§ LORD F. EGERTON
said: In rising, Sir, on this occasion to address the House, for the purpose of proposing an Address to Her Majesty in reply to the Speech we have just heard read, it is my misfortune that I cannot prefer the same grounds for asking your indulgence which many hon. Gentlemen who have undertaken a similar duty have had it in their power to plead. A reference to Hansard—and this is the only reference I intend to make to that authority in the course of my observations—testifies, I regret to say, to the fact, that precisely twenty years have elapsed since, under the auspices of Mr. Canning, I stood* In consequence of the immense mass of Private Bills likely to be presented to Parliament during this Session, their lengthy titles, the labour and expense of preparing and printing them, and the comparative inutility of the list when done, it has been determined to omit them from the daily Minutes, and to give them when complete in a tabular form, at the end of the last volume of the Session. Nor, it is conceived, will this cause any inconvenience, since a Table is published at intervals by Order of the House, in which the information may, in a great measure, be obtained.52 in a similar situation to that I now occupy. I can truly say, however, that the intervening years have taught me any other Parliamentary lesson rather than that of confidence in my own discretion, or reliance on any powers I possess, as entitling me to claim the indulgence or command the sympathies of this House. I hope, therefore, that on other grounds—on the ground of the importance of the juncture which calls us together — and of the difficulty which even the masters of debate in this place must feel in rising to a level with the importance of these circumstances — the House will extend to me that consideration and indulgence which, in 1826, I perhaps had a better claim to ask, but certainly had no greater need to receive. I think it will be for the convenience of the House that, in the brief review it is my duty to take of the topics adverted to in Her Majesty's Speech, I should, in the first place, shortly refer to the earlier topics of that Speech, which I have little apprehension will be regarded with feelings other than those of satisfaction. I have little apprehension that this House, or the country at large, will receive with any other feeling than that of unanimous concurrence the observations in Her Majesty's Speech as to the state of our relations with France. Believing, as I do, that the peace and happiness of Europe, and, more than that, the progress of civilization and good government throughout the world, depend upon no single circumstance which human sagacity can control more directly than on the continuance of amicable relations between those two countries, which, I am proud to think, are heading the march of civilization. Believing that any coldness in those relations would chill and retard, and that any positive rupture between the two countries would throw that progress back in its course, I receive with unalloyed satisfaction that paragraph in Her Majesty's Speech to which I now allude. Rejoicing as I do in such a guarantee for the peace and happiness of the world, I must undoubtedly look with proportionate distrust and anxiety to any other quarter with respect to which I find myself compelled to speak with less entire confidence as to the maintenance of peaceful relations. I cannot fail to perceive, with deep anxiety and regret, the possibility that England may be called upon to maintain her honour, and to assert her right to protect her loyal subjects in every part of the world, however distant, by any other arguments than 53 those of patient, temperate, and friendly discussion. But most especially must I regret the possibility that any difference or difficulty should exist between ourselves and those with whom a community of blood and language forms an union not less binding than those strong ties of mutual requirements and friendly intercourse which have grown up between us to the advantage of both, and which the results of human skill and invention have so largely, in later years, facilitated and matured. My only consolation is, that I believe neither the present Government, nor any Government which in the course of political events could hold its place in the counsels of this country, could look at any such possible differences with other feelings than an ardent desire to maintain, by every means consistent with the honour and the just rights of both nations, the most cordial terms of amity and friendship with that great confederation, the United States. Apart from all these considerations, and utterly independent of them, there is no portion of Her Majesty's Speech that will, I am convinced, receive more deliberate concurrence on our part than that which suggests for the consideration of this House some extension of our means of national defence. On this subject I will only say for myself individually, that if all allusion to the necessity of that extension had been omitted from the Speech, I should have doubted the wisdom and precaution of those who had advised such a course. I pass however, to other topics which engross more deeply public attention, and with respect to which I should be insincere in saying that I anticipate that they will be regarded in this House with the same unanimity which will, I trust, be manifested with reference to those subjects to which I have just referred. I cannot dissemble to myself that I am addressing the House at a juncture when, at the instance of the responsible advisers of the Crown, topics of more than ordinary magnitude, and of more than temporary interest, are suggested for its future and early consideration. I cannot doubt, that the intent and bearing of that invitation, coming, as it does, upon a train of political events fresh in the recollection of hon. Members, and consequent on those events—I cannot doubt that that invitation to consider the whole state of those laws which have hitherto regulated the importation of various foreign commodities into this country, will be received without surprise by this House 54 or the country, but with an interest which no length of expectation could have diminished. If I did not concur in the propriety and necessity of that invitation, I could not consistently have undertaken the duty I am now endeavouring to discharge. That concurrence is, on my own part, unqualified. But if I had been unable to appear in the situation I now occupy—if my opinions had been such as would have prevented me from undertaking this office, still I should have hesitated before I incurred the responsibility of pronouncing, by any vote of mine in this House, that those subjects did not deserve that serious and early consideration to which the House is invited in Her Majesty's Speech. I have heard many Royal Speeches read, Sir, by yourself and your predecessors in that chair, and I have heard many Addresses in reply moved and discussed in this House; but certainly it was never my fortune to hear any speech which was altogether palatable to all parties in this House. I have, however, frequently seen all parties in the House agree with unanimity to the Address in reply to the Royal Speech, by the uniform assertion of the principle that no man giving his assent to the Address on such an occasion is thereby bound to any subsequent course of action. I hold that even the mover of the Address is not more restricted or fettered than any other hon. Member as to his future course of action in this House with respect to any questions that may be propounded for its consideration. Upon that principle I might, upon this occasion, deal largely in generalities; but, if the House does not consider it a departure from the strict discharge of the functions I have undertaken, I am anxious to take this opportunity of avowing that, with respect to the important subject so soon to be brought under the consideration of the House, my individual opinions have undergone a considerable change. I am aware my opinions have not that influence or authority with others which would entitle me to inflict upon the House a long explanation or defence of any change or modification which has taken place in them. Still, I feel that nothing but my insignificance can shelter those opinions from that inquiry which the public claims a right to institute as to the motives of those who, with regard to any matters of great national concern, avow a change in their views and sentiments; and I, for one, should be sorry, even on this occasion, to shrink in any respect from that investigation. This much, 55 at least, I will say—that no defence of mine will rest upon the example of others, or on any change or modification of opinions which may have been at any former period avowed by those whose eminence in public estimation makes their reputation a matter of consequence to the country at large, while mine is only of importance to myself. The vindication of any modification my opinions have undergone shall rest alone upon my observation of events, and a consideration of the state and prospects of the country. I have feared and hesitated to interfere with that system of restriction upon imports which I found interwoven with the whole state of our commercial relations. I have, on the best consideration I could give to the state and interests of the country, arrived at the conclusion that the time has arrived when we should take an opportunity — and take it now—to reconsider the whole system of those laws which regulate our commercial intercourse, with a view of ultimately departing from a principle hitherto maintained—a principle which endeavours, by the exclusion, or prohibition, or restrictive admission of foreign commodities, to encourage our home manufactures. When I use the term "home manufactures," let me not be misunderstood. I consider the products of the earth, as prepared for the food of man, as much a manufacture as any other. I regard the earth as a machine, and the largest landowners in this country as master manufacturers, and nothing else. Holding these views, I consider that, whether we apply the principle of protection to our system of Government, or whether we withhold it, it should be applied or withheld impartially, with regard to all the various departments of the industry of the country. It is my hope and belief, without being acquainted with the details of the measures which may be proposed to Parliament by Her Majesty's Government, that when they are propounded to the House, I may be able to give them my support. I hope they will be such as, in dealing with this important question, will be compatible with the broad principles I have laid down; and that they will embrace, with a comprehensive and statesmanlike grasp, the various departments of the industry of the country, which can come within the terms of my proposition. I have, I freely acknowledge, opposed the proposal of the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) opposite for a fixed duty on the importation of corn, when that measure was intended, as I believed, to be permanently embodied in the 56 Statute-book. I have now arrived at the conclusion, that restrictions, permanently applied to the introduction of foreign commodities, should no longer be adopted by the Legislature of this country. When the noble Lord brought forward his proposition, I expressed the opinion, which I still maintain, that if we are to apply restrictions to the importation of foreign corn, with the object of fixing a certain standard of remuneration for the British cultivator, or creating that steadiness of price which has been anticipated from such legislation, the "sliding scale," as it is called, is the better machinery for that purpose. I have seen reason, as I have already stated, to change my opinions on the policy of these restrictive laws; but I have not departed from the opinion I have always entertained as to the comparative advantage of a fixed duty and the sliding scale. The Legislature has felt its way largely in this matter, with respect to the articles of wool, cattle, and timber. I am not going, on this occasion, to trouble the House with figures and statistical returns; but I will venture to say this, that when the great accounts of the country come before you, and you have an opportunity of investigating rigidly the effects of those alterations, you will find that in every important instance the results have been such as to justify the hopes entertained of the success of those changes. I myself have been compelled to be a somewhat close observer of the connexion between the prices of provisions, and the employment and happiness of the people. Accident has cast my lot in the midst of a dense population, with respect to a large portion of which, this accident has made me a distributor of work and wages; and I have seen the operation of what I believe to be the connexion between the prices of provisions, and the happiness and employment of the people in various conditions. Among the population to which I have alluded, when there arose, from natural causes I believe, though protracted beyond their natural limits by derangements in the commercial intercourse with the United States, any difficulty in the state of the labour market for men to find employment at their regular occupations, I, as well as others, have endeavoured at such times, to find temporary employment for those who could not obtain regular work. It has happened that, in the course of my endeavours, prices have fallen again, a reaction has taken place, and provisions have become cheap; and but for that, I have felt how vain would have been all our 57 exertions to effect that which we had in view. Changes have since taken place, and I, as well as others, have had to struggle with a difficulty of a far less ordinary character—the difficulty of finding labourers for the work we desired to be performed. In the return of these more prosperous days, I trace again the connexion between abundance and employment. However, in the midst of this general tide of prosperity an interruption very recently occurred; and I believe that I can give some history of the occurrence in words better than my own, by referring to a circular which I received by post from Manchester a day or two ago, and which by accident I read, for it is not always that one reads printed circulars. In this circular it is stated that—The elements of permanent advantages were everywhere visible in the year 1844, and that the expectations formed with respect to the year 1845 were realized in the better half of the year; trade was going on, wages rising, &c. Notwithstanding the drawbacks that had to be contended against in the last quarter of 1845, trade was satisfactory on the whole, for profits were realized by our spinners and some of our manufacturers in the first nine months of the year. Those who attribute all the mischief to the late reaction and the exorbitant railway schemes, take a one-sided view of the case, and mistake the effect for the cause. The railway schemes, no doubt, aggravated the evil, but the main cause originated in the deficiency of the harvest, and the failure of the potato crop, at a time when a similar catastrophe occured on the continent of Europe, and rendered an immediate supply of provisions almost impossible.I ask any gentleman connected with the manufactures of Lancashire—any one who is acquainted with the situation of Manchester, Bolton, or Ashton, whether the period to which this circumstance alludes did not cause the memory involuntarily to recur to those times in 1841 and 1842, which I do hope will never again occur in this country? I ask whether men's hearts did not fail them for fear of the prospect of any thing like high prices occurring again in those manufacturing districts? But I may be told, and fairly told, that the abundance of which I have spoken, and which lessened the evils which threatened us, has been coexistent with those restrictive laws which I propose to consider. Others will go further, and say that the abundance is even the consequence of those restrictive laws, and that it may cease and determine with their abolition, or material reduction. Whatever change of opinion I may have undergone, I certainly have no right to question the sense, 58 sagacity, or still less the sincerity of those who continue to entertain those ideas. The time has been when, with equal sincerity, I have entertained them myself; but my observation has led me to believe that if you, as a Government, undertake to control and regulate the supply of the means of subsistence to the community, you will find that it is difficult, nay, impossible for you, spread the public table with what profusion you may, to satisfy those who would still retire from the feast with appetites not altogether satiated, and with minds not fully convinced that they have had sufficient for their health, and that all that remains for them is to pray that they may be truly thankful. The abundance, which you call sufficient, but which no man can call excessive, is, after all, but matter of comparison.Claudite jam rivos, pueri; sat prata biberunt;this, indeed, would be a dangerous principle for a Minister to act upon. With regard to the objection, that this country might be made to depend on foreign countries for the supply of food, I do not, when I consider the general state and condition of our relations for the supply of the commodity of food—I do not see in that objection anything which can cause me long to hesitate in any course which, on other grounds, I may think it desirable to adopt. It has been supposed that some vast confederacy of foreign nations might be formed against us, which, at some critical moment, might reduce this country to a state of utter dependence on them:—I do not think the establishment of this general confederacy at all likely. I do not think that such a general raising of bucklers against this country is a danger which ought to enter seriously into our calculation. History teaches me another lesson, when I look back at the situation of this country standing alone against the world in arms. Was England then altogether independent of foreign nations for her supply of food? I think that history will tell us that in the plenitude of Napoleon's power, when he was connected with Austria by marriage, when his influence prevailed in Prussia, when the dreadful example of his victories was hanging over the Northern Powers, and when Europe was at his command, the iron frame of his continental system still yielded to the strenuous and irresistible pressure of mutual wants. I take, as an illustration, what occurred in 1810. Then there was scarcity, or apprehension of 59 scarcity; and in 1810 our importation of corn from foreign countries was 1,292,000 quarters, of which not less than 581,000 quarters came from France and Flanders; and the men whom Napoleon had raised to the rank of marshals in his successful army were among the parties who ventured on this operation of supplying us with corn. From a passage, too, which I lately read in Napier's History of the Peninsular War, I find that when the Duke of Wellington planted the English standard for the first time for many centuries on French ground—a circumstance one would think likely to raise the resentment of the French against the invaders of their soil—yet at Bayonne some of the French merchant vessels offered their services to the Duke of Wellington for the express purpose of victualling the invading army. That some sacrifices may be necessary in making such changes in legislation as would follow the adoption of the principles I advocate, I wish I could deny or dispute; but you must pay some penalty for having maintained and persevered so long in an erroneous system. But I am consoled by the feeling that there never has been a period in the history of this country, and I doubt whether one such will ever again occur, in which from temporary causes you would find so many opportunities of absorbing the temporary and local superfluity of labour by the means of the great public works in progress in this country at present. If I look, again, to the extension of our foreign relations, there has seldom been a period which presents, in my opinion, a better prospect of largely extending our intercourse with foreign countries, promoting thereby peace and good-will, and preventing the effects of mutual animosities between this and other countries. The progress of these great public works in this country will, no doubt, be, in the first instance, beneficial to the labouring population, whose interests and welfare it is our duty to watch over; but I believe that there is no class in the community who will reap greater advantages from a just and proper settlement of this agitated question than that higher class of manufacturers who bear the name of the landed interest. Whatever may be the circumstances attending the process of the settlement — whatever the throes which may accompany this adjustment—their remuneration may be ample by the removal of a state of intestine dissension, which I cannot contemplate without apprehension. 