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FOR THE YEAR
HISTORY OF EUROPE.
Closing Events of the Year 1845-Sudden Dissolution of Sir R. Peel's Government-Causes of that Event-Failure of the Potato CropLord John Russell is sent for by the Queen-Unsuccessful Attempt of that Nobleman to form a Cabinet-Sir R. Peel_returns to Office in the new character of an Opponent to the Corn Laws - Examination of his Conduct and Motives in this juncture-Lord Stanley resigns the Secretaryship for the Colonies, and is succeeded by Mr. W. E. Gladstone-Great interest attending the Assembling of Parliament -It is opened on the 19th of January by the Queen in person— Her Majesty's Speech-Debates on the Address-In the House of Lords it is moved by Lord Howe, and seconded by Lord De RosIt is then put by the Lord Chancellor, and declared to be carriedThe Duke of Richmond makes some severe observations on the Conduct of the Government-He is answered by the Duke of Wellington-Remarks of Lord Stanley, Lord Hardwicke, the Marquis of Lansdowne, Lord Brougham, Lord Radnor, and other Peers-In the House of Commons Lord Francis Egerton moves the Address in an able and impressive Speech, in which he opens the subject of the Corn LawsHe is seconded by Mr. Beckett Denison-Sir R. Peel enters into a full explanation of the Reasons and Motives of his change of Policy, and of the circumstances attending the retirement of his Cabinet from Office and their return to it-Lord John Russell then makes a full statement of the part which he had taken in the recent Transactions, and the results of his Interviews with the Queen on the different occasions when he had been consulted by Her Majesty with the CorVOL. LXXXVIII. [B]
respondence which had taken place-Mr. Disraeli follows with some severe animadversions on Sir Robert Peel's conduct- Mr. Miles and Colonel Sibthorp follow on the same side-The Address is carried without a Division - On the 26th the Duke of Wellington states in the House of Lords the Reasons which had induced the Government to resign, and afterwards to return to Office-Remarks of the Duke of Buckingham, who declares his Opposition to the Ministerial Policy -Speech of the Marquis of Lansdowne, explaining his Abandonment of the Principle of a Fixed Duty-Further statement of recent Transactions by the Duke of Wellington-Observations of Lord Radnor, the Duke of Richmond, Lord Beaumont, the Earl of Aberdeen, and other Peers on the same subject.
HE close of the year 1845 was signalized by political events of the most unexpected and startling character. During a period of the most complete repose in the political world, while the Peel Ministry was to outward appearance in the very noontide of its prosperous career, holding a position fortified at once by the favour of the Crown and large majorities in both Houses of Parliament, suddenly and without a blow that strong Government was dissolved, and the foundation on which it had rested irretrievably destroyed. The news that Sir R. Peel and his colleagues had abdicated their power excited, both among the adherents and opponents of their policy, the most lively emotions of surprise and curiosity, while it forcibly brought home to all minds the insecurity and changefulness of political combinations. The event to which such important consequences were attributed, grave and serious as it has since proved to be, was at that time by no means appreciated as adequate in importance to the effects it had produced. The apThe appearance of an extensive disease in the potato crops in various parts of the United Kingdom, though regarded as a serious calamity to the poorer classes, especially in
Ireland, was scarcely deemed a satisfactory solution for the wreck of one of the most powerful Cabinets of modern times. Yet it soon transpired that it was in this apparently insignificant cause that Sir R. Peel had found the necessity of his retirement from office. In the face of the alarming prospect presented to his mind by the destruction of a large portion of the staple food of the labouring population, his resolution to maintain the existing Corn Laws gave way, and his secession from power was the consequence. In the latter part of November Cabinet Councils had been held very frequently, and it had transpired that the subject of their numerous deliberations was connected with the great question of the restrictions on food. The leading transactions of this period will be found recorded in the account afterwards given by Sir R. Peel in his place in Parliament; it will be sufficient to say here, by way of introduction, that after much discussion and much difference of opinion in the Cabinet, the conclusion was adopted by the Prime Minister and his colleagues to tender their resignations to the Queen. They were accepted accordingly, and the same channels of intelligence which announced the retirement of the Conservative
Government conveyed also the fact that Lord John Russell had been sent for, and had received Her Majesty's commands to form a Go
The commission was
promptly undertaken by that nobleman, but it was not long before it was understood that serious difficulties impeded the new arrangements. Dissensions and jealousies were supposed to exist among the aspirants to the vacant offices, and considerable doubt prevailed among many judicious members of the Whig body, whether it consisted with the true policy of their party to undertake at the exist ing juncture so hazardous an enterprise as the formation of a Government committed to an alteration in the Corn Laws in the face of a very powerful opposition, both in Parliament and in the country. After considerable delay and much fruitless negotiation the attempt was found impracticable, and Lord John Russell announced his failure to the Queen. The only alternative which the cireumstances of the country now rendered possible was the resumption of office by Sir R. Peel; but in the altered character which his recent convictions had obliged him to assume, as the instrument of a fundamental change in that policy of which he had so long been the foremost champion and supporter. A task more repugnant to the feelings of any statesman possessing the least share of sensitive feeling can hardly be conceived than that which the restored Premier was about to undertake. Obloquy and misrepresentationthe alienation of friends, the reproaches of former supporters, the sneers and taunts of his opponents, the sacrifice of consistency, the retractation of oft repeated and
recorded convictions, the abdication of a position which had been achieved with so much industry and maintained with such distinguished fortune-these the terms upon which Sir R. Peel prepared to resume the coveted but unenviable functions of First Minister of the Crown. To this must be added, that while the burdens and vexations of office were so great, the temptations which it offered were little calculated to seduce the most covetous or ambitious aspirant for power. It was resumed notoriously and avowedly for a single purposethe accomplishment of a single measure: this done, the disruption of his party would render his removal from office inevitable, and that, too, with a very distant, if any, prospect of return.
But whatever may be thought of the conduct pursued by Sir R. Peel with reference to the Corn Law question, during the many years in which he took so active a part in upholding a system which, with his own hand, he now came forward to destroy, and whatever impeachment may be made upon his sagacity and foresight as a states. man, or his consistency as a party leader, it would seem difficult for any one, not blinded by party spirit or exasperated by resentment beyond the bounds of reason, to impugn the honesty of the motives by which he was actuated in adopting the course now described. That course involved the sacrifice of every object and every feeling most dear to a political leader; it was equally fatal to the reputation of the past and the prospects of the future, and it exposed him to a storm of obloquy and reproach, under which nothing could have supported him but a consciousness