Thursday, 9 October 2008

Source: Sir Robert Peel’s address to the Electors of the Borough of Tamworth

Quarterly Review, vol. LIII, February and April 1835, pp. 261-287

This document is an editorial comment on the Tamworth Manifesto, published by Sir Robert Peel in December 1834. The manifesto was an appeal to the voting public after he had accepted office following the fall of Lord Melbourne‘s ministry.

It is common, we suppose, to all men, who find themselves involved in some unexpected and - as they think - undeserved difficulty or danger, to exhale the first impulses of vexation in reproaches against those, whose folly or wickedness have led to their embarrassment. But after this natural burst of indignation, no man of sense, courage, or prudence will waste his time or his strength in retrospective reproaches or repinings. He will consider his perilous position as a fact which cannot be undone, and he will turn his hopes and his energies towards the means which may be still left of delaying or diminishing the danger, and of seeking and improving the opportunities and chances of extrication and safety. Such should be, and such we are happy to think is, the spirit which now animates the Government and its supporters throughout the country. The Lords and Commons may regret the destruction of those venerable and convenient edifices in