60 This brings me to a part of my subject which it is difficult for me to approach without, perhaps, under the peculiar circumstances, incurring the suspicion of being influenced by personal considerations. This reason alone would be sufficient to induce me to refrain from originating in this House any topic which could generate any angry discussion on the present occasion. Fortunately, it is not necessary for me to do so; but I may assume, for argument's sake, that there have been proceedings in this country as dangerous and as unconstitutional as the warmest advocates of protection could imagine. Then, I ask, what have you to expect from counter-irritation at such proceedings, with all the instruments and improvements which ingenuity and experience can suggest? A war of bribery and chicanery—a war of the Roses in the reign of Victoria, which, in my opinion, could but terminate in one way, but which, when terminated, would leave this country torn by intestine divisions, and so exhausted as to attract the notice of foreign nations and the enemies of our common country to the spectacle of that exhaustion. These, in my opinion, are reflections well worthy the attention of Parliament and this House; and I am glad to believe that you will give them that full, deliberate, and dispassionate consideration which is not in the nature of things to be hoped for elsewhere. I believe that elsewhere these questions have been discussed too long in a spirit which makes it difficult to eliminate the truth from the passion and prejudice which surround it. My apprehensions are not confined to the fate of those who, I believe, would be the more immediate sufferers from the continuance of the contests I allude to—the landed interest—but I look further. If I could regard with any unbecoming feeling the great body of manufacturers in this country, by many of whom I am surrounded, and for the value of whose opinion I have never betrayed indifference—if I could consider that the men were unfit for a share in the administration of the Government of this country who exhibit great industry, sagacity, and intelligence—if such were my feelings towards the manufacturers, I could wish them no more fatal gift than the monopoly of power in the State by questionable means—by some revolutionary, however bloodless a convulsion, and by weapons likely to be used in the contest I now contemplate. I see special danger to them, though it is not unlikely that danger 61 would affect other classes. There is something tenacious of life and enduring in land. The storms of popular commotion may sweep over our ancient landmarks, and the tide of popular convulsion may submerge them for a season; but the waters will retire—Mountain waves from wasted lands,Sweep back to ocean brine,and the old limits and landmarks will reappear, and the fertility of prosperous seasons replace the ravages of disastrous years. I doubt whether it would be so with your abodes of peaceful industry. There is a difference between your machinery and that which comes fresh from the hands of the great Creator of the universe. The latter is less destructible. The trade of agitation is no mystery of difficult acquirement. I can imagine no better pupil in that school than some man of liberal education, of ruined means, and no principle, who, goaded by a sense, real or imaginary, of wrongs, and the recollection of fallen fortunes, might be led to become a leader of agitation in the manufacturing districts.Exoriare ali quis nostris ex ossibus ulter.Such a man, with opportunity, might make those chimneys and storied edifices, which I hope may long endure in the manufacturing districts, tremble to their bases. I dread such a system of agitation, which I think may exist if Parliament does not interfere to make a satisfactory, just, and final settlement of this question. There are dark spots and weak places in various parts of our social system: let us not be blind to them, or neglect the duty of exposing them, with the view of mending and improving them. Let us not fling in one another's teeth difficulties, remedial or irremedial, for the sole purpose of party or of faction. Let us not fling in the face of one class a Wiltshire labourer; or a manufacturing labourer in the face of another. To meet the cases of both—to give them, in the first instance, food—to give them other luxuries which many of them still need—air, water, drainage—to give them all the physical and moral advantages possible; let that be our employment and our duty, and let us endeavour to perform that office by ridding the country of those subjects of angry discussion to which I have referred. With this explanation I express my concurrence in the statement contained in Her Majesty's Speech; and, in performing my task, I fear I have transgressed too far on your 62 patience. The remaining topics of the Speech are not such as I believe will involve any serious differences of opinion in this House; and I think that I shall now best evince my sense of the indulgence and forbearance of the House, by proceeding to move the Address in answer to Her Majesty's Speech. The noble Lord concluded by moving—That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, to acknowledge Her Majesty's most gracious Speech from the Throne, and to thank Her Majesty for Her Majesty's condescension in assuring us that it gives Her Majesty great satisfaction again to meet us in Parliament, and to have the opportunity of recurring to our assistance and advice:To assure Her Majesty that we learn with great satisfaction that Her Majesty continues to receive from Her Majesty's Allies, and from other Foreign Powers, the strongest assurances of their desire to cultivate the most friendly relations with this country:That we rejoice to be informed that, in concert with the Emperor of Russia, and through the success of joint mediation, Her Majesty has been enabled to adjust the differences which had long prevailed between the Ottoman Porte and the King of Persia, and had seriously endangered the tranquillity of the East:Humbly to thank Her Majesty for informing us that inasmuch as for several years a desolating and sanguinary warfare has afflicted the States of Rio de la Plata, during which the commerce of all nations has been interrupted, and acts of barbarity have been committed unknown to the practice of a civilized people, Her Majesty, in conjunction with the King of the French, is endeavouring to effect the pacification of those States:To thank Her Majesty for informing us that the Convention concluded with France in the course of last year, for the more effectual suppression of the Slave Trade, is about to be carried into immediate execution, by the active co-operation of the two Powers upon the Coast of Africa; and to assure Her Majesty that we cordially unite in Her Majesty's desire, that the present union and the good understanding which so happily exists between the two Countries, may always be employed to promote the interests of humanity, and to secure the peace of the world:That we participate in the regret expressed by Her Majesty, that the conflicting claims of Great Britain and the United States in respect to the 63 Territory on the North-West Coast of America, although they have been made the subject of repeated negotiation, still remain unsettled; and that we gratefully acknowledge Her Majesty's assurance, that no effort, consistent with national honour, shall be wanting on the part of Her Majesty to bring this question to an early and peaceful termination.To thank Her Majesty for having directed the Estimates for the year to be laid before us at an early period, and for informing us that, although Her Majesty is deeply sensible of the importance of enforcing economy in all branches of the Expenditure, yet that Her Majesty has been compelled by a due regard to the exigencies of the Public Service, and to the state of the Naval and Military establishments, to propose some increase in the Estimates which provide for their efficiency:Humbly to assure Her Majesty, that with Her Majesty we have deeply regretted to observe the very frequent instances in which the crime of deliberate assassination has been of late committed in Ireland, and that we will not fail to consider whether any measures can be devised, calculated to give increased protection to life, and to bring to justice the perpetrators of so dreadful a crime:That we lament to learn from Her Majesty, that, in consequence of the failure of the Potato Crop in several parts of the United Kingdom, there will be a deficient supply of an article of food which forms the chief subsistence of great numbers of the people; the disease by which the plant has been affected having prevailed to the greatest extent in Ireland:Humbly to thank Her Majesty for having adopted all such precautions as it was in Her Majesty's power to adopt for the purpose of alleviating the sufferings which may be caused by this calamity; and to assure Her Majesty, that Her Majesty may confidently rely on our co-operation in devising such other means for effecting the same benevolent purpose as may require the sanction of the Legislature:To express our acknowledgments to Her Majesty for informing us, that Her Majesty has had great satisfaction in giving Her Majesty's assent to the measures which have been presented to Her Majesty from time to time, calculated to extend commerce and to stimulate domestic skill and industry by the repeal of prohibitory and the relaxation of protective Duties; and for Her Majesty's gracious intimation that the prosperous state of the Revenue, the increased demand for labour, and the general improvement which has taken place in the internal condition of the country, 64 are strong testimonies in favour of the course we have pursued:To assure Her Majesty, that, in compliance with Her Majesty's recommendation, we will take into our early consideration whether the principles on which we have acted may not, with advantage, be yet more extensively applied, and whether it may not be in our power, after a careful review of the existing Duties upon many articles, the produce or manufacture of other Countries, to make such further reductions and remissions as may tend to ensure the continuance of the great benefits to which Her Majesty has adverted, and, by enlarging our commercial intercourse, to strengthen the bonds of amity with Foreign Powers; and that Her Majesty may rely on our desire that any measures which we may adopt for effecting these great objects may be accompanied by such precautions as shall prevent permanent loss to the Revenue, or injurious results to any of the great Interests of the Country:Humbly to thank Her Majesty for the gracious expression of Her full reliance on our just and dispassionate consideration of matters so deeply affecting the public welfare:To express our cordial concurrence in Her Majesty's earnest prayer that, with the blessing of Divine Providence on our Counsels, we may be enabled to promote friendly feelings between different classes of Her Majesty's subjects, to provide additional security for the continuance of Peace, and to maintain contentment and happiness at home, by increasing the comforts and bettering the condition of the great body of the people.
§ The Address having been read from the Chair,
§ MR. E. BECKETT DENISON
said: Sir, I hope the House will not think me guilty of great presumption in rising to second the Address which has just been moved. The only apology which I have to offer for occupying so prominent a position is, that in consequence of the decease of a most highly respected nobleman, the late Lord Lieutenant of the West Riding, I am at this moment the single county representative of the largest constituency in the kingdom—a constituency arising out of a population of about 1,500,000 people, the chief portion of whom are occupied in agricultural, commercial, and manufacturing pursuits of almost every description and variety. They are, beyond all doubt, waiting with more than ordinary anxiety for Her Majesty's Speech from Her Throne to Her assembled 65 Parliament; perhaps I should be justified in stating, that they are waiting with still greater anxiety for the statement of Her Majesty's Ministers as to the measures they intend to propose for the purpose of supporting and advancing the present prosperity of the kingdom, and the future development of its immense resources. Her Majesty has been graciously pleased to inform us that she receives from all Foreign Powers the most firm assurances of friendship towards Her and Her dependencies. With respect to what Her Majesty has stated in relation to the conduct of the Emperor of Russia and the King of the French, I must say that I think this kingdom is under great obligations to those Sovereigns for the part which they have taken in endeavouring to preserve the peace of the world, and to settle disputes which have occurred between other nations. What, I may ask, would be so likely to arrest the prosperity and injure the welfare of this nation as a bloody and expensive war? The King of the French has been also graciously pleased to enter into an alliance with Her Majesty for the purpose of suppressing, effectually, as I hope, the foreign Slave Trade. Her Majesty has informed us, that she receives from other Powers the strongest assurances of friendship and cordiality. Notwithstanding these assurances, a common observer must perceive that there is some danger of this cordiality being interrupted by what is passing in the western hemisphere; I trust that no effort will be left unattempted on the part of Her Majesty's Government to prevent any breach with America, for no doubt the world would suffer by any unfortunate occurrence which might lead to war; but in my humble opinion (and I have no doubt it must be the opinion of this House), it is the duty of the Government, while making every effort to prevent any breach of friendship or good will in our western relations, not to permit any wilful and authorized trespass to be committed upon the privileges or the territories of Her Majesty's subjects. Following up that view of the subject, I must add, that I think Her Majesty is perfectly justified in asking this House to grant Her Majesty additional resources for the purpose of putting both the Army and Navy into a more efficient state than they have been in for some time past. God grant that we may not be called upon to exert the energies which I have no doubt, in case of necessity, this country 66 would be ready to put forth, in case of any infraction of its rights! Her Majesty has alluded also to the state of Ireland—I might say, unhappy Ireland; for it really seems that, within the last few months, it has been threatened both with famine and murder. The danger of famine, I hope, was overrated; but the cases of murder, which certainly seems, from the returns we receive, to walk unpunished in broad mid-day, do, in my humble judgment, call upon the Government to endeavour to devise some means by which such a frightful state of things shall be arrested; and I do hope they will be able to propose measures which may have the effect of preventing such shameful and unheard-of miseries and misfortunes. Perhaps the most interesting topic to which Her Majesty has alluded is in the latter part of Her Speech, with respect to the relaxation of duties upon foreign commodities. We have now had four years' experience of the abilities of the present Prime Minister, and of his views of commercial policy; and I think the House will admit that he has been, upon the whole, most eminently successful. I believe I am correct in stating, that in the last four years, the reductions in the duties payable to the Customs and Excise have been made to the extent of between 4,000,000l. and 5,000,000l.; and that those reductions have been very nearly made up by the duties paid upon the increased quantity of goods imported into and consumed in this kingdom. Now, we hear of "great facts;" but to my mind this is one of the most astounding facts I ever heard of. I must confess that it holds out the greatest possible encouragement to pursue the same course of reduction of duties upon goods to be imported from foreign parts; and I am bound to say, that I think they who have had the wisdom to devise, and the courage to propose such reductions, are eminently entitled to the thanks of the public. Her Majesty has been pleased to advise that we should pursue that system, and follow it up still further. I am quite of opinion—experience drives me to it—[laughter] — Gentlemen on the opposite side seem to be amused at my using the word "drive," but I should be ashamed of myself if I did not candidly confess that experience teaches me that that course is the right one. But then I say, with all respect for Gentlemen who have been the strong advocates of that system, that I think it ought to be pursued 67 with the greatest possible caution, and that no one class or interest should be so affected that it may be ruined for the benefit of others; but that the whole scheme should be so well digested, and the proposed reductions so mutually balanced, that all parties should have an opportunity of participating in the benefits to be derived from them. Entertaining these opinions, I beg to say, in my own defence, that as to what measures are to be proposed, I know nothing. I have asked for no information; I want none in order to induce me to second the Address to Her Majesty. I have perfect confidence in Her Majesty's Government, that they will propose such measures only as will deal out justice to all parties, and, I hope, liberality to all at the same time. I think that confidence should be extended to them until they state their measures to this House. I shall certainly feel perfectly at liberty to vote for or against any measure they may propose when that time arrives; but at present I want no information to induce me to support with perfect cordiality the Address to the Throne, feeling confident that the Government of the day has advised Her Majesty to recommend measures to our consideration which will advance the prosperity and welfare of this kingdom. In the name, therefore, of the great community I have the honour to represent, I ask the House, with all respect, to support the Address which has been moved; and if the measures which it recommends be carefully devised and well followed up, I do believe that, as in the last three or four years, trade will improve, employment will be regular, crime will diminish, and the welfare and prosperity of this nation will be advanced. I know of no limits that can be put to the development of the energies of the United Kingdom. I ask, then, on behalf of the great community I represent, that they may have every facility for regular employment and the increase of their comforts. They are, in my humble opinion—and I know them well—the most hard-working, patient, and loyal people upon the face of the earth; they are, if properly instructed when young, a truly religious people; and they entertain for Her Majesty that high respect, and love, and veneration, which Her Majesty so richly deserves. Sir, I beg to second the Address which has been proposed by the noble Lord the Member for South Lancashire.
§ SIR R. PEEL
Sir, I would fain hope, 68 that although the course which I take is an unusual one, yet that I am acting in conformity with the general wish of the House, in availing myself of the very earliest opportunity of giving that explanation which at no remote period the House will require from me. I would fain hope that I am not obstructing the course of this discussion upon the Address by giving that explanation at this period. But, if no consideration of public advantage could justify me in taking this course, I am sure the generous feelings of the House will deem it only natural that I should desire that not a moment should elapse before I explain to the House the motives by which I have been actuated, and the principles which have governed my conduct. I may feel hurt at having been the object of much accusation upon vague surmise; I may think it unjust to have been condemned without a hearing—I say nothing upon that head; if any momentary feelings of indignation were aroused, the recollection of great indulgence and of great confidence, was quite sufficient to efface those temporary feelings. I shall make no allusion, therefore, to particular expressions, or particular accusations; but this I do ask, even while I do not require the reversal of the sentence; I ask for the opportunity, after condemnation, of explaining the motives of my conduct. I ask you to listen at least with patience and indulgence to those facts and that evidence which I shall this night adduce, and which will form the materials on which other tribunals, judging under loss excitement, will ultimately pronounce upon the motives and the conduct of men charged with deep responsibility in critical times. I wish to explain what were the grounds which led me and those with whom I acted humbly to tender to a gracious Sovereign the resignation of the trust which was committed to us. I wish also to explain what were the circumstances under which that trust was reassumed, and under which I now appear in the House as the Minister of the Crown. Sir, the immediate cause which led to the dissolution of the Government in the early part of last December, was that great and mysterious calamity which caused a lamentable failure in an article of food on which great numbers of the people in this part of the United Kingdom, and still larger numbers in the sister kingdom, depend mainly for their subsistence. That was the immediate and proximate cause, which led to the dissolution of the Government. 69 But it would be unfair and uncandid on my part, if I attached undue importance to that particular cause. It certainly appeared to me to preclude further delay, and to require immediate decision—decision not only upon the measures which it was necessary at the time to adopt, but also as to the course to be ultimately taken with regard to the laws which govern the importation of grain. I will not assign to that cause too much weight. I will not withhold the homage which is due to the progress of reason and to truth, by denying that my opinions on the subject of protection have undergone a change. Whether holding a private station, or placed in a public one, I will assert the privilege of yielding to the force of argument and conviction, and acting upon the results of enlarged experience. It may be supposed that there is something humiliating in making such admissions; Sir. I feel no such humiliation. I have not so much confidence in the capacity of man, to determine what is right or wrong intuitively, as to make me feel abashed at admitting that I have been in error. I should feel humiliation, if, having modified or changed my opinions, I declined to acknowledge the change for fear of incurring the imputation of inconsistency. The question is whether the facts are sufficient to account for the change, and the motives for it are pure and disinterested. Nothing could be more base on the part of a public man than to protect himself from danger by pretending a change of opinion; or more inconsistent with the duty he owes to his Sovereign and country than if, seeing reason to alter his course, he forebore to make the alteration by the fear of being taunted with a charge of inconsistency. The real question, as I have said, is, whether the motives for the modification of opinion are sufficient and sincere. Sir, those who contend for the removal of impediments upon the import of a great article of subsistence, such as corn, start with an immense advantage in the argument. The natural presumption is in favour of free and unrestricted importation. It may, indeed, be possible to combat that presumption; it may be possible to meet its advocates in the field of argument, by showing that there are other and greater advantages arising out of the system of prohibition than out of the system of unrestricted intercourse; but even those who so contend will, I think, admit that the natural feelings of mankind are strongly in favour of the absence of all 70 restriction, and that the presumption is so strong, that we must combat it by an avowal of some great public danger to be avoided, or some great public benefit to be obtained by restriction on the importation of food. We all admit that the argument in favour of high protection or prohibition on the ground that it is for the benefit of a particular class, is untenable. The most strenuous advocates for protection have abandoned that argument; they rest, and wisely rest, the defence of protective duties upon higher principles. They have alleged, as I have myself alleged, that there were public reasons for retaining this protection. Sir, circumstances made it absolutely necessary for me, occupying the public station I do, and seeing the duty that must unavoidably devolve on me—it became absolutely necessary for me maturely to consider whether the grounds on which an alteration of the Corn Laws can be resisted are tenable. The arguments in favour of protection must be based either on the principle that protection to domestic industry is in itself sound policy, and that, therefore, agriculture, being a branch of domestic industry, is entitled to share in that protection; or, that in a country like ours, encumbered with an enormous load of debt, and subject to great taxation, it is necessary that domestic industry should be protected from competition with foreigners; or, again—the interests of the great body of the community, the laborious classes, being committed in this question—that the rate of wages varies with the price of provisions, that high prices implies high wages, and that low wages are the concomitants of low prices. Further, it may be said, that the land is entitled to protection on account of some peculiar burdens which it bears. But that is a question of justice rather than of policy; I have always felt and maintained that the land is subject to peculiar burdens; but you have the power of weakening the force of that argument by the removal of the burden, or making compensation. The first three objections to the removal of protection are objections founded on considerations of public policy. The last is a question of justice, which may be determined by giving some counterbalancing advantage. Now, I want not to deprive those who, arguing à priori, without the benefit of experience, have come to the conclusion that protection is objectionable in principle—I want not to deprive them of any of the credit which is fairly their due. Reason, unaided by experience, brought 71 conviction to their minds. My opinions have been modified by the experience of the last three years. I have had the means and opportunity of comparing the results of periods of abundance and low prices with periods of scarcity and high prices. I have carefully watched the effects of the one system, and of the other—first, of the policy we have been steadily pursuing for some years, viz., the removal of protection from domestic industry; and next, of the policy which the friends of protection recommend. I have also had an opportunity of marking from day to day the effect upon great social interests of freedom of trade and comparative abundance. I have not failed to note the results of preceding years, and to contrast them with the results of the last three years; and I am led to the conclusion that the main grounds of public policy on which protection has been defended are not tenable; at least I cannot maintain them. I do not believe, after the experience of the last three years, that the rate of wages varies with the price of food. I do not believe, that with high prices, wages will necessarily rise in the same ratio. I do not believe that a low price of food necessarily implies a low rate of wages. Neither can I maintain that protection to domestic industry is necessarily good. I said last year on the Motion of the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) that I thought protective duties were evils in themselves. But I also said, that as they had grown with our system, and not being incompatible with a high degree of prosperity, I thought they ought not to be lightly abolished, and must be tenderly and cautiously dealt with. It is now, however, impossible for us, after we see the results of the change in the Tariff during the last four years, to contend that protection to industry is in itself, and abstractedly, a public good. Then, as to the other argument, which I confess made a great impression on me in the first instance, and which is sanctioned by great authority—that because we have a heavy debt and a high rate of taxation, we must be protected from competition with foreign industry—that argument has also been submitted to the test of the last three years, and, so far as the experience of that period can supply an argument, it is this—that a large debt and heavy taxation are best encountered by abundance and cheapness of provisions; which rather alleviate than add to the weight of the burden. Let us take the result of that experience of constantly 72 diminished protection—on wages—on trade, and on revenue. First, as to wages. Who can deny the fact that during the three years that preceded the month of October last, prices were comparatively low? there was comparative cheapness and plenty, and yet at no period were the wages of labour higher. If you take the three preceding years, you will find high prices, and coexistent with high prices you will find low wages. Well, then, I have six years experience; I have during the first three years high prices and low wages; I have during the last three years low prices and high wages; and I cannot resist the conclusion that wages do not vary with the price of provisions. They do vary with the increase of capital, with the prosperity of the country, with the increased power to employ labour; but there is no immediate relation between wages and provisions—or if there be a relation, it is an inverse ratio. Now as to the Tariff; as I said before during the last four or five years we have been acting on the admitted principle of removing prohibitions—reducing duties, or abating, and in some cases destroying protection to native industry. That has been the principle, whether right or wrong, on which we have acted—the removal of protection to native industry. Now, what has been the result? I will give you the total amount of exports since the year 1839. The total value of British produce and manufactures exported from the United Kingdom was, in 1839, 53,000,000l.; in 1840, 51,000,000l.; in 1841, 51,000,000l.; in 1842, 47,000,000l.; in 1843, 52,000,000l.; in 1844, 58,000,000l.; that is, the rise from the year when the great invasion upon the protection of domestic industry was made by Parliament was from 47,381,000l. in 1842, to 58,500,000l. in 1844. But it may be said the China trade made all the difference. Now let us deduct the whole of that trade. In 1842, our exports to all the countries, except China, amounted to 46,411,000l.; and in 1844, they increased by 10,000,000l., amounting to 56,000,000l. For the last year we can only have the account for eleven months preceding December. In 1843, the exports of our principal articles of manufacture to all parts of the world, including China, amounted to 41,011,000l.; in 1844, to 47,312,000l., and, during the first eleven months of 1845, to 47,764,000l. Such is the state of our foreign exports under this system of continued removal of protection. Now let me take the returns of the revenue 73 as bearing on this question—ought there to be high protection in a country encumbered with an immense public debt and heavy taxation? In 1842, I proposed a reduction in the Customs to an estimated amount of 1,438,000l.; in 1844, I proposed a further reduction in the Customs' duties to the amount of 273,000l.; in 1845, to the large amount of 2,418,000l. I estimated the total loss from these several reductions at 4,129,000l., and let it be remembered that I discarded altogether the revenue from corn. How have these calculations been verified? Have 4,000,000l. been lost? No. The total amount of the loss has been 1,500,000l. I dealt with the Excise last year, and made a reduction of a million of Excise duties; the whole of the glass duties, the whole of the auction duty was taken off; the loss on that occasion was estimated at 1,000,000l. Observe, that was not a mere reduction of duties; there was no expectation, therefore, that increased consumption would make up for a diminished rate of taxation, for these duties were totally abolished. I felt confident, that although the glass and auction duties were abolished, still by vivifying other branches of industry, the revenue would derive some compensation. What will be the fact on the 5th of April? I believe, that notwithstanding the total reduction, the absolute loss of a million, my firm belief is, that the revenue from the Excise will this year be greater than ever. Notwithstanding these reductions there has been a salient spring of prosperity which has supplied the void you caused by the remission of taxation. Well, then, with that evidence before me, could I contend that on account of high taxation or great debt you must necessarily continue high protective duties? I have shown you that my estimates as to a loss in the Customs have been already falsified; that the Customs this year amount to nearly 20,000,000l.; that, comparing the Customs' revenue of 1845 with the Customs' revenue of 1842, after that diminution of taxation to the extent of 4,000,000l., the Customs of this year, excluding from both years the revenue from foreign corn, are better by 100,000l. than in the former year. But I will now refer to more important considerations than those either of trade or revenue; I will take the state of crime in the country. My right hon. Friend, at the head of the Home Department, stated last year that reductions had taken place in the number of commitments, and in the 74 crimes committed. In the year 1842 there was an increase of crime and commitments; in 1843, there was a turn, and a decrease began; and the decrease in the commitments remarkable in 1843 and 1844 continued in 1845. The total number of commitments in 1845 was 24,350, that is, 2,237 less than in the highest preceding year, 1842. In 1843, there was a decrease of 5½ per cent. on the preceding year; in 1844, a further decrease of 10 3–10 per cent.; and in 1845, a decrease of 5½ per cent., and all this in an increasing population. This decrease of crime in the last year has taken place in all the chief manufacturing districts; and not only in all the chief manufacturing districts, but, with the exception of five, there has been a corresponding and almost equal decrease in all the chief agricultural districts. What is the state of Wales? In Wales the decrease of commitments is more remarkable than in almost any other part of the kingdom. So much for actual crime. With respect to crimes connected with sedition, discontent, and disaffection to the Government,—in the last two years the office of the Attorney General, I may say, has been a sinecure. There has been only a single prosecution for an offence of this nature during the whole of the last year. Government takes no credit for lenity; there has been no prosecution, because the crime of sedition did not exist. In 1840–1–2–3—listen to this, and seriously consider it—there were 1,257 persons committed on charges of seditious and riotous offences. In 1843–4–5, only 124 persons were committed so charged, instead of 1,257; while, in the last year, I believe there was not one. In 1845, there were 422 persons sentenced to transportation less than in 1842. In the last three years there were 1,701 persons sentenced to transportation less than in the three preceding years. This has been during a period of comparative abundance, and low prices. Is it possible to resist the inference that employment, low prices, comparative abundance, contribute to the diminution of crime? Now, these are great social advantages; I will not say they have been promoted by—I say only they have been concurrent with, the diminution of protection to domestic industry—concurrent with comparative abundance. Well, have these advantages been purchased by any serious detriment to that great interest whose welfare ought to be one of the first objects of our concern—the agricultural interest? 75 Protection has been diminished. I have been the object of repeated accusation and attack, for diminishing it; and deeply should I regret if those great social advantages to which I have referred had been accompanied, in consequence of that diminution of protection, with any serious injury to agriculture. Let us take the four great articles, in respect of which there has been a diminution of protection. Foreign flax has, for many years, been admitted at a very low duty into this country. What duty remained, we remitted last year. There is now, therefore, a perfectly unrestricted import of foreign flax. In 1824, the duty on flax was 10l. 14s. 6d. per ton. It is now absolutely nothing. The reduction having taken place, what was the effect on the price of flax? The price of fine flax in Belfast market in 1843, was 65s. to 70s.; in 1844, it was 63s. to 68s.; in 1845, from 65s. to 68s.; and in January, 1846, the present month, the price of Irish flax, fine Irish flax, in the Belfast market, was from 70s. to 80s. There was no reduction when made that caused so much alarm, and by the alarm did injury at first, and which it was prophesied would do so much injury, as the removal of the absolute prohibition on the importation of foreign cattle. The permission to import, at a very low rate, foreign cattle, foreign sheep, and foreign swine, was accompanied with many predictions—predictions that serious loss and injury would be inflicted on the agricultural interest—and it was said that we should deeply regret the day those changes were made, and the panic that would arise. Now, has serious injury been sustained by that reduction? There was before that absolute prohibition, and there is now the admission of foreign cattle at a very low rate; and I must, on this question, first of all, admit that there has been a gradual increase in the importation. I want, at the same time, to show that concurrently with increase in importation, there has been increase in the price of the articles. In 1844, there were imported 2,800 oxen and cows, and in the eleven months of the year 1845, ending with November, there were not less than 15,000 imported, showing a very great increase. Have prices in this country been affected either in a corresponding degree, or in any, by this large importation? In 1844, the contract price for the victualling stores in the navy for salt beef, was 3l. 18s. 2d.; the contract price entered into for the navy, in December, 76 1845, was, I regret to say, 6l. 8s. 8d. The salt pork that was contracted for in 1844, was 3l. 15s. 10d. a tierce; and in 1845, it was 6l. 12s. The contract price for fresh beef for the navy, in 1844, was 1l. 14s. 9d.; the contract price in 1845, was 2l. 2s. 2d. Now, all this increase in price, was concurrent with increased importation; one prophecy, if I recollect rightly, was, that there would be an importation into this country of 3,500,000 pigs, and that the price of salt pork would be immensely reduced; but look at the price of salt pork rising from 3l. 15s. 10d. to 6l. 12s. 4d., and I think about 4,000 swine have been imported. There was no article last year that caused so much alarm as lard. The duty was then taken off. In 1840, there were 97 cwt. of foreign lard imported into this country. In 1842, the duty was reduced from 8s. to 2s. a cwt. and there were then imported 48,312 cwt.; in 1844, 76,000 cwt. were imported; and in 1845, the importation had reached above 80,000 cwt. And what has been the price of domestic lard at Belfast during that period? In 1844, it was 48s. a cwt.; in 1845, it was 67s.; and in January of the present year, notwithstanding the increase caused by this importation, the price has risen from 48s. in 1844, to 62s. There is only one other article of great importance which has been seriously affected by the reduction to which I shall recur, and that is the article of wool. We proposed in 1844 that the duty upon foreign wool should be altogether annihilated—that there should be no duty. It was certainly more in deputations than in this House that any objection was strenuously urged to the reduction; but certainly there were anticipations of great loss to the wool-grower from the reduction of the duty on foreign wool. Here again there has been an enormous increase in the imports. In 1842, there were 45,880,000 lbs. of foreign wool brought into this market; in 1844, 65,790,000 lbs.; and in ten months of the last year I am bound to admit there has been no less than 65,216,000 lbs. of foreign wool brought in, in consequence of the reduction of the duty. Now, what has been the reduction in the price? In 1842, the price of Southdown wool, when there was a duty upon foreign, was 11d., of long wool 10d.; in 1843 the price of Southdown was 11d., of long wool 11d.; in 1844 the price of Southdown was 1s. 2d., and of long wool 1s. 2d., also. In December, 1845, eighteen 77 months after the total reduction of the duty, the price of Southdown wool rose from 11d., the price in 1842, to 1s. 4½d. The average price in December, 1845, of Southdown, was 1s. 4d., and of long wool 1s. 2d. Such have been the effects of this reduction, made in 1842, so far as domestic agriculture is concerned. I think, as far as we have had experience within the last four years, I have shown that, by the removal of protection, domestic industry and the great social interests of the country have been promoted; crime has diminished, and morality has improved. I can bring the most conclusive proof that the public health has been improved, yet the national trade has been extending, our exports have increased; and this—and I rejoice in it—has been effected, not only without serious injury to those interests from which protection was withdrawn, but I think I have shown that it has been concurrent with an increase in the prices of those articles. Now, it is right I should state, that notwithstanding the conviction which this experience has brought home to my mind, yet my decided impression was, that on other grounds the charge of considering the change in the present Corn Law ought not to have devolved upon me. This I was firmly resolved upon, that I could not this Session, on the Motion of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Villiers), for the consideration of the Corn Laws—I could not, with these convictions, which, say as you will, I cannot withstand, have met that Motion with a direct negative. Now, Sir, let me again repeat that I claim no credit whatever for having drawn my conclusions from abstract reasoning. My conviction has been brought about by observation and experience; and I could not, with this conviction, have undertaken the defence of the Corn Laws, either upon the public ground that this country being highly taxed the continuance of protection was necessary, or upon the ground that it was for the interest of the labouring classes that high prices should continue as a guarantee of high wages; and I could not have undertaken it upon the ground that the removing protection from domestic industry must necessarily paralyse commerce, lower prices, and undermine our national prosperity. But this I wish most ardently—I wish to have the opportunity of frankly stating to those Gentlemen who have honoured me upon so many occasions with their confidence, that I can continue this contest no longer—that they must devolve 78 the duty of maintaining protection upon other persons, who can adduce better arguments in its favour than I can. I doubted whether it would not have been advantageous if, in another Parliament, this question should have been considered; but it would have been my bounden duty to have committed the defence, if a defence were undertaken, of protection to other hands more able to maintain the conflict. I should have wished, I say, that another Parliament should have had an opportunity of considering this question; but there did occur, during the course of the last autumn, that which precluded me from taking the course which would have been most agree able to my personal feelings. A great calamity befell us, the limits of which it was difficult to divine, the consequences of which, though felt, it may still be difficult to describe. There occurred a great visitation of Providence, extending not to Ireland only, but Great Britain, America, and many parts of the world; and we, Her Majesty's servants, constituting the Government of this country, were called upon to consider what should be done to lessen the calamity? There appeared to be a great and a pressing danger, and it was our duty towards our Sovereign and towards the country to meet that danger. If it was advisable, from the pressure of the deficiency to take immediate measures, it would have been impossible, with our conviction of the necessity, to abstain; with our convictions, we could not, consistently with the duty we owed to the Sovereign and the country. If we had, indeed, pretended apprehensions of a scarcity for the purpose of effecting an alteration in the Corn Laws, nothing could have been more base or dishonest than to have taken such a step; but you shall have the opportunity of judging of the motives upon which I and others have acted, and you shall determine whether or no, with the information we were in possession of, we were not justified in drawing the conclusion that it was impossible to maintain the existing commercial system. My own opinion was founded upon the evidence which I shall now adduce; and it was impossible, upon that evidence, to come to any other opinion. The advice which I individually offered at an early period—so early as in the month of November, was to meet this emergency by a suspension of the import duties on foreign corn. I came to that conclusion; and I was adduced to advise that unusual—not unprecedented, but I admit unusual— 79 course, upon the following considerations. I will proceed first to an explanation of the circumstances under which, early in December, the Government was temporarily dissolved, and under which the Government, as now constituted, resumed office. There are two important periods in giving that explanation, to which I must draw attention—first, the period which elapsed between the 1st of November, 1845, and the 6th of November; and, second, the period which elapsed between the 25th of November and the 6th of December. I propose to read consecutively the information that was received from different parts of this country and the Continent which appeared to me to justify the conclusion to which I came, both in the early part of November, and towards the close of that mouth and the beginning of the following month. I will give the date of each letter that I shall quote; but, of course, the letters which were received subsequently to the 6th November, can form no justification of the advice; but though I shall give the date of each letter, I will not divide the evidence into two periods, but I will give the whole of it consecutively. The disease which affected the potato crop in this country was also felt in other parts of the world; and there were in other parts of Europe apprehensions of scarcity. For instance, the Resident Agent of the Government, writing from Poland, on the 22nd of October, said—The cost of articles of food is stated to be higher than it has been since 1813 and 1814. The unfavourable results of the harvests in Podolia, Lithuania, Gallicia, the German Baltic provinces, preclude the hope of foreign aid. No alleviation of the general distress is expected before next autumn.In a letter, dated the 14th of December, Colonel Wynford, writing from Riga, says—The supply of rye and rye-flour sent from St. Petersburg is insufficient for the relief of the Livonians, and discontent prevails.From Prussia we received the following. On the 10th of November the Minister of the Interior informed Lord Westmoreland that the potato disease had been observed in almost every part of the Prussian monarchy. From Belgium, dated the 24th of September, "the Chambers sanctioned the proposal of the Government to prohibit export, and permit import." Egypt, on the 22nd of October, 1845, prohibited exportation of all corn arriving at Alexandria after that day. Turkey prohibited the export 80 of all grain from the ports of Anatolia and her Asiatic provinces from the 27th of August, 1845, to harvest time in 1846. Sweden prohibited the export of potatoes from the 15th of October until the next harvest. There was, indeed, at this period a general apprehension of scarcity of provisions extending from Sweden to Egypt, and from Riga to Turkey, and measures were taken to stop their exportation, and for excluding us from some of our usual sources of supply. With regard to England and Scotland, this is a part of the information which reached the Government. It is a letter addressed to Sir James Graham by a great salesman in London, who deals largely in the retail part of his business—the sale of potatoes. But I should first state, that the earliest account I received of the disease in the potato crop was from the Isle of Wight, where it was estimated that the crop had almost entirely failed. The gentleman to whom I have just referred wrote, on the 11th of August, as follows:—Being myself a large grower, some years to the extent of 300 acres, in Kent, where I farm, am also a salesman in London, and having been engaged largely in the retail part of the business, can give an opinion. I received a letter on the 1st instant from my agent at Ash, near Sandwich, stating that the crops were blighted in that neighbourhood the same as in October last year (it was then only partial in East Kent). On Tuesday last, I went down by the Dover eight o'clock train. On my arrival there, I immediately drove all round the neighbourhood of Sandwich, Ash, Wingham, and its neighbourhood, and found the whole of the crop, early and late, not excepting the cottagers' gardens, were being entirely destroyed. On my return, I could trace it by the side of the whole line to Tonbridge. Have since looked over the tops that come as covering on that article to the different markets, and find they are all affected. On Tuesday last, I paid a visit to my farm at Maidstone, and found it had made fearful destruction there, and returned by way of Gravesend. All were alike affected. The same evening I went to East and West Ham, in Essex. Amongst the large growers, found it was just appearing. Friday, I went to Leytonstone and neighbourhood. All are alike.That letter, then, contained conclusive proof that, in the opinion of this gentleman, the potato crop in Kent was seriously injured. The next letter is in reference to the state of Lancashire, and was from the Rev. Mr. Clay, chaplain to the House of Correction at Preston, dated the 23rd of October:—It is too certain that the potato crop in this part of the country will be a serious failure. I have obtained information from the districts extending as far as Rufford and Croston on the 81 south, the Fylde country and Blackpool on the west, and Lancaster on the north; and from all quarters the accounts speak of great injury to the crops, though they vary as to the extent of it. My information, verbal and written, has come from scientific agriculturists, from practical farmers, and from dealers. Those among the first-named, who have paid much attention to the facts, estimate the loss, as it exists now, at more than two-fifths. But the progress of the disease is so rapid, and its presence so universal, that it is impossible to conjecture what may be the amount of the defalcation by Christmas.Here is a letter from Mr. Wood, Chairman of the Excise, who, writing on the 2nd December from Yorkshire, thus addressed the Chancellor of the Exchequer:—You will regret to hear that the potato disease has now manifested itself in the most extensive manner in this district. Potatoes were selling ten days since at 2s. to 2s. 6d. a bushel of 70 lbs., in York. Yesterday, the same weight sold at 1s. 2d., owing to the farmers bringing an extra quantity to market. I have, consequently, had several pits opened on this estate, and I fear that before Christmas we shall not have a sound one; what the poor are to live on, I cannot guess. I know you will be anxious to have accurate information, and therefore have ventured to give you this account.From Scotland, I received a letter from my hon. Friend the Member for the county of Dumfries, which gave us as unfavourable an account as any I had seen from that part. Mr. Hope Johnstone, writing on the 22nd November, says—I am sorry to say, that in so far as my own observation has gone, the disease appears to be progressing. I have to-day examined a large quantity of potatoes grown on some of the best and dryest soils in this neighbourhood, and have not found one potato in twenty untainted, while three-fourths are quite unfit for human food. These have been carefully housed, and have never been exposed to damp since they were taken out of the ground. In Dumfries-shire also the decay is going on rapidly.These were the accounts which reached me in the months of October and November, with respect to the extent of this disease in parts of Great Britain. Now as to the accounts from Ireland, because the pressure appeared to be the greatest in that country, the people there chiefly subsisting upon potatoes. It is difficult to estimate the numbers who subsist upon potatoes. But here is the Report made to the Government, presented by Mr. Lucas, who was Member for Monaghan, Sir R. Routh, and Professor Kane. They say that the numerical proportion of the Irish population that live exclusively upon potatoes, includes, certainly, four millions. It was, therefore, a calamity which threatened 82 the subsistence of not less than four millions in Ireland that the Government had to provide against. Now, first I will read to the House the information which came to us from the chief authority in Ireland—the Lord Lieutenant, who remitted to us every day the principal information which he received. It was the duty of my right hon. Friend and myself to read the reports thus received, and to that duty we did devote many anxious days and nights. I will not refer to the detailed reports received in great numbers from Ireland. They were nearly all concurrent; but I will state at once the impressions of the chief authority, and the communications which he made to the Government. I will begin with the 17th October, when Lord Heytesbury writes to the Secretary of State—Even if the crops should turn out to be as bad as is now apprehended, it is not thought that there will be any immediate pressure in the market. There will be enough saved for immediate consumption. The evil will probably not be felt in all its intensity till towards the month of February, or the beginning of spring. I am assured that there is no stock whatever of last year's potatoes in the country.So deep was the impression of danger made on him who was chiefly responsible for guarding against any calamity, that hardly a day passed that he did not reiterate these statements. All I ask now, after the accusations which have been brought against me, is, that I may place upon record the evidence on which I have acted. There may, perhaps, now be no danger; but if you are to judge of our motives, the real question at issue is, what were the apprehensions which responsible men were, at that time, inclined to entertain? On the 20th of October, Lord Heytesbury writes again—Our accounts continue to be of the most discouraging nature. They are regularly transmitted to Sir James Graham's office. One of the most embarrassing circumstances attending the disease is, that potatoes dug up to all appearance perfectly sound, after a short time begin to decay, and very soon rot altogether. Under such circumstances, it is impossible to form any decisive opinion as to the amount of the calamity.On the 24th, he writes—From the accounts which reach us I should be inclined to say that the progress of the disease has, in some localities, been checked; but I dare not lay too great a stress upon this; for we constantly receive satisfactory reports of the state of the potatoes when dug, and learn, a few days after, that they have all rotted in the pits. It is this insecurity that forms our greatest difficulty. We do not know, and cannot know, the extent of the evil.83 On the 27th, he says—We are most anxious for the result of the deliberations of the Cabinet upon the state of the potato crops in Ireland; the reports from various country gentlemen and public bodies continue to be of so alarming a nature, that it seems desirable that something should be done, if it be only to tranquillize the public mind, and diminish the panic. Everything is rising rapidly in price; and the people begin to show symptoms of discontent, which may ripen into something more. Should we be authorized in issuing a proclamation prohibiting distillation in grain? This is demanded on all sides.On the 8th November, in answer to a letter written by my right hon. Friend, inquiring how it was, if the danger were so great, that he had replied to the Lord Mayor of Dublin, that there was no immediate apprehension, he writes again—It is perfectly true that I did, in my answer to the Lord Mayor, say that there was no immediate pressure in the market; but you must not give too wide a meaning to that observation, which had reference merely to his demand that the exportation of grain should be prohibited, and the ports immediately thrown open. My meaning was, that there was nothing so pressing as to require us to act without waiting for the decision of the responsible advisers of the Crown. But the danger may be upon us before we are aware of its being near; for, as I said in a former letter, the sudden decay of the potatoes dug up in an apparently sound state, sets all calculations at defiance. Some precautionary measures must be adopted, and adopted promptly; for there is danger in delay. As the digging of the potatoes advances, we see it more clearly; and I regret to say, that Professor Lindley, when he took leave of me yesterday, told me, that he doubted very much whether the potatoes would keep through the winter.On the 11th November, the Lord Lieutenant says—The accounts we receive of the progress of the potato harvest from the constabulary are still very unsatisfactory; but those from the resident magistrates are rather less unfavourable.But then mark the postscript—Since this letter was written, later reports have been submitted to me, in which even the resident magistrates now appear to be of opinion that the disease is extending, and the evil much greater than they had imagined it to be. The heavy rains of the last few days have done infinite mischief.And in the last letter from the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland which I shall read to you, dated November 17th, he says—The disease progresses apparently unchecked by any of the precautions adopted; and the ill-intentioned leave nothing undone to irritate and exasperate the people. A very bad spirit prevails in many of the provinces. If we had to deal only with a short crop, we might calculate with some degree of certainty upon the time when the pressure 84 would be felt; but how rely upon any calculation when the potatoes are perishing in the pits? When the evil day of scarcity does come, it will probably come with fearful rapidity. We must not allow ourselves to be taken by surprise.Such being the accounts received with reference to the state of the disease, I do hope that those who may have been disposed to blame us will be inclined to make allowance for the feelings of those whose duty it was to be watching, day by day, the progress of this calamity, to be forecasting the prospects of the future, and to be considering what were the means of precaution which ought to be adopted. You may say, this is our own official information; but reports reached us from other quarters—from gentlemen wholly unconnected with the Government — and I could produce thousands; but I will take those only to which, perhaps, the greatest importance should be attached. Here is a letter from the Secretary of the Royal Agricultural Society of Ireland. He says—I beg leave to send you an extract from a Dublin morning paper, which will give you a correct account of the measures which the Council of the Society have adopted respecting the prevailing disease in the potato crop. I beg leave also to state, that when I issued a circular, about a month since, to the secretaries of about 120 local societies, in connexion with the central one, I got several answers from persons, stating that the disease was not then apparent in their immediate neighbourhood; but I have since received letters from most of them, stating that, upon digging the crops, they found the disease in almost every quarter; and I may safely say at present, that there is not a county in Ireland, that is not, more or less, affected by it. I shall barely add, Sir, that the greatest panic appears to exist in all parts of the community; and those who know the country best, are most puzzled how to act. One thing, however, I think, is certain, that enough has already transpired to justify the most prompt and energetic measures on the part of the public and the Government.I will now take some letters from gentlemen connected with Ireland, but still unconnected with the Government. Lord Monteagle says—Take it, however, at the least, I do not recollect any former example of a calamitous failure being anything near so great and so alarming as the present. Generally, we have seen the means of carrying our people forward, at least, till summer approaches, and till we were within two or three months of the new crop. The case is very different now; and, in some places, I know not how the peasantry will get through the winter in very many cases.The Duke of Leinster presided at a meeting in Dublin, on the 31st of October, at which the following resolutions were agreed to:— 85That the committee do respectfully represent to the Lord Lieutenant, that it has now been ascertained beyond a doubt that famine, and, consequently, pestilence, are immediately imminent, unless the Government shall, without hesitation or delay, take the most prompt measures to provide for the people, and to organize means for the distribution of support in each locality throughout the land. That we respectfully call upon his Excellency the Lord Lieutenant forthwith to order the ports of Ireland to be opened for the importation of Indian corn, rice, and other articles suited for human food.I have also a communication from Lord Clare, which contains similar expressions. On the first appearance of this disorder in the potatoes, we sent to Ireland — not trusting altogether to the reports which we had received—two gentlemen of the highest eminence, who must be known to almost every Member of this House—Dr. Linley, professor of botany, and Dr. Lyon Playfair. They were entirely unconnected with Ireland; and they were to found their opinions upon what they saw. They went to Ireland; they travelled through several counties; and when they returned, they requested that they might meet me. My right hon. Friend and I had an interview with Dr. Linley; and the result of that interview was so alarming, that we desired Dr. Linley and Dr. Playfair to leave upon record their impressions. Accordingly, they addressed a letter to us, on the 15th November, to the following effect:—During our stay in Ireland, we carefully examined such official papers as were transmitted to us from the Castle. We consulted persons acquainted with the facts of the disease. We visited the district lying between Dublin and Drogheda, and inspected various potato fields and stores in the counties of Dublin, Louth, Meath, Westmeath, and a part of Kildare. Judging from the evidence thus collected, and from what we have seen of the progress of the disease in England, we can come to no other conclusion than that one-half of the actual potato crop of Ireland is either destroyed, or remains in a state unfit for the food of man. We, moreover, feel it our duty to apprise you that we feel this to be a low estimate. We would now add, melancholy as this picture is, that, in all probability, the late rainy weather has rendered the mischief yet greater. It is also necessary to direct your attention to the quantity of seed potatoes which must be reserved for the coming year, if the cultivation of this plant is to be persevered in. We can state that, on an average, one-eighth of the crop is required for planting the same quantity of ground; so that, in fact, only three-eighths of the crop can, in our view, be at the moment assumed to be available for food.I am now stating the particular circumstances which led to the dissolution of the Government; and, in doing so, the House must bear in mind that I refer to two periods—the first interval comprising what 86 occurred between the 1st and 6th of November, and the second interval, what occurred between the 25th of November, and the 6th of December; and those who dissented from my opinion in the Cabinet, must recollect that any letters or reports received since the 6th of November, can have no bearing whatsoever upon the advice which I gave between the 1st and 6th of November. The letters and reports only which have a bearing upon that advice, are those which were received prior to the 6th of November. Those letters referred, many of them, to the state of the crop on the Continent; many of them, also, to the state of the crop in England; and some of them to the crop in Ireland. The Cabinet met several times between the 31st of October and the 6th of November. On the 1st of November, recollect, there was no agitation, and no petitions had been presented. It appeared to me, however, that the reports received from the Lord Lieutenant—that the example of foreign countries—that the example of Belgium, which had cleared the market of Liverpool almost in one day, and had caused a rise of 75 per cent. in the price of rice—rendered it the duty of the Government to take a step, which was not without a precedent, and either by an Order in Council, or by calling Parliament together within a fortnight, to remove for a time all restrictions upon the importation of foreign corn. That was the advice I gave on the 1st of November. I was perfectly ready to take the responsibility of issuing an Order in Council. The period was a critical one. There was an advantage in issuing an Order in Council, for time would thus have been saved; and I was prepared, as the head of the Government, to take that responsibility. I did not insist, however, upon the Order in Council; for I was equally prepared to call Parliament together immediately, and to advise the removal, for a limited period, of all restrictions on the importation of corn. I did not consider it any objection that the temporary removal of those restrictions might compel a reconsideration of the Tariff. My advice at that period was not followed. Three only of my Colleagues concurred in the view which I took, and we separated on the 6th November; I reserving to myself the right of again calling the Cabinet together, in the hope that if the alarm which I apprehended should be confirmed by subsequent occurrences, the advice which I gave would be followed at a later period. Now, so far as 87 I was personally concerned, that was the period for me to have tendered my resignation. I can truly say that if I did not tender it at that time, it was purely from public, and not from private considerations. I was met as a Minister by great difficulties; but I felt it my bounden duty to adhere to my post, and not to evade, as I might have done, those difficulties with which I was beset. I might have said, "My opinion has been overruled by a great majority. Three only of my Colleagues take the same views that I do, and I cannot consent to incur the responsibility of continuing in office." That was the course which I might have adopted. I resolved, however, not to abandon my post. The Cabinet was reassembled on the 25th of November. I confess that the information received in the interval had not in the slightest degree diminished my apprehensions. In the meantime we had taken, with the unanimous concurrence of the Cabinet, extraordinary steps; we had appointed a Commission to inquire and to take precautionary measures against a sudden occurrence of distress. We had appointed a Commission for the purpose of making inquiries in Ireland, and had taken steps also to prevent the spread of fever, which is so frequently the consequence of distress. On the 25th November, then, it became necessary to consider what should be the instructions to be issued to the Commission. Those instructions were determined on, and received the assent of the Cabinet. I stated at that time that it appeared to me that the issuing of those instructions was inconsistent with the determination to maintain untouched the present Corn Law. I could not, therefore, consent to the giving instructions to take precautionary measures against scarcity, and against fever, the consequence of scarcity, without reserving to myself the entire power of proposing other measures for relieving that scarcity. The instructions were issued, and again I brought under the consideration of the Government the same measure which I brought forward on the 1st of November—that is, the suspension of the duties upon foreign corn, either by an Order in Council or by the sanction of Parliament. At that period, however, my position was entirely changed. I had advised the same measure on the 1st of November; but the lapse of time, the increase of agitation, and other circumstances, had materially affected my position. I was overruled in the Cabinet at the earlier 88 period, when it could have been done more naturally and more effectually. I felt that, by the pressure of circumstances, my position was now changed. The noble Lord opposite had in the interval written his letter; and I admit, giving him credit for the best intentions, that it was a letter which, after what had passed in the Cabinet, materially affected my position. If the Order in Council had been issued on the 1st of November, it would have been the Order of a united Cabinet, the act would have appeared as one which was adopted by a united body, and under the sense of a great necessity. We should have anticipated agitation—it would have been impossible to attribute it to fear—it would have had the appearance of taking a natural and reasonable precaution—I will not say against a great calamity, but—against the possibility of a great calamity. It was impossible for me, and for those who agreed with me, after receiving the letter I have read from Drs. Lindley and Playfair, not to feel justified in adopting precautionary measures, even if they should afterwards prove to be unnecessary. But I felt on the 26th of November that nothing but the support of a united Government, after that letter of the noble Lord, would give me the chance of bringing this matter to a successful issue. I should then appear to have adopted the measure because it was recommended by the noble Lord. His letter was dated on the 22nd of November; the Cabinet met on the 26th; and the public impression would have been that the act of the 26th of November was but a servile adoption of the course recommended by the noble Lord. Still, notwithstanding this total alteration of my position, I would not have abandoned the post of danger if I had been supported by a united Cabinet. But that was not the result of our deliberations. It was my painful duty to differ from one for whom I have felt the sincerest friendship — for whose public and private character I felt and still feel the highest respect—I mean my noble Friend, Lord Stanley. The whole of these deliberations passed in the most entire and cordial amity; but his view, of course sincerely adopted, after mature deliberation, was a persuasion that the danger was greatly magnified, and that there was no necessity for the suspension of these laws. That was his opinion. My noble Friend stated not only that a suspension was not necessary, but he thought that there was no necessity for 89 a reconsideration of the Corn Law. I wish to give my noble Friend full credit for having formed his opinion with perfect honesty both of thought and purpose; but my opinion differed from his. I thought that there was a perfect justification at the time for extraordinary measures, and that the adoption of extraordinary measures would compel the reconsideration of the Corn Law. My noble Friend was not the only Member of the Administration who would have refused me the inestimable aid of his counsel and support; and that being the case—believing as I did that his resignation would be followed by that of others—thinking that under such circumstances the attempt to settle the question, which I thought to settle, would fail, and that I should fail after having made new combinations, and that I should be compelled to offer worse terms than the interests in question were entitled to claim at my hands, I felt it to be my duty, not being supported by the unanimous voice of my Colleagues, humbly to tender to Her Majesty my resignation. That resignation Her Majesty was pleased to accept; and as my late Colleagues were not themselves prepared to carry on the Government, Her Majesty, of Her own choice, sent for the noble Lord. The noble Lord undertook the task of forming an Administration—I believed then that I was in the situation of a private Member—that I was reduced to the ranks, and that I was at entire liberty to act on the suggestions of my own conscience; and I do not hesitate to say that in that capacity I would have done all in my power to promote the settlement of this question. The duty of adjusting would then have been left to the noble Lord, and in my capacity as a private Member I repeat that I would have done all I could to facilitate a fair and final settlement of the question. I remained under the impression that my functions had ceased until Saturday, the 20th of December. On Thursday, the 18th, it was intimated to me by Her Majesty that the noble Lord had undertaken the duty of forming an Administration, and on the 19th I received a gracious communication from Her Majesty stating that, as my relation to Her Majesty was about to terminate, she wished again to see me, for the purpose of taking a final farewell; and Saturday, the 20th of December, was the day appointed for that purpose. Upon waiting on Her Majesty—having heard through the courtesy of the noble Lord that he had found all his efforts to form an Administration 90 were in vain—upon waiting on Her Majesty she was pleased to inform me, that so far from my taking my final leave, She was obliged to demand of me that I should withdraw my offer of resignation. Her Majesty had understood from those of my Colleagues who had differed from me that they were unprepared to form, and did not advise the formation, of a Government on the principle of the existing protective system. That the noble Lord, having undertaken the formation of a Government, had failed, from causes which it is unnecessary for me to notice; and the noble Lord having signified to Her Majesty that he had failed in his attempt to form a Government, Her Majesty requested that I should not persist, in the tender of my resignation. I do not hesitate to say that I informed Her Majesty on the instant, and without a moment's hesitation, that the noble Lord having failed, and the Colleagues with whom I had heretofore acted not thinking it advisable to form an Administration, I did inform Her Majesty on the instant that I would return to town as Her Majesty's Minister—that I would withdraw my resignation, and inform my Colleagues of my determination, and urge them to assist me in carrying on the business of the country. I resolved, therefore, to meet them in the capacity of the Minister of the Crown, and to submit to them the measures I proposed to bring before Parliament. My noble Friend at once expressed the regret he felt that he could not co-operate with me in the difficult circumstances in which I was placed; but my Colleagues generally thought it was their duty to assist me in the arduous task I had undertaken. I have now, Sir, stated to the House the circumstances under which I felt it my duty to tender my resignation, and also the circumstances under which I again returned to office. Sir, I have given, on the earliest day on which it is possible, notice, that it is my intention, on the part of the Government, to submit to the consideration of the House measures connected with the commercial and financial affairs of the country. My firm determination is not to anticipate discussion. I know that the information I have given must be imperfect—I know that it may give rise to some misconception, and that I must ask for a suspension of the judgment of the House; but my desire is to disconnect a great political question from the mere personal and party one; to keep my explanation, so far as it refers to personal matters, distinct 91 from the great question itself, and my explanation therefore is necessarily imperfect. Therefore I do hope, that after having referred to the evidence in the possession of the Government, although many may think that the conclusions to which I and others have come as to the danger have been erroneous, I advise them not to be too confident, as we have yet seven months to pass before a new supply of food can be obtained for the people. I remember the accounts that have been lately coming in; but I ask the House not to form too precipitate a conclusion that the danger has passed. It is not so. Sir, I trust I may have satisfied some of those who think the conclusions were erroneous, that, at least, the advice was honest, for advising a resort to extraordinary measures. Sir, you can hardly estimate what a painful position it is for those whose public duty requires them to take precautions against so fearful a calamity as famine. I am charged with treason towards the agricultural interest—treason, indeed, it would be, if, with my deep conviction and solemn impressions of the position in which the country was placed, I subjected the agricultural interest to the odium of claiming protection against the hazard of scarcity—of calling for votes of public money for purchasing oats and other grain, while at the same time I resisted on their part any relaxation of the protective duties. Why, there are some points in which you could not possibly resist it. I take the law as it applies to the introduction of Indian corn. It is in a most anomalous state, because the present amount of duty on Indian corn depends on the price of barley. There is no connexion between them. There is no reason why it should rise and fall with the price of barley. Suppose a proposition had been made at the meeting of Parliament for the admission of Indian corn, what would be the consequence? Suppose the worst of things arises in Ireland, which I anticipate as possible, which I am afraid is probable, what would be the feeling with regard to the great agricultural interests of this country, if I, a member of it, had positively refused to make the slightest relaxation in the law? But this I tell you, to touch the Corn Law in some slight point, like that of Indian corn, would be dangerous to it. I thought it would be unjust to relax it upon one article, and to confine it to the nobler species of grain, oats, and wheat. Sir, I would rather keep the law intact and refuse to admit Indian corn, than come down to 92 the House with such a proposition, and refuse to relax the duties on other descriptions of grain. I recollect the notice given by the hon. Member for Winchester, which was brought forward for the special benefit of the agricultural interest. Would it be possible to relax the law in that instance, and refuse it in the others? Sir, I venture to think that it would be impossible, consistently with the true interests of agriculture, to take such a step. Sir, I have felt, as I said before, that when after the severe labour of the last Session of Parliament, almost every hour of the recess was devoted to calculating the chances that might result from the disease, and to collecting evidence on the subject, night and day, and adopting precautions against the possibility of the calamity which might result from such a state of the crop—I felt it rather hard to find myself the object of accusations that I was unfaithful to the interests of the country, or to any special and peculiar interest. I cannot, of course, but recollect the repeated manifestations of great confidence which I have at various times experienced—those manifestations cannot be without their effect on my mind—but notwithstanding those manifestations of confidence, the constant repetition of those observations to which I have adverted, of those accusations that I have been unfaithful, renders it absolutely necessary that I should allude to them. I have over and over again attempted to define the relation in which I conceived myself to stand with respect to party, to my country, and to my Sovereign, and it is necessary that I should again describe that relation. I see it over and over again repeated, that I am under a personal obligation for holding the great office which I have the honour to occupy. I see it over and over again repeated, that I was placed in that position by a party, and that the party which elevated me to my present position is powerful enough also to displace me. I see constantly put forth allusions to the power of those men to remove me from office. I am afraid that, with respect to holding the office that I hold, there is a very material difference between the extent of the obligation and the amount of the penalty. I am not under an obligation to any man, or to any body of men, for being compelled to submit to the sacrifices which I have submitted to, and to undergo the official duties and labour which I have undertaken. I do not underrate the distinction and importance of the position; 93 but let us understand—and I am speaking not for myself, but for the many honourable men who have preceded me of different parties—let us understand what is the nature of the obligation we owe for being placed in office. As I said before, I do not undervalue the distinction and the power which are attached to the occupation of that office; but what, I ask, is its real value? It does not consist in the power of distributing honours, or conferring appointments. That power, it is true, is inseparable from the office of Prime Minister, and cannot be separated from it without injuring its authority; but the power of giving the highest rewards and the highest offices, is constantly accompanied by the invidious duty of selection, and the disappointment of those who may not have been selected. For my part, I value power not one farthing for any such privilege. I have served four Sovereigns; George III., and his three successors. In the reign of George III. the office which I held was so subordinate, that it was impossible my services could have attracted his notice; but, as I have said, I also served his three successors—George IV. as Regent and King, King William IV., and Queen Victoria; and during the reigns of those Sovereigns, it has been my fate to hold some of the highest offices in the State. I served each of those Sovereigns at critical times and in critical circumstances—I did so with constant truth to each, and I constantly said to each of those Sovereigns that there was but one favour, but one distinction, one reward which I desired, that it was in their power to offer me—namely, the simple acknowledgment, on their part, that I had been to them a loyal and faithful Minister. I have now stated my view of the obligations which are conferred on those in power; but let me remark that there is that valuable privilege in power, that it gives constant and favourable opportunities for exertion; and affords great facilities to the holder of it to render his country service, according to his sense of the public good. That, in my mind, constitutes the real value of official power; and I can say with truth, that I have never abused that power for any unworthy object. I have tried to use it for the promotion of the public interests and the advancement of the public good. I used it for the public advantage, and in doing so I cannot charge myself with any conduct at variance with the true and comprehensive policy of a Conservative Minister. Sir, I do not think 94 it at variance with Conservative policy, that I and my Colleagues have attempted to repair the disasters of Cabul—that we have attempted to infuse into the Indian army that spirit which had been checked by the defeats and misfortunes of Afghanistan. Nor do I think it inconsistent with true Conservative policy, that I have laboured to assuage that feeling of animosity which for a long time prevailed between this country and another powerful and great nation; and I cannot think that this paragraph in the Speech of the Sovereign—The Convention concluded with France in the course of last year, for the more effectual suppression of the Slave Trade, is about to be carried into immediate execution by the active co-operation of the two Powers on the coast of Africa. It is my desire that our present union, and the good understanding which so happily exists between us, may always be employed to promote the interests of humanity, and to secure the peace of the world;"—I cannot, I repeat, think it inconsistent with true Conservative policy, that we should be enabled to insert that paragraph, and that we should be engaged in trying to efface the recollections of the exploits of both countries in war, or extracting from those recollections everything which savours of bitterness; that we should be trying to engage in a rivalry, not in exploits on the field of blood, but in an honourable competition for the advancement of commerce and civilization, and the improvement of the social condition of the people. It is not inconsistent with true Conservative policy, that we should increase the trade of the country by removing restrictions; nor is it inconsistent with sound Conservative policy, that we should reduce the taxation of the country whilst we increased its revenue. It is not, in my mind, inconsistent with true Conservative policy, that we have extinguished agitation and discouraged sedition, not by stringent coercive laws, but by encouraging the idea amongst the great body of the people, that we, the rich and powerful, are willing to take a more than ordinary share of the public burdens, and to remove those burdens from the people so far as it is possible. Sir, believe me, to conduct the Government of this country is a most arduous duty; I may say it without irreverence, that these ancient institutions, like our physical frames, are "fearfully and wonderfully made." It is no easy task to ensure the united action of an ancient monarchy, a proud aristocracy, and a reformed constituency. I have done everything I could do, and 95 have thought it consistent with true Conservative policy, to reconcile these three branches of the State. I have thought it consistent with true Conservative policy to promote so much of happiness and contentment among the people that the voice of disaffection should be no longer heard, and that thoughts of the dissolution of our institutions should be forgotten in the midst of physical enjoyment. These were my attempts, and I thought them not inconsistent with true and enlarged Conservative policy. These were my objects in accepting office—it is a burden too great for my physical, and far beyond my intellectual structure; and to be relieved from it with perfect honour would be the greatest favour that could be conferred on me. But as a feeling of honour and strong sense of duty require me to undertake those responsible functions, I declare, Sir, that I am ready to incur these risks, to bear these burdens, and to front all these honourable dangers. But, Sir, I will not take the step with mutilated power and shackled authority. I will not stand at the helm during such tempestuous nights as I have seen, if the vessel be not allowed fairly to pursue the course which I think she ought to take. I will not, Sir, undertake to direct the course of the vessel by the observations which have been taken in 1842. I will reserve to myself the marking out of that course; and I must, for the public interest, claim for myself the unfettered power of judging of those measures which I conceive will be better for the country to propose. Sir, I do not wish to be the Minister of England; but while I have the high honour of holding that office, I am determined to hold it by no servile tenure. I will only hold that office upon the condition of being unshackled by any other obligations than those of consulting the public interests, and of providing for the public safety.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
said: Sir, I think it necessary to rise at an early period of this debate, in order to offer to the House an explanation of the course which I thought fit to adopt during the late changes in the Administration which have been brought so prominently before us. In order that I might be enabled to lay this explanation before the House at this early period, I applied to the right hon. Baronet opposite, to lay before Her Majesty my humble application, that I might state in my place in Parliament the circumstances which induced me to take 96 office on the receipt of Her Majesty's command, and subsequently to resign that office. I stated to the right hon. Baronet at the same time, that if it were more convenient for the public service, and more conducive to the objects of the right hon. Gentleman—with regard to any measures he intended to bring forward for the consideration of Parliament—that I would postpone my explanation to any later day, that I should be most ready to comply with his wishes by at once consenting to postpone it. The right hon. Baronet informed me, not only that Her Majesty was graciously pleased to comply with my application, but that it perfectly accorded with his own convenience that I should make this statement at the commencement of the Session. I will now offer that explanation; and I trust when I do so, that if it should be found to have any reference to the measure intended to be proposed by the right hon. Baronet, it will be recollected that I agreed to a postponement of the explanation, if the right hon. Gentleman opposite deemed it necessary. Before I make that explanation, it is necessary for me to refer to a letter which has been mentioned in the course of the speech of the right hon. Baronet; and I refer to it, not because he stated that it caused him embarrassment, but because some persons in their comments upon that letter thought it proper to attribute to me motives in writing it, very different from those which actuated me, and which I will now describe. Private affairs induced me to visit Edinburgh at the latter end of October, and remaining in that city until the beginning of November, the Lord Provost and the corporation of Edinburgh did me the honour of conferring the freedom of the city upon me. On that occasion, I addressed the Lord Provost and the Corporation; and I took especial care in that address (stating at the same time that I took that especial care) not to refer to any measures which might be under the consideration of Her Majesty's Government with respect to the Corn Laws. In a short time after that meeting, the Lord Provost expressed to me his regret that I had not given my opinion on the subject of the Corn Laws; and he further said, that it was the wish of many of the citizens of Edinburgh to have a public dinner, at which it was intended that I should be requested to attend. I said that, in such a case, entertaining, as I did, a strong opinion on the subject of the Corn 97 Laws, I could not be silent, though I could not declare my opinion fully without some risk of embarrassing the counsels of my Sovereign. I found at that time by the public prints and London Gazette, that Her Majesty's servants had met for deliberation on several days, and that no proposition appeared to have been adopted. At all events no step was taken; and I saw also, by the London Gazette, that there had been a further prorogation of Parliament from the day named for its assembling. I thought, under these circumstances, that the Ministers were not doing their duty to their Sovereign and the country. I was of opinion that it would have been wiser to call Parliament together to consider the subject of the Corn Laws; and having seen many statements put forth with respect to the potato crop in Ireland (for the inquiry was not confined to the right hon. Baronet and his Colleagues), I thought something should be immediately done. The right hon. Baronet has stated that a Commission had been appointed by the Government to report on the condition of a crop which forms the food of four millions of the people; and the result of the investigation pursued by that Commission was a statement that four-eighths of the crop were deficient, and that one of the remaining four-eighths would be required for seed, thus leaving only three-eighths of the crop for the supply of the people. I considered such a state of things to be most alarming; and it now appears that I was not alone in this opinion; for the right hon. Baronet himself has stated, that the same opinion was entertained by him at that period, an opinion equally strong, and that in conjunction with three of his Colleagues he had expressed that opinion in a Cabinet Council. I could not know what passed on the occasions of those meetings of Her Majesty's Council; I could only guess from the general result, that the majority of the Cabinet had come to a decision, the consequence of which was inaction. In this state of things I wrote the letter alluded to, which was published, I think, on the 26th of November, which stated strongly my opinion, and also an opinion that as the Government did not seem to be active in taking proper measures, it would be necessary to give some public expression of opinion, in order to control their course, and obtain the redress which was absolutely necessary; and I think that in so stating my opinion to the public, if the 98 facts which the right hon. Baronet has stated are correct, I was perfectly justified. I know that some persons of low minds have supposed that I intended, as it is called, to advertise for office by expressing those opinions; but nothing could be further from my intention. I intended merely to call for such an expression of public opinion as would oblige the Government to take the subject into immediate consideration, and thus save the country from the evils of famine. On the 25th or 26th of November, it appears that the right hon. Baronet again urged on his Colleagues that the ports should be opened, and further, that the Corn Laws themselves should be considered. Unfortunately—for I think it was a misfortune—his Colleagues did not agree to this proposition; and it appears there was a great difference of opinion on the subject. The right hon. Baronet has not indeed explained the extent of the difference; but it was such that the Cabinet could not carry on the Government, and on the 6th of December the Ministry resigned. On the 8th of December, at night, I received the command of Her Majesty to wait on Her at Osborne House, in the Isle of Wight. In obedience to that command I arrived in London on the 10th of December, and on the 11th I proceeded to the Isle of Wight. Of course it appeared to me probable that Her Majesty had received the resignation of Her Ministers, and that She had commanded my presence at Osborne House in order to consult me as to the formation of a new Administration. I felt that, under ordinary circumstances, the only thing which I could properly do, was most respectfully to decline the Commission of Her Majesty, as the party to which I belong are in a minority of from ninety to one hundred in the House of Commons, and I could not, with regard to the public service, expose Her Majesty to the chance of another change of Government, to which my acceptance of office would probably speedily lead. I need not now explain why it was that in the House of Commons those who in general agree with me in opinion, are inferior in numbers to those who generally follow the right hon. Baronet; but I must say on this occasion, that during the whole of our Administration our motives never received a fair construction, nor did our measures ever receive an impartial consideration from those who were our political opponents. But be that as it may, with our minority I should be of opinion that, under ordinary circumstances, it would not be for 99 the public good if we attempted to form an Administration. No sooner, however, was I honoured with an audience by Her Majesty, than Her Majesty informed me that She had sent for me in order to entrust me with the formation of a new Administration. I respectfully stated then to Her Majesty, as I have now stated to this House, that those with whom I acted were in a minority in the House of Commons; and Her Majesty replied, by putting into my hands a paper which Her Majesty said had been given to Her by the right hon. Baronet the day before. That paper stated generally the reasons why the right hon. Baronet resigned, and added, that he should be ready in his private capacity to aid and give every support to the new Minister whom Her Majesty might select to effect a settlement of the question of the Corn Laws. Sir, after perusing this letter, I immediately stated to Her Majesty that this circumstance had altered the state of the question, and that if she would permit me I would consult those with whom I am in the habit of acting, and ascertain what their sentiments were with respect to our duty to Her Majesty. I immediately came back to London and had a consultation with those of my friends who were within my reach. They were of opinion that it was very desirable, if possible, to know what was the exact nature of the measures which the right hon. Baronet would be willing to support. The right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department was good enough to call on me and to inform me generally of the state of this country and Ireland, and communicated to me all the information it was desirable for me to obtain, and I stated to him the wishes of those Gentlemen who were acting with me on this subject. On the following day he informed me that the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) did not think that it was for the public service, or at all a convenient course, that he should state the details of the measures which he had proposed. I thereupon called together those with whom I had acted, and stated to them that I would endeavour to form an outline of the measures on the subject of the Corn Laws, which I proposed to have communicated to the right hon. Baronet, and thus endeavour to ascertain whether they were the measures which he was likely to approve of. I may be here asked what was the exact nature of the measures upon which I wished to learn the sentiments of the right hon. Gentleman. I 100 have already stated I did not think it advisable that, in mere deference to my own party, I should have attempted to form an Administration; but when there was a prospect of the settlement of the Corn Laws by the assistance which we hoped to receive from the right hon. Baronet, I did consider that such a settlement would have proved of such great advantage to the country—would have put an end to such discontent and excitement—that I should be justified in encountering great risks in the attainment of such an object. But there was another and a further object to be considered. Supposing that I should have undertaken to propose a settlement of the question relating to corn, should I have attempted it by proposing to this House a measure on the subject, and by endeavouring to obtain such a majority as would influence the House of Lords in favour of its support—or should I have proposed to Her Majesty the measure of dissolving Parliament, and by such means sought to obtain a triumph over our opponents upon this subject of the Corn Laws by the force of public opinion acting upon a general election? I confess if it were possible to obtain a settlement of the Corn Laws without having recourse to a general election, adding to the strife amongst the various interests of the country, manufacturing and commercial, the landed and agricultural, I should not have hesitated to pursue that course which I consider would have been beneficial to the general interests of the country. But I felt it to be impossible for me to obtain such a concurrence in this House without I had not only those who generally agree with me to support me; not only those also who are supporters of absolute free trade, but also the support of the right hon. Baronet himself and a considerable number of those who usually support him. The right hon. Gentleman again expressed his objection, for various reasons, to state the details of the measure which he would support. I will, if the right hon. Baronet thinks it necessary, read the letter in which he so expressed himself, and of which Her Majesty permitted me to take a copy. It is, however, I think only necessary for me to state that the right hon. Gentleman, for reasons that were no doubt very cogent and forcible, did not think it advisable that a person out of the service of the Crown should be consulted upon the various details of a particular measure, or upon any subsequent modifications of measures, 101 which we should think it necessary to bring forward upon our own responsibility. I had, Sir, then to consider what kind of measure, if I formed a Government, it would be our duty to propose. I acted then with the same feelings with which I wrote the letter alluded to by the right hon. Baronet—a letter written under a strong sense of duty, and with a strong apprehension of danger; and only two persons with whom I was in immediate relation were cognizant of that letter before it was published. The apprehensions of public danger, and the alarming state in which the people generally were placed, induced me to think it necessary to consult those who generally agree in opinion with me, who were dispersed in different parts of the country, before I undertook so arduous a duty as the settlement of the Corn Laws, that I might avoid the risk of forming a Government, and putting the country to great inconvenience, when there was a chance of the measure not being assented to by my Colleagues. Sir, the grounds on which I stated in my letter that the Corn Laws ought to be settled were, that "the imposition of any duty at present, without a provision for its extinction within a short period, would but prolong a contest already sufficiently fruitful of animosity and discontent." Another point on which I placed stress was, that "neither a Government nor a Legislature can ever regulate the corn market with the beneficial effects which the entire freedom of sale and purchase are sure of themselves to produce." I stated further on, "Let the Ministry propose such a revision of the taxes as in their opinion may render the public burdens more just and more equal, let them add any other provisions which caution, and even scrupulous forbearance may suggest." Those were the general principles on which I proposed the consideration of the question as to the Corn Laws. Perhaps I can best explain my views by reading a letter which I had the honour to address to Her Majesty, a part of which was referred to by the right hon. Gentleman. I cannot road it without referring to some measures which the right hon. Gentleman is stated to have in contemplation. I should state that I repeat them from memory, because of the first letter of the right hon. Gentleman, which was shown me by Her Majesty, I never had a copy. This is the letter which I sent to Her Majesty:—Chesham Place, Dec. 16, 1845.Lord John Russell presents his humble duty 102 to Your Majesty, and has the honour to submit to Your Majesty the following considerations:—Sir Robert Peel's letter to Your Majesty, communicated to Lord John Russell at Osborne House, offers the support of Sir Robert Peel to his successors, provided their measures should be founded on certain principles, which are there explained, and framed in a spirit of caution and forbearance towards the interests to be affected.The measures which Sir Robert Peel had in contemplation appear to have been—a present suspension of the duties on corn; a Repeal of the Corn Laws at no remote period, preceded by a diminution of duties; relief to the occupiers of land from burdens by which they are peculiarly affected, so far as it may be practicable.Upon full consideration of these proposals, Lord John Russell is prepared to assent to the opening of the ports, and to the fiscal relief which it was intended to afford.But upon maturely weighing the second proposal, namely, that by which duties would, after a suspension, or temporary repeal, be reimposed and again diminished, there appear to him to be grave objections to such a measure.The advantage given thereby to the land appears to him more apparent than real; the uncertainty of prices in future years would be aggravated, and the prospect of a complete free trade would be still kept in the distance; the prospect alarming the farmer, and the distance irritating the merchant and manufacturer.In this view he finds that many persons deeply engaged to the maintenance and support of the agricultural class entirely participate.So great an object as the settlement of this question, might indeed have been held sufficient to justify the support of Sir Robert Peel's Administration, had they proposed such a measure. But, as Lord John Russell is placed at present, he could not himself propose a measure against which the weight of argument, as well as public opinion, appears to him to preponderate.Had the harvest been plentiful, and corn cheap, it might have been very advisable to have diminished the duties gradually; but the restoration of a duty after suspension, has all the appearance of the re-enactment of a protective law.Lord John Russell humbly submits to Your Majesty, that should the proposal of an immediate repeal, instead of immediate suspension and ultimate repeal of the Corn Law, preclude Sir Robert Pool from affording that support to the new Government which he so spontaneously and handsomely offered in his letter of the 10th of December, Lord John Russell must humbly decline the task so graciously confided to him by Your Majesty.Lord John Russell concurs with the reasoning of Sir Robert Peel, which shows the inexpediency of pledging him to the outline of a series of measures.The measures for fiscal purposes, therefore, would have to be considered in detail by those alone who may be in Your Majesty's service.Lord John Russell trusts that Your Majesty will attribute the reluctance which he feels to undertake the Government, without a previous knowledge of the opinion of Sir Robert Peel, to the extent here stated, to his very deep sense of the injury the country may sustain from the rejection of a measure of such vital importance, and not to a desire to obtain a security for those who may be in power103 Her Majesty was graciously pleased to answer that letter the same evening, informing me that She had sent to Sir Robert Peel, and that She fully appreciated the motives by which I had been actuated. I must say, in this place, that the remarks which have been made out of doors upon my inability to bring those whom I consulted into an agreement on the subject of the Corn Laws, were utterly unfounded. Those whom I consulted were all, with one exception—my brother, the Duke of Bedford—persons who had belonged to Her Majesty's Privy Council, and had been in Cabinet offices in the present and the former reign; and those persons entirely coincided in the sentiments which I entertained on the subject. Her Majesty desired me, the next day, to wait upon Her at Windsor Castle; and when I arrived there, She was graciously pleased to show me a letter of the right hon. Gentleman's, which, if he does not object, I will read to the House. [Sir R. PEEL: I have no objection.]Whitehall, December 17, 1845.Sir Robert Peel presents his humble duty to Your Majesty, and takes the earliest opportunity of acknowledging the receipt of Your Majesty's letter of yesterday, which reached him at a late hour last night.Sir Robert Peel feels assured that Your Majesty will permit him humbly to refer to the communications which he has addressed to Your Majesty, since his tender of resignation, as an evidence of his earnest desire to co-operate in a private capacity in the adjustment of the question of the Corn Laws.In the letter of Lord John Russell to Your Majesty, he expresses his concurrence in the reasoning of Sir Robert Peel, which shows the inexpediency of pledging Sir Robert Peel to the outline of a series of measures connected with the settlement of that question.Lord John Russell requires, at the same time, that Sir Robert Peel should give assurances, which amount substantially to a pledge, that he will support one of those measures, namely, the immediate and total repeal of the Corn Laws.Sir Robert Peel humbly expresses to Your Majesty his regret, that he does not feel it to be consistent with his duty to enter upon the consideration of this important question in Parliament, being fettered by a previous engagement of the nature of that required from him.Now, Sir (continued the noble Lord), I think the right hon. Gentleman has somewhat misunderstood the letter which I addressed to Her Majesty. What I wanted was, not a previous pledge on the part of the right hon. Gentleman; but what I thought was, that the right hon. Gentleman having stated the general nature of the measures he proposed—if we afterwards proposed a measure going beyond what he 104 was prepared to bring forward—if he should then find himself precluded from supporting it, we should incur the same evil I have already alluded to. What I wished from the right hon. Gentleman was, that he should not feel himself precluded from taking the measure into consideration when brought into Parliament. The letter I have just read, though it proceeds on a misunderstanding of my letter, seems to amount substantially to this—that the right hon. Gentleman was quite ready to consider, and did not regard himself as precluded from supporting such a measure, if brought before Parliament by Her Majesty's Ministers. On considering that letter, those with whom I consulted, as well as myself, were of opinion, that though the task was one subject to great risk, though it was full of danger and hazard, yet, placed as we were, we should run that peril, and assure Her Majesty that we would undertake the task. When I came to that determination, I was by no means blind to the very heavy responsibility which lay upon me. I have already said that I wished the question of the Corn Laws settled; but I wished that settlement to be effected, if possible, without a violent struggle between different interests in the country, by the full and deliberate consent of Parliament. I was aware—I hardly know how I should express that opinion—but I was aware that many politicians, and many who care nothing about politics, parties connected with the great manufacturing towns, and interested in the question, as well as men who sit on this side of the House, who are of the Liberal party, whatever their various denominations, had declared, when the question was put to them whether they were disposed to support a measure, brought forward by Sir R. Peel, for the repeal of the Corn Laws, that they would not hesitate to do so, having more at heart the success of the measure, than the advancement of the interests of any political party; while, on the other hand, I was also aware that there were men who followed Sir R. Peel, who would follow him and give him their confidence so as to maintain him in power, but who would not vote for any measure founded on the same principle which I might bring forward. Now, I must state this, because it is a fact, that the opinions to which I refer in favour of such a measure were conveyed to me not only by many persons who were personally known to me, but by many others whose names I had never heard— 105 persons connected with Manchester and other places who were especially anxious for a settlement of the question. I thought it would be incurring great hazard and risk to take upon myself to act upon a different opinion. But I certainly thought that while the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues who supported him in the Cabinet would promote a settlement of the Corn Laws, there were many others, such as the noble Lord who moved the Address to-night, that would give me their support if they thought the measure suited to the circumstances of the country, though I was not the person who possessed their political confidence. But we felt we had a great risk to encounter, and that if we should fail in our attempt, if we proposed a measure only to give rise to a long-protracted struggle, or some new Administration should be formed to begin a new settlement of the question, and propose a new measure, I knew that on us would fall the blame of having attempted what we could not accomplish. While, then, having this difficult task before me, I felt it was necessary that all those with whom I consulted should be ready and willing to take part in an Administration, to bear the risk and encounter the opposition to which they would be exposed, and to give their co-operation and advice as official Ministers of the Crown. I must say that the disposition of those with whom I consulted in general, I must bear this testimony that they looked only to public objects, that they did not consider whether it was for the advantage of their party or of themselves that an Administration should be formed, but that they did consider above all, and over all, the great questions which they were called upon to decide. I therefore told Her Majesty on the 18th of December, that I was ready to undertake the formation of an Administration; but on the following morning, after I had endeavoured to make my arrangements, I found that one of those with whom I had consulted had objections which it was impossible to overcome, and that I should lose his assistance in the Administration which I proposed to form. I do not think it necessary to enter on the grounds of those objections: it is quite enough to say that they deprived me of his assistance in forming an Administration. His name has been frequently mentioned, and I see no reason why I should not state that I refer to Lord Grey. With the highest respect for Lord Grey, for his great talents, for his courage 106 and his honesty, I should, nevertheless, not have thought, on an ordinary occasion, that the loss of a single person, even of his importance, should have prevented me from undertaking the formation of a Government. But when I considered the risk which was to be encountered, and the necessity which existed that we should all act together on this great question—when I considered that my noble Friend was among the first of those acting with me in Parliament, who declared that he regarded no other measure but complete free trade in corn, adequate to meet the exigencies of the country—when I put all those things together, I did think that the task of forming a Government leaving out my noble Friend, was a task which I was not justified in attempting. I could not but think that if my noble Friend was not a Member of the Cabinet, all kinds of interpretations might be put upon his absence, and that the Ministry would be jeopardized at its very commencement. Considering, therefore, the necessity which existed for a complete alliance, I came to the conclusion that it was necessary for me to give up the task which Her Majesty had graciously confided to me. Some people may say that it was possible for me to make up the difference to which I have referred; but I could not but remember that for eight days the country had been without a Government, and I could not but think if I did not succeed, that the right hon. Gentleman would attempt to form an Administration if I were unable to do so. It was with these views that I waited upon Her Majesty on the 20th of December, with the following letter, which I will now read to the House:—Chesham Place, Dec. 20, 1845.Lord John Russell presents his humble duty to Your Majesty, and has the honour to state that he has found it impossible to form an Administration.Lord John Russell was aware from the first moment when Your Majesty was pleased to propose to him this commission, that there were very great difficulties in the way, which it required the most cordial co-operation on the part of his Friends, and the firm support of a large portion of those who followed Sir Robert Peel, to surmount.Lord John Russell has had solely in view the settlement of the question of Corn Laws by which the country is so much agitated.Those who have served Your Majesty and Your Royal Predecessor in Cabinet Offices during the Administrations of Lord Grey and Lord Melbourne, who were now in political connexion with Lord John Russell, were consulted by him. They 107 agreed on the principles by which they would be guided in framing a measure for the repeal of the Corn Laws. Thus one great difficulty was surmounted. But as the party which acts with Lord John Russell is in a minority in both Houses of Parliament, it was necessary to ascertain how far they were likely to obtain the support of Sir Robert Peel.Your Majesty is acquainted with all that has passed on this subject. Lord John Russell is quite ready to admit that Sir Robert Peel has been willing, from the commencement to the end, to diminish the difficulties in the course of a new Government prepared to attempt the settlement of the Corn Laws. But Sir Robert Peel could not, of course, rely on the Support of his political Friends should the proposed measure be in their eyes dangerous and unwise.In this uncertainty of obtaining a majority in the House of Commons, it was absolutely necessary that all those who were prominent in the political party to which Lord John Russell is attached should give their zealous aid, and act in concert in the new Administration.Lord John Russell has, in one instance, been unable to obtain this concert, and he must now consider that task as hopeless, which has been from the beginning hazardous.Lord John Russell is deeply sensible of the embarrassment caused by the present state of public affairs. He will be ready, therefore, to do all in his power, as a Member of Parliament, to promote the settlement of that question, which, in present circumstances, is the source of so much danger, especially to the welfare and peace of Ireland.Lord John Russell would have formed his Ministry on the basis of a complete free trade in corn, to be established at once, without gradation or delay. He would have accompanied that proposal with measures of relief, to a considerable extent, of the occupiers of land, from the burdens to which they are subjected. But he will be little disposed to insist, as a Member of Parliament, on what may seem to Your Majesty's advisers an impracticable course. The country requires, above all things, an early and peaceable settlement of a question which, if not so settled, may in an adverse state of affairs cause a fearful convulsion.I should now state, Sir, that I owe the deepest gratitude to Her Majesty for the gracious manner in which Her Majesty has been pleased to entrust to my hands the task of forming an Administration, and the kindness with which my endeavours have been received. Her Majesty has imposed on me a debt of obligation which I shall feel to the end of my days. I should also state, with respect to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that the offer of his support was spontaneous on his part, and that there was nothing at all in his subsequent communication to Her Majesty which rendered our task more difficult. With regard to my noble Friend, Lord Grey, I was certainly extremely sorry to find that I was not able to overcome his objections; but I should at the same time state that 108 they did not relate to any personal objects of his own, but to matters of a public nature. With respect to the measure now in agitation, the settlement of the Corn Laws, I do hope that we may be able to come to a peaceable settlement of that question at the present time. I see with no inconsiderable surprise, that at meetings of the agricultural interest, it is alleged that the danger in which we are placed has been exaggerated; that scarcity does not exist; that the prospect of famine has been exaggerated; and therefore we ought to leave the protection laws, as far as food is concerned, as they at present stand. But do these gentlemen never carry their thoughts forward? Do they never consider that if it has pleased Providence to visit us with a calamity lighter than was at one time dreaded, there may come a time when scarcity may be undoubted, when it may come home to the eyes, and understandings, and feelings of all men, and when the prospect of famine may be too near and too real not to appeal the stoutest hearts among us? Do these Gentlemen wish to wait for such a time as that? Do they wish to wait till no power of choice is left them—till they have no discretion—and till nothing remains but a capitulation to the multitude, who will imperiously demand the repeal of those laws which limit the supply of food? Has any one ventured to say that, under the law of 1842, enough corn is grown in this country to provide food without the assistance of a foreign supply? The House has heard what the author of that measure has said with regard to what he considers to be the result of his observation of its working. With his experience and great natural talents, placed as he is at the head of affairs in this country—a position which is one of the highest honour that a subject can enjoy; but full, at the same time, as he has truly described it, of the most grave and most solemn responsibility—the right hon. Gentleman is now convinced that its operation is not satisfactory. I trust, therefore, that we are now about to see the settlement of this question. When the right hon. Gentleman brings forward his measure, I may, perhaps, have some observations to make upon the provisions which may accompany it, and also upon the inexpediency of waiting till the present time before any steps were taken. For the present, however, I will refrain from any observations. I must, however, advert to another subject which I 109 always have in my mind when I think of public affairs—I mean the subject of Ireland. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman has more means than I have of bringing forward such a measure as will obtain the assent of majorities in both Houses of Parliament. With respect, however, to Ireland, I consider that I should be enabled to conduct the government of that country in a satisfactory manner by the aid of persons whose spirit of conciliation and firmness would have tempered and allayed many of the evils which afflict that country. I certainly did consider, that while I proposed a measure for the abolition of restrictive duties on corn, I might be able to bring forward a large and comprehensive scheme on the subject of Ireland, which would lay the foundation of future peace. I did certainly indulge such dreams; and it is upon that account, and upon that account only, that I regret that the expectations which I had entertained of forming a Government have been disappointed. I cannot assent to any opinions which may be expressed upon the wisdom of the present Government's conduct towards Ireland, from the time when they came into office to the present hour. There are in Ireland two parties; one of them seeking to carry that dangerous and fatal measure, the Repeal of the Union, while the other party ask for measures which must affect their fellow subjects injuriously, and evidently consider that partiality should still be the rule of government, and that their Roman Catholic brethren are not entitled to the same favour as the Protestant portion of the community. While I see Ireland divided between these parties, each of them banded in support of their own views, I cannot consider that there is any prospect of peace in that country. I am sorry to say, that I do not see any symptom of measures which will procure peace in Ireland, and induce its people to look with affection towards this country. I will not, however, enter further on that subject. I have stated to the House what took place when Her Majesty was pleased to call on me to form a Government. I have stated also why I was unable to effect that; and also, very shortly, my opinion on the policy which has been pursued towards Ireland. I wish now only to say, that whether in or out of office, I shall be ready to give my assent to any measure which is calculated to promote the true interests of the country; and I trust that the permanent settlement of this great question may take its 110 date from the present Session of Parliament.** The following is a copy of the Letter so frequently referred to:—TO THE ELECTORS OF THE CITY OF LONDON.Gentlemen,—The present state of the country, in regard to its supply of food, cannot be viewed without apprehension. Forethought and bold precaution may avert any serious evils—indecision and procrastination may produce a state of suffering which it is frightful to contemplate.Three weeks ago it was generally expected that Parliament would be immediately called together. The announcement that Ministers were prepared at that time to advise the Crown to summon Parliament, and to propose on their first meeting a suspension of the import duties on corn, would have caused orders at once to be sent to various ports of Europe and America for the purchase and transmission of grain for the consumption of the United Kingdom. An Order in Council dispensing with the law was neither necessary nor desirable. No party in Parliament would have made itself responsible for the obstruction of a measure so urgent and so beneficial.The Queen's Ministers have met and separated, without affording us any promise of such seasonable relief.It becomes us, therefore, the Queen's subjects, to consider how we can best avert, or at all events mitigate, calamities of no ordinary magnitude.Two evils require your consideration. One of these is the disease in the potatoes, affecting very seriously parts of England and Scotland, and committing fearful ravages in Ireland.The extent of this evil has not yet been ascertained, and every week, indeed, tends either to reveal unexpected disease, or to abate in some districts the alarm previously entertained. But there is one misfortune peculiar to the failure in this particular crop. The effect of a bad corn harvest is, in the first place, to diminish the supply in the market, and to raise the price. Hence diminished consumption, and the privation of incipient scarcity, by which the whole stock is more equally distributed over the year, and the ultimate pressure is greatly mitigated. But the fear of the breaking out of this unknown disease in the potatoes induces the holders to hurry into the market, and thus we have, at one and the same time, rapid consumption and impending deficiency, scarcity of the article, and cheapness of price. The ultimate suffering must thereby be rendered far more severe than it otherwise would be. The evil to which I have adverted, may be owing to an adverse season, to a mysterious disease in the potato, to want of science, or of care in propagating the plant. In any of these cases, Government is no more subject to blame for the failure of the potato crop, than it was entitled to credit for the plentiful corn harvests which we have lately enjoyed.Another evil, however, under which we are suffering, is the fruit of Ministerial counsel and Parliamentary law. It is the direct consequence of an Act of Parliament, passed three years ago, on the recommendation of the present advisers of the Crown. By this law grain of all kinds has been made subject to very high duties on importation. These duties are so contrived that the worse the quality of the corn, the higher is the duty; so
§ MR. DISRAELI
said: Sir, I rise with some feeling of embarrassment to address the House at this stage of the debate, as it is only since I have entered the House that I have had the advantage of reading Her Majesty's Speech; and I had understood that the great question which now agitates this country was not to be discussed on the present occasion. I thought that, under protest perhaps, we should be allowed to address Her Majesty in language closely akin to that in which Her Majesty had addressed us, and that all topics which could excite any difference of opinion might be avoided. After the announcement of the right hon. Gentleman, that an early day was to be appointed for the discussion of that question, I should have abstained from intruding myself on the House at the present moment, had it not been for the peculiar tone of the right hon. Gentleman. I think that tone ought not to pass unnoticed. At the same time Ithat when good wheat rises to 70s. a quarter, the average price of all wheat is 57s. or 58s., and the duty 15s. or 14s. a quarter. Thus the corn barometer points to fair, while the ship is bending under a storm.This defect was pointed out many years ago by writers on the Corn Laws, and was urged upon the attention of the House of Commons when the present Act was under consideration.But I confess that on the general subject my views have, in the course of twenty years, undergone a great alteration. I used to be of opinion that corn was an exception to the general rules of political economy; but observation and experience have convinced me that we ought to abstain from all interference with the supply of food. Neither a Government nor a Legislature can ever regulate the corn market with the beneficial effects which the entire freedom of sale and purchase are sure of themselves to produce.I have for several years endeavoured to obtain a compromise on this subject. In 1839, I voted for a Committee of the whole House, with the view of supporting the substitution of a moderate fixed duty for the sliding scale. In 1841, I announced the intention of the then Government of proposing a fixed duty of 8s. a quarter. In the past Session I proposed the imposition of some lower duty. These propositions were successively rejected. The present First Lord of the Treasury met them in 1839, 1840, and 1841, by eloquent panegyrics on the existing system—the plenty it had caused, the rural happiness it had diffused. He met the propositions for diminished protection in the same way in which he had met the offer of securities for Protestant interests in 1817 and 1825 — in the same way in which he met the proposal to allow Manchester, Leeds, and Birmingham to send Members to Parliament in 1830.The result of resistance to qualified concessions must be the same in the present instance as in those I have mentioned. It is no longer worth while to contend for a fixed duty. In 1841 the free-trade party would have agreed to a duty112 do not wish to conceal my opinions on the general subject. I am not one of the converts. I am, perhaps, a member of a fallen party. To the opinions which I have expressed in this House in favour of protection, I adhere. They sent me to this House, and if I had relinquished them, I should have relinquished my seat also. I must say that the tone of the right hon. Gentleman is hardly fair towards the House, while he stops discussion upon a subject on which he himself has entered, and gives vent to his feelings with a fervency unusual to him. Sir, I admire a Minister who says that he holds power to give effect to his own convictions. These are sentiments that we must all applaud. Unfortunate will be the position of this country when a Minister pursues a line of policy adverse to the convictions which he himself entertains. But when we come to a question of such high delicacy as the present, we may be permitted to ask ourselvesof 8s. a quarter on wheat, and, after a lapse of years, this duty might have been further reduced, and ultimately abolished. But the imposition of any duty at present, without a provision for its extinction within a short period, would but prolong a contest already sufficiently fruitful of animosity and discontent. The struggle to make bread scarce and dear, when it is clear that part, at least, of the additional price goes to increase rent, is a struggle deeply injurious to an aristocracy which (this quarrel once removed) is strong in property, strong in the construction of our Legislature, strong in opinion, strong in ancient associations and the memory of immortal services.Let us, then, unite to put an end to a system which has been proved to be the blight of commerce, the bane of agriculture, the source of bitter divisions among classes, the cause of penury, fever, mortality, and crime among the people.But if this end is to be achieved, it must be gained by the unequivocal expression of the public voice. It is not to be denied that many elections for cities and towns in 1841, and some in 1845, appear to favour the assertion that free trade is not popular with the great mass of the community. The Government appear to be waiting for some excuse to give up the present Corn Law. Let the people, by petition, by address, by remonstrance, afford them the excuse they seek. Let the Ministry propose such a revision of the taxes as in their opinion may render the public burdens more just and more equal; let them add any other provisions which caution, and even scrupulous forbearance, may suggest; but let the removal of restrictions on the admission of the main articles of food and clothing used by the mass of the people be required, in plain terms, as useful to all great interests, and indispensable to the progress of the nation.
§ I have the honour to be, Gentlemen,
§ Your obedient servant,
§ J. RUSSELL.
§ Edinburgh, Nov. 22.113
§ what are the circumstances which require one so able, and one so eminent to enter upon the vindication of himself, and to rise in this House, amid the cheers of his former opponents, to place himself in a position of an apologetical character to those who were once of his own party? I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman has arrived at a conscientious conclusion on this great subject. The right hon. Gentleman says, that it is not so much by force of argument, as by the cogency of observation that he has arrived at this conclusion. But, Sir, surely the observation which the right hon. Gentleman has made, might have been made when he filled a post scarcely less considerable than that which he now occupies, and enjoyed power scarcely less ample than that which he now wields in this House. I want to know how it is that the right hon. Gentleman, who certainly enjoys the full maturity of manhood, should not have arrived at this opinion, which I deplore, although conscientious, at the moment when his present Government was formed? What, Sir, are we to think of the eminent statesman, who, having served under four Sovereigns, unable to complain of want of experience or Royal confidence—who, having been called on to steer the ship on so many occasions, and under such perilous circumstances, has, only during the last three years, found it necessary entirely to change his convictions on that important topic which must have presented itself for more than a quarter of a century to his consideration? Sir, I must say that such a Minister may be conscientious, but that he is unfortunate. I will say also, that he ought to be the last man in the world to turn round and upbraid his party in a tone of menace. Sir, there is a difficulty in finding a parallel to the position of the right hon. Gentleman in any part of history. The only parallel which I can find is an incident in the late war in the Levant, which was terminated by the policy of the noble Lord opposite. I remember when that great struggle was taking place, when the existence of the Turkish empire was at stake, the late Sultan, a man of great energy and fertile in resources, was determined to fit out an immense fleet to maintain his empire. Accordingly a vast armament was collected. It consisted of many of the finest ships that were ever built. The crews were picked men, the officers were the ablest that could be found, and both 114 officers and men were rewarded before they fought. There never was an armament which left the Dardanelles similarly appointed since the days of Solyman the Great. The Sultan personally witnessed the departure of the fleet; all the muftis prayed for the success of the expedition, as all the muftis here prayed for the success of the last general election. Away went the fleet; but what was the Sultan's consternation, when the lord high admiral steered at once into the enemy's port! Now Sir, the lord high admiral on that occasion was very much misrepresented. He, too, was called a traitor, and he, too vindicated himself. "True it is," said he, "I did place myself at the head of this valiant armada—true it is that my Sovereign embraced me—true it is that all the muftis in the empire offered up prayers for my success; but I have an objection to war. I see no use in prolonging the struggle, and the only reason I had for accepting the command, was that I might terminate the contest by betraying my master." And, Sir, these reasons offered by a man of great plausibility, of vast adroitness, have had their effect, for—you may be surprised at it—but I assure you it is a fact, which by the way, the gallant officer opposite (Commodore Napier) can testify, that he is at this moment the First Lord of the Admiralty at Constantinople, under the new reign. [SIR C. NAPIER: I thought he was dead.] The gallant Commodore says that he is dead. At any rate he was not shot for treason. Well now, the right hon. Gentleman has turned round on us, and in a peroration, the elaborate character of which remarkably contrasted with the garrulous confidence of all the doings of his Cabinet, the right hon. Gentleman told us that he had been assured that a certain power had made him Minister, and that a certain power would prevent him from being a Minister; but that he protested against such an authority, and that he never would hold office by so servile a tenure. Sir, no one can fill a position such as that of the right hon. Gentleman, and give utterance to sentiments so magnanimous as his without reference to antecedents. And that leads us to the consideration of that Government by parties which must never be lost sight of in estimating the position of the right hon. Gentleman. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to say "I am the First Minister;"—and, by the by, I think the right hon. Gentleman might as well at 115 once adopt the phraseology of Walpole, and call himself the sole Minister, for his speech was rich in egotistic rhetoric;—it is all very well for him to speak of himself as the sole Minister, for as all his Cabinet voted against him, he is quite right not to notice them. I repeat, it is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to come forward to this table and say—"I am thinking of posterity, although, certainly, I am doing on this side of the table the contrary to that which I counselled when I stood upon the other; but my sentiments are magnanimous, my aim is heroic, and, appealing to posterity, I care neither for your cheers nor your taunts." But, Sir, we must ask ourselves—as Members of the House of Commons, as the subjects of a popular Government, we must ask ourselves — what were the means, what the machinery, by which the right hon. Gentleman acquired his position, how he obtained power to turn round upon his supporters, and to treat them with contempt and disdain? Sir, the right hon. Gentleman has supported a different policy for a number of years. Well do we remember on this side of the House—perhaps not without a blush—well do we remember the efforts which we made to raise him to the bench on which he now sits. Who does not remember the "sacred cause of protection," the cause for which Sovereigns were thwarted—Parliaments dissolved—and a nation taken in! Delightful, indeed, to have the right hon. Gentleman entering into all his confidential details, when, to use his courtly language, he "called" upon his Sovereign. Sir, he called on his Sovereign; but would his Sovereign have called on the right hon. Baronet, if, in 1841, he had not placed himself, as he said, at the head of the gentlemen of England? that well-known position, to be preferred even to the confidence of Sovereigns and of courts. It is all very well for the right hon. Baronet to take this highflying course; but I think myself—I say it with great respect for Gentlemen on this side of the House, and Gentlemen on the other; I say it without any wish to achieve a party triumph, for I believe I belong to a party which can triumph no more; for we have nothing left on our side except the constituencies which we have not betrayed; but I do say that my conception of a great statesman is of one who represents a great idea—an idea which may lead him to power—an idea with which he may identify himself—an idea 116 which he may develop—an idea which he may and can impress on the mind and conscience of a nation. That, Sir, is my notion of what makes a man a great statesman. I do not care whether he be a manufacturer or a manufacturer's son. That is a grand—that is indeed an heroic position. But I care not what may be the position of a man who never originates an idea — a watcher of the atmosphere — a man who, as he says, takes his observations, and when he finds the wind in a certain quarter trims to suit it. Such a person may be a powerful minister, but he is no more a great statesman than the man who gets up behind a carriage is a great whip. Both are disciples of progress. Both, perhaps, may get a good place. But how far the original momentum is indebted to their powers, and how far their guiding prudence regulates the lash or the rein, it is not necessary for me to notice. Why, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman places himself in the House in this position. He tells us that he has held high office under four Sovereigns, "George III., George IV., King William, and Queen Victoria." His historic career—for it amounts to that—is, that he has served four Sovereigns—it is his own recommendation. It is as much as to say—"I am able and experienced—the Grandfather of our present Sovereign trusted me—a Regent and a King trusted me—a King in a revolution trusted me—a Conservative Sovereign trusted me. I must be wise, and able, and experienced." He tells you this as his recommendation, and he adds, "Follow me." Follow him!—Who is to follow him, or why is anybody to follow him—or where is anybody to follow him to? What does he mean to do—this great statesman, who talks with a sneer of an "ancient monarchy," and a "proud aristocracy," and the difficulty of reconciling them with a reformed constituency; and who tells us that we are but drags on the wheel, and that he is the only driver. Have we arrived at that? Is that the opinion of the majority of this House, or even of the minority—of the majority of the country, or even of the minority? Is it their opinion that ancient monarchies and proud aristocracies are inconvenient lumber, to be got rid of on the first convenient opportunity—that they are things irreconcileable with a reformed constituency, reformed under this Minister's own protest, in spite of his own protest, this man who comes forward and tells us he is devoting himself to his 117 country, and sacrificing himself to his Sovereign, and that he is the only man who can advise you what counsel it is most expedient for you to pursue? He tells us that he is still purely Conservative: for, asks he, "has not my administration put down agitation?" Sir, I confess when I heard this, that great as undoubtedly are the powers of Parliamentary face of the right hon. Gentleman—I confess, Sir, that I was thunderstruck. I could forget the agitated councils called without a cause, and dismissed without a consequence—the candid explanation of the situation of his Cabinet—his admission that the only man in that body who dared to speak the truth differed from him; the almost humble confession that in spite of Lyon Playfair, and Professor Lindley, he had been misled in his information; that his viceroy, who being a diplomatist, communicated his principal information in a postscript, had caused such false impressions in the Cabinet; that the Secretary of State was obliged to send a courier for an explanation: all these frank details I could afford to admire in one who has taken up so lofty a position as the right hon. Baronet says he has taken, and who can afford to speak truth; but really when he told us that his Conservative Administration had put down agitation, when he said this in the face of the hon. Member for Stockport, in the face of the hon. Member for Durham, then, Sir, I confess, that the right hon. Baronet did manage to achieve the first great quality of oratory, that he did succeed in making an impression on his audience! Put down agitation! Will he rise and deny that he is legislating or about to legislate with direct reference to agitation? What other excuses has he—for even his mouldy potatoes have failed him, even the reports of his vagrant professors have failed him—to induce the noble Representative of South Lancashire, and the hon. Representative of Yorkshire, to come forward and stand his bail? Sir, I remember, in the midst of a great revolution, when all the principles of our social system were called into question—when we heard much of the inconvenience of ancient monarchies and proud aristocracies — when it was necessary to invent some means, to devise some expedient to manage reformed constituencies — well do I remember that great mind, which was to control divided counsels—to guide a distracted people, delivering itself of that oracle, which rung so solemnly over the land, "Register, 118 register, register." Register, some thought, to save the Corn Laws; some to save the Monarchy; some to save the Church. We went on registering; and the right hon. Gentleman went on making protection speeches—a great orator before a green table beating a red box. Then he showed us the sovereign passion — we were to register to make him a Minister. The statesman who opposed Catholic Emancipation against arguments as cogent as any which the gentlemen of the League can now offer—in spite of political expediency a thousand times more urgent than that which now besets them—always ready with his arguments and amendments—always ready with his fallacies ten thousand times exploded—always ready with his Virgilian quotations to command a cheer—the moment that an hon. and learned Gentleman was returned for the county of Clare, then immediately we saw this right hon. Gentleman not ashamed to recall his arguments—not ashamed to confess that he was convinced; but telling us, on the contrary, that he should be ashamed if he had not the courage to come forward and propose a resolution exactly contrary to his previous policy. And so is it always with the right hon. Gentleman. Nursed in the House of Commons, entertaining no idea but that of Parliamentary success, if you wish to touch him to the quick, you must touch him on the state of the poll. The moment that he heard of South Lancashire being lost—by means respecting which I will not, at this moment, say anything—the moment he heard that Yorkshire was in danger—the right hon. Baronet—the Minister who has served four Sovereigns—the Gentleman who has had the question of protection before his official mind in every shape which ingenuity could devise, during his Parliamentary career of a quarter of a century—this Gentleman suddenly finds that the arguments in favour of protection to native industry are not, after all, so cogent as he once thought them; he discovers that the principle of protection cannot be supported; and, having arrived at this conclusion, then, with all the debating dexterity—with all the Parliamentary adroitness he possesses, he comes forward—he has the sublime audacity to come forward and confess that at his ripe age he is convinced by arguments the very same we have heard for the last thirty years: and, greater triumph still, he has the Parliamentary tact to convince most of his supporters that he 119 is sincere. Sir, I give the right hon. Gentleman full credit—I admire his Parliamentary powers—I admit them—I appreciate them; but it is really too much for a Minister who has led such a career—who offers us such arguments—who tells us, in effect, that it is not intellect which should govern—that it is not great and true ideas which should govern; but that it is the state of the registration, and the accident of the poll—it is, I repeat, too much for such a man to come forward and talk to us in high-pitched language about his lofty spirit, about his determination never to be the tool of those of whom, when in opposition, he was, by the by, the very ready counsellor — to come forward and say that he is but thinking of posterity—that he is touched by the love of fame, the noblest of all aspirations, and which alone constitutes the highest reward for his great toils. What an advantage to a country to be governed by a Minister who thinks only of posterity! The right hon. Gentleman has before assured us that he and his Colleagues are only thinking of "the future." Who can doubt it? Look at them. Throw your eyes over the Treasury Bench. See stamped on each ingenuous front, "the last infirmity of noble mind." They are all of them, as Spenser says, "imps of fame." They are just the men in the House you would fix upon as thinking only of posterity. The only thing is, when one looks at them, seeing of what they are composed, one is hardly certain whether "the future," of which they are thinking, is indeed posterity, or only the coming quarter day! I should like to know what posterity may think of a Cabinet which resigns office because it cannot support a policy, and accepts office for the same reason. In the history of England—in the history of parties, I defy any man — I defy even the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, with his disciplined memory, and cultivated mind—I defy any man learned in British history, to adduce me a case parallel to this. And what is to be the result? If "coming events cast their shadows before," I suppose no Gentleman in a sane state of mind can doubt it. We resisted the moderate proposal of the Whigs. We rejected it, confiding in the experience of that practised individual—the Gentleman who has served four Sovereigns. We were blind enough to believe, that a Gentleman of such great ability—of such long experience—who had had such immense advantages, could not 120 make very gross and palpable blunders. We accepted him for a leader to accomplish the triumph of protection; and now we are to attend the catastrophe of protection. Of course the Whigs will be the chief mourners. They cannot but weep for their innocent, although it was an abortion; but ours was a fine child. Who can forgot how its nurse dandled it, fondled it? What a charming babe! Delicious little thing! so thriving! Did you ever see such a beauty for its years? This was the tone, the innocent prattle. And then the nurse, in a fit of patriotic frenzy, dashes its brains out, and comes down to give master and mistress an account of this terrible murder. The nurse, too, a person of a very orderly demeanour; not given to drink; and never showing any emotion except of late, when kicking against protection. How ungrateful! For, God knows, we were more than obedient—we were servile. But how is it now? The most valuable Colleague of the right hon. Gentleman—I say so for good reasons—has protested against him. Lord Stanley, who when the right hon. Baronet was in opposition was the great adhesion that was to make Conservative principles triumphant—he, if I have not been misinformed by some one too zealous to hear aright, for I have not had the advantage of hearing that noble Lord's speech to-night in another place—but I am told that that noble Lord has stated that he quitted the Ministry because he found they were leaving the principles upon which they obtained the confidence of Parliament. I say the confidence of Parliament. I am not one of those who have ever exaggerated the character, the powers, the privileges of Parliament, or of either separate House; but, after all, is it or is it not the Constitution of the country? I want to know what leading man dare rise in this House—I care not on which side he sits—who will for a moment pretend that he has gained the position he occupies except by the confidence of Parliament? It is very well to come to us with stories about his Sovereign, and about posterity, but where would the right hon. Baronet have been if the House of Commons had not existed? Now, I say it is utterly impossible to carry on your Parliamentary Constitution except by political parties. I say there must be distinct principles as lines of conduct adopted by public men. Away with your talk about going down to Windsor, and finding that Lord John This, or 121 Lord William That, cannot form a Ministry, and saying, "Then I must form one, and bring all my Colleagues to support measures that they entirely disapprove;"—is that the Constitution that governs England? If the Constitution that governs England be a Constitution that makes men recommend that of which they do not approve, then the sooner we get rid of this Constitution the better. It comes to that; and the noble Lord opposite, the Member for London, who has a respect for the Parliamentary Constitution, and who represents a party that are nothing if they do not respect a Parliamentary Constitution, ought to resist such a vulgar, ignoble innovation. I can understand an absolute Sovereign, in a country of high civilization, governing through a Council of State selected by her arbitrary but intelligent will, from the ablest men of the country; but we have a Parliamentary Constitution. It may have committed great wrongs: undoubtedly it has achieved immense and magnificent results; but this House of Commons still forms a part of the Constitution, though how degraded and demoralized it may become, if the principles we have heard to-night are to be acknowledged, I confess I cannot tell. If the principles advocated by the right hon. Baronet to-night be once admitted, I ask any one capable of forming an opinion upon public questions, whether Parliament can be anything but a servile senate? Six hundred men met together without the sympathy of great principles and great ideas, to wield all the power of a country, with all the patronage of the country, at the command of one man appointed by the Sovereign to direct them as he wills,—who can doubt what the result would be? In a neighbouring country, yet in the infancy of its representative system, and therefore to be looked at in a kind apologetic spirit, they have no Parliamentary parties; and at this moment, while we are talking of the danger of the Napoleonists and the republicans, the danger is a corrupted senate—an assembly professing to represent the people, and wielding all their power, at the command of a single individual. Do you aspire to such a position? You will not be brought to this. But what may you in the interval have to pass through? If you had a daring, dashing Minister, a Danby or a Walpole, who tells you frankly, "I am corrupt, and I wish you to be corrupt also," we might guard against this; but 122 what I cannot endure is to hear a man come down and say, "I will rule without respect of party, though I rose by party; and I care not for your judgment, for I look to posterity." Sir, very few people reach posterity. Who amongst us may arrive at that destination I presume not to vaticinate. Posterity is a most limited assembly. Those gentlemen who reach posterity are not much more numerous than the planets. But one thing is quite evident, that while we are appealing to posterity—while we are admitting the principles of relaxed commerce—there is extreme danger of our admitting the principles of relaxed politics. I advise, therefore, that we all, whatever may be our opinions about free trade, oppose the introduction of free politics. Let men stand by the principle by which they rise—right or wrong. I make no exception. If they be in the wrong, they must retire to that shade of private life with which our present rulers have often threatened us. There are always men ready to form a Government; and if the noble Lord had formed one, and the country would not support free trade, that would not show that his principles were wrong; but it would show a great political fact, important in the state of our country, that the nation was not ripe for those opinions, or that it was against them. This is a legitimate thing; but it is not a legitimate trial of the principles of free trade against the principle of protection, if a Parliament, the majority of which are elected to support protection, be gained over to free trade by the arts of the very individual whom they were elected to support in an opposite career. It is not fair to the people of England. As for whether the right hon. Baronet made the Conservative party, or the party made him, I have no doubt there was a reciprocal influence; but he is a great Parliamentary leader, and undoubtedly we might, with a leader less able, not have gained such a result as we did. I attribute our success at the last election in some degree to the impolicy of the Whigs: warmly opposed to them as I am, I may say that, though I wish to say nothing against Gentlemen who happen to be in adversity; but if the right hon. Baronet had not led us so many years with most adroit ability—if, during that term, he had not had recourse to all the acts of party—if he had not proposed subtle resolutions, and, even if necessary, Amendments on the Address—if he had not 123 with a frankness unusual to him, expressed principles to which the country responded, would he have been carried into power by an enthusiastic people? Then how can you, the Opposition, if you are for Parliamentary Government, offer him this adulation because he now supports your views? You may be very glad that an eminent Member of the House is on your side—that is an historical fact which you may register, and adduce it in evidence of the truth of your views and the advance of your cause; but depend upon it you err when you admit the principle that you are to support any man, whoever he may be, who supports your opinions. The Minister who attained as he did the position which the right hon. Baronet now fills, is not the Minister who ought to abrogate the Corn Laws. That feeling is, I believe, not confined to this House. Whatever may be the fate of Government—whether we are to have a Whig Administration or a Conservative—whether the noble Lord or the right hon. Gentleman is to guide the sceptre of the State—whatever, I say, may be the fate of Cabinets—and they are transitory and transient things—things which may not survive the career of many men in this House—on Parliament, as an institution, and still a popular institution in this country, is dependent, and not upon the Government, the consideration of the vast majority of the Members of this House. Do not, then, because you see a great personage giving up his opinions, do not cheer him on—do not yield so ready a reward to political tergiversation. Above all, maintain the line of demarcation between parties; for it is only by maintaining the independence of party that you can maintain the integrity of public men, and the power and influence of Parliament itself.
§ VISCOUNT NORTHLAND
said, he could only interpret Sir R. Peel's speech as indicating a total repeal of the Corn Laws. He must protest, in the name of the people of Ireland, against such a proposal. If the right hon. Gentleman wished to make the condition of Ireland even worse than it now was, a proposal for the total repeal of the Corn Laws was the most direct means for effecting his object. Ireland was an agricultural country; and if the gentry of that country were ruined, what, he should like to know, would become of the agricultural labourer? It was well known Ireland had no manufactures. He certainly expected that some Member, on one 124 side or the other, from Ireland would have risen to protest against the course which the right hon. Gentleman seemed to indicate. He did not rise to propose an Amendment, but he thought it right to express his regret at the apparent intentions of the Government.
found it impossible to allow the debate to terminate without saying a few words. First of all, he cordially agreed with the right hon. Baronet that no Amendment ought to be moved to the Address; but he wished it to be understood, and the public to know, that it should not on that account be inferred that he concurred in the principle now declared by the right hon. Gentleman. He never listened with more surprise and regret to any speech than that of the right hon. Gentleman that night. The right hon. Gentleman had cast reflections on his own supporters, though they were mixed up, certainly, with some words of kindness; but an unfavourable impression as to his own party was conveyed in that sarcastic way which the right hon. Gentleman so well knew how to adopt. He must ask the right hon. Gentleman a question, which he was the more emboldened to put after the admirable speech of his hon. Friend (Mr. Disraeli)—whether they, the Conservatives, returned in 1841 to support the right hon. Gentleman in a particular policy, were now to be called on to abandon that policy, and thus place themselves on the lowest seat of ignominy? What had become of the right hon. and noble Members of the Cabinet who first of all opposed the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman? Was there no public spirit, no enthusiasm, no recollection—he should not say of pledges, but of implied opinions, given at the hustings? And when the right hon. Gentleman, with the ingenuity which belonged to him, brought forward a proposition to which the majority of his Cabinet were decidedly opposed, were the other Members of that Cabinet to sacrifice every thing at the feet of their idol? If determined on that course, why not return the power vested in their hands to their constituencies, and see whether they would sanction such conduct? It was a high constitutional question, as argued by his hon. Friend (Mr. Disraeli), that they should have a certain sound basis as the foundation of party in that House; and he did not see how, in the present state of things, public principle could be upheld, except by taking that course which every constitutional Minister 125 was bound to adopt, and appealing to the people who formerly placed him at the head of so large a majority. He called on the repealers of the Corn Laws to urge that view. He hoped and trusted that he should have the adhesion of many of those hon. Gentlemen in submitting that the fair proposition to be placed before the country was—"Protection, or No Protection." This was the broad basis on which the next Government must be formed. And he thought the people had a right to demand that previously to any change being effected in the law of 1842 (which was looked on as a contract as well as a compromise), they should be appealed to, in order to see whether they would again return a majority purely Conservative, or select Members of the same views as those of the hon. Member for Stockport, who so gallantly opposed the agriculturists in every possible way. Before he sat down he must allude to the statement of the noble Lord (Lord John Russell), accusing the agricultural party of want of forethought, and that they cared little for the possible future failure of the potato crop in Ireland. Now, he must vindicate the English farmers from such an imputation; for no man with the slightest spark of humanity but must have been touched, when the accounts in September, October, and the beginning of November reached this country, by the apprehension of famine reaching millions of the people of Ireland. The question then arose what should a Constitutional Minister do who was placed at the head of a great party, and had thereby the means of testing the accuracy of the accounts which reached this country. He had the pleasure at the period to which he had alluded of presiding over a large company of tenant farmers, and he put to them, as fairly as he could, that, if the right hon. Gentleman discovered from his sources of information, that Ireland was jeopardised by the state of the potato crop, and that famine was likely to ensue, not then, but in the spring, he asked them, in such a case, whether the right hon. Gentleman would not be justified in throwing open the ports. The proposal was met with the most enthusiastic applause. So little were the tenant farmers of England egotists or monopolists. The right hon. Gentleman said that, on the 25th of November, a proposition was made to the Cabinet for throwing open the ports, but there was tacked to this a proposal for an alteration in the Corn Laws. Now the 126 country had a right to expect that the Minister who carried the Corn Law of 1842, and which had worked beyond his most sanguine expectations, would have remained firm to its principle, and not abandoned it because of the occurrence of a temporary evil. The country must not be deceived because of no division that night. It was now apparent that not only the agricultural body, but all classes of native industry, were to be attacked—that the protection against foreigners, on which they had a right to rely, was to be rendered almost useless—and that this question was to be discussed on Monday or Tuesday next. He would venture to say there were many hon. Members in that House not connected with the Government, who would give any such proposal the strongest constitutional opposition, and throw every impediment they could in the way of any such measures. He hoped, however, that the right hon. Gentleman having deliberately proposed his plan, would at once appeal to the final tribunal of decision—the people.
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
was neither surprised nor deceived by the course proposed to be pursued by the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, for he had so often been deceived by him on important questions of religion as well as of agriculture, that he was determined to be deceived no more. If any surprise was left on his mind at all, it was that the right hon. Baronet had not gone over before this, and joined the ignominious band of Corn-Law Leaguers. He had once said in that House, that the right hon. Baronet was the only man to save the country; but he now distinctly asserted, that if there was one man more likely than another to destroy the country, it was the right hon. Baronet.
§ Address agreed to.
§ House adjourned.