, one of which had been given that night, and the other existed in the character of the noble duke at the head of the government, giving him credit for nothing beyond ordinary discretion. Considering the kind of government formed, and the difficulties in which they were placed, he did think that there was something like a security, that supposing him to act merely as a man of sense and prudence, he would bring forward measures of retrenchment to satisfy England, and measures of conciliation to pacify Ireland. He could conceive no other possible ground on which the duke of Wellington could claim the support of parliament, or a ministry like the present could hope to Stand: another pledge, to the same effect, was the continuance of the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Peel) as a member of the administration, and the declarations he had made that night; for, though nothing very explicit had been stated, he took the meaning of what had been said, to be, that there was no charge whatever intended—that no attempt of any kind shall be made—be the same ever so much desiderated in one quarter, or ever so urgently pressed in another,—to alter the principles on which our foreign and domestic policy has of late been conducted—that there is to be no deviation whatever from the sound, enlightened, and liberal principles long recommended on one side of the House, and at length adopted on the other; and which had obtained from all men of sense and discernment, who had the interest of their country at heart, not only their assent but their hearty support.
said, that the separation between himself and his right hon. friend had not arisen from any difference of opinion on the general policy of the government. He had made no compromise in remaining in office. As to the future, he would not give any pledge, but he did not contemplate any change in the foreign or domestic policy of the country.
The House then resolved itself into a committee on the East Retford Disfranchisement bill. The adjourned question was, "And whereas such bribery and corrup- 974 tion are likely to continue to be practised in the said borough in future, unless some means are taken to prevent the same; in order, therefore, to prevent such unlawful practices for the future, and that such borough may be duly represented in parliament, &c." The amendment of Mr. Huskisson was—that all the words after the word "future" be left out.
§ Mr. Huskisson
said, that, the House was bound to counteract the evil which had been proved to exist in this borough. The view which the House had taken of previous cases of this kind was perfectly clear. If, in the case of any delinquent borough, a number of voters were proved to have been free from corruption, the practice was, to exclude the tainted voters, and to retain those that were pure, by extending the franchise to the neighbouring hundred. It was in this mode that the House had proceeded in former cases of boroughs in which some voters were corrupt and some untainted, and where it was thought desirable to preserve the untainted voters in the possession of their former privileges. This was the case with Penryn, where it was not proved that half the voters were tainted. But, in the case of East Retford, it was quite different, for there the great majority were proved to have been corrupt. Therefore the ground for throwing open the franchise to the neighbouring hundred did not exist. His hon. friend (Mr. N. Calvert) said, it was not his intention to destroy the borough, but to throw it open to the hundred of Bassetlaw. This would be, in effect, to create that hundred into a little county in itself; for there were scarcely more than two members of the borough of East Retford who could have a vote in it. Rather than agree to the creation of these little new counties, he would prefer that the franchise should go to one of the Ridings of Yorkshire.
§ Mr. C. Wood
expressed a hope, that the bill would have the vote of the right hon. Secretary, after what he had admitted —the compromise that had been made. Having stated that compromise, the right hon. gentleman should be bound by it; for it was childish to suppose that the franchise, in the case of the bill sent up to the other House, would now be given to Manchester. If transferred at all, it 975 was certain that it would be to the adjoining hundred; so that the House was in the same situation as if they had passed the Penryn bill, making the transfer to the hundred. It was true the other House might throw it out altogether: so they might if the House of Commons had passed it with the transfer to the hundred. He would say, then, that if the right hon. Secretary had any regard for the pledge he had given, he was bound to vote in favour of the transfer to some large town. Precedent had been relied upon. It was true that all the precedents had gone in favour of the agricultural interests; but the course for the House to pursue would be, to send up bill after bill to the other House, till they got rid of the odious uniformity of these precedents. Again, he would contend, that they had a right to the benefit of the right hon. gentleman's compromise. He did not mean to impute any unfair dealing to the right hon. gentleman; but he must say, that if any man wished to play an unfair game, he would have pursued the course which the right hon. gentleman had taken. The hon. member contended that if the franchise was to be transferred to a hundred, if it was to be given to the agriculturists, it should be to some part of the country where they were not adequately represented; for certainly there were many parts which had much stronger claims than the hundred of Bassetlaw. It was absurd, to argue, that the balance was to be kept up between the agricultural and commercial interests, as a reason for giving this franchise to the adjoining hundred. The balance was now in favour of the agriculturists; for they had already six out of the seven franchises taken from corrupt boroughs. It was time, then, that the balance should be corrected. Some members talked of innovations on the constitution; but they were the great innovators who supported this transfer to the hundreds; for members for hundreds were neither knights, citizens, nor burgesses, but a sort of mongrel breed not known to the constitution. It was the duty of the House to transfer the franchise when it lapsed, as in the present case, to some great town, which had raised itself to opulence by its industry, and whose interests required a voice in the representation of the country.
observed, that as to the merits of the question, it had been said, 976 that the hundred of Bassetlaw was the fittest place to which the transfer of the franchise could be made. Now, how was this argument supported by the facts? The evidence proved that all the voters, with the exception of eleven were corrupt. Even the individual whom the hon. member for Hertford proposed to make the returning officer had, to his disgrace, acknowledged at the bar of that House, that he had accepted bribes. Under these circumstances, it was incumbent on the House to blot East Retford from the book of the elective franchise. At the same time, he would leave it to be decided at a future period as to what place the franchise should be transferred to.
§ Mr. G. Bankes
said, the evidence did not bear out the hon. gentleman in the assertion that only eleven voters in East Retford remained uncorrupted. The evidence applied rather to the election of 1812, than to the subsequent elections; and since that period about one hundred and forty-six new freemen had been added. It would be most unjust to deprive those individuals of their rights, without conclusive evidence of their guilt. The hon. gentleman had made allusion to the returning officer; but it should be recollected, that there were two returning officers for the borough, a junior and a senior. Now, the senior officer had never been even suspected of receiving a bribe. Upon the whole he thought the motion of the hon. member for Hertfordshire was most consistent with justice, and therefore he would give it his support.
Mr. Alderman Waithman
addressed the House, but continued coughing and other noises rendered him quite inaudible.
§ The committee divided: For the original motion 258: For the amendment 152: Majority 106.
Mr. Secretary Peel
said, he had thought one of the proposals of the hon. mover of this bill was, to agree in effecting a compromise, by admitting one of the boroughs to retain its franchise, while the other was given to a large town. By that plan his course would be governed. If the House of Lords should throw the franchise of Penryn into the neighbouring hundreds, he, as an individual, should consider himself bound by his pledge, and would certainly redeem it, by throwing the franchise of the borough of East Retford into the hands of the inhabitants of a large town. But if the Lords adopted a different course, then, 977 seeing that in that case his vote would go to deprive a county now only possessed of eight members of two of its members, and to reduce them to the number of six, he should certainly not feel himself bound to give that vote. He proposed, therefore, that the further consideration of this subject should be postponed till the determination of the House of Lords was known; but, in the meantime, he recommended the hon. member for Hertfordshire, to go on with his part of the bill, and get it printed with his amendment, leaving it to the House ultimately to adopt or reject that amendment, according to the manner in which the Lords thought fit to treat the borough of Penryn.
§ Mr. Tennyson
objected to that recommendation, that if the bill should now be printed with that amendment, the House would afterwards be considered to have taken an irretrievable step. He would rather lose the bill altogether, than let the franchise be extended to the hundred.
Mr. Secretary Peel
said, he was convinced that there had been notorious and general corruption, such as to justify him in punishing the borough. He would consent to disfranchise every individual member of that borough who had been proved to have been guilty of corruption. He would, in that respect, go beyond the cases of Cricklade and Aylesbury, and adopt the precedent furnished by the borough of Shoreham. In doing so, there might be a question as to whether that punishment could be visited on those who had admitted their corruption at the bar of that House; since those individuals had been promised indemnity. Upon that promise, it might be a question whether the indemnity was an indemnity from penal consequences only, or from consequences of any other kind.
thought it quite unnecessary to wait for the decision of the House of Lords, of the nature of which they must all be well aware. He much regretted that the right hon. Secretary had not made the other night the same declaration which he had just made. It would have saved a world of embarrassment elsewhere, and have avoided the necessity for much of what had passed to-night. With respect to himself, he must say, that if the borough was to be disfranchised only to give its elective rights to the hundred, he should prefer letting it return to its old corruption. He could not agree, that the franchise was 978 to be transferred merely for the sake of punishing the voters: he thought the object ought to be to improve the system of representation. The transfer of the franchise to a large town was a fair and intelligible mode of effecting that object, and should have his support. He would advise the hon. mover rather to withdraw the bill than to consent to the franchise going to the hundred, where there would not be less corruption than in the borough itself. The bill seemed fatal in every respect; it had upset one government, and if persevered in, might upset another; and yet, after all these evils, the object of the proposer might be defeated.
§ Mr. Tennyson
said, that the House might divide to all eternity before he would submit to have his object defeated.
The gallery was cleared, but no division took place. On our return we found.
stating it as his opinion, that the hon. and right hon. gentlemen were differing only about a question of punctilio.
characterised the conduct of the hon. gentleman as that of a vexatious proceeding, to which he would not resort if he were out of office to-morrow; as it only tended to stop public business. He should take the sense of the House on the question itself, and he trusted that would be decisive.
said, that the object proposed on both sides of the House was, to cure the evil of bribery and corruption which had long prevailed in East Retford. He cautioned the House against transferring the bribery from one class of electors to another, and recommended the right of election to be confined to the resident freeholders.
§ Mr. Tennyson
observed, that if the right hon. Secretary was sincere in his intention of giving this franchise to a considerable manufacturing town, in case Penryn should go to the hundreds, what could he gain by the clauses being brought up? If, after the course he (Mr. T.) had taken in this measure, he allowed "Bassetlaw" to stand in the bill, he should be disgraced in the eyes of the country.
§ The committee divided on Mr. Tennyson's motion of adjournment: Ayes 24; Noes 221; Majority 197. On our re-entering the gallery,
Mr. Secretary Peel
was on his legs, declaring that he would accept no compromise. If the hon. member would allow 979 the disqualifying clause to be brought up, it might be done, and he would afterwards consent to any reasonable delay. In order for the House to understand the proposition of the hon. member for Hertford, it was necessary that it should be in print.
§ Mr. Tennyson
did not think, without a fresh instruction to the committee, that the clauses could then be introduced into the bill.
Sir J. Sebright
recommended his hon. friend not to oppose the introduction of the clauses. He would rather see the bill thrown out than that it should pass as it was now framed. The public would then be assured, to whatever extent corruption might be carried, it would receive no punishment from that House.
§ Lord Nugent
thought there could be no objection to adopting the recommendation of the right hon. gentleman. He would allow "Bassetlaw" to stand in the bill, in order that it might be printed and re-committed.
thought that no injury could arise from delay. The hon. gentleman was not prepared with his clauses.
§ Lord Nugent
observed, that the House had the pledge of the right hon. gentleman's word, and more, the pledge of his character, that if the Penryn bill took another shape in the House of Lords, he would find the means of placing them in as advantageous a condition as before.
rose to contradict the statement that he was not prepared to bring up the clauses. He was perfectly prepared.
Mr. S. Rice
felt as warmly in favour of his hon. friend's measure, as any member, but as they would not be placed in a worse situation, he recommended his lion, friend to allow the insertion of the clauses.
§ Mr. Tennyson
persisted in the view he had taken of the subject, and charged the right hon. gentleman with knowing perfectly well that it had been determined in the cabinet, that Penryn should not be disfranchised.
replied, that, as far as he was acquainted with the matter, no such determination had been come to by the cabinet. He was not aware that the question had ever been put as to what course the members of the cabinet should pursue. After the late decision by a majority of 97, it seemed reasonable that the hon. member for Herts should have an opportunity of shewing in what shape he would present 980 the bill. As to the recommittal of the bill, he had no objection to allow sufficient time to enable them to become acquainted with the decision of the Lords.
The question was then put, that the preamble, as amended, stand part of the bill, and agreed to.
Mr. N. Calvert
then proposed a further amendment, omitting all the latter part of the bill, and substituting a clause enacting, that the 40s.freeholders of the hundred of Basetlaw, should have the right of voting for members for East Retford.
This amendment was agreed to, and the House having resumed, the report was brought up, and the question put when it should be taken into further consideration.
§ Mr. Tennyson moved, that it be taken into further consideration on this day six months.
§ Mr. Tennyson
was not aware of any forms of the House which took a bill out of the hands of the member who brought it in, and being appealed to as to the day, he had naturally said, on this day six months.
§ The Speaker
observed, that the Chairman of the committee had no right to appeal to the hon. gentleman for the time.
§ Mr. Tennyson
admitted, that he had answered in a flippant way when he had proposed this day six months.
§ The Report was ordered to be taken into consideration on this day sennight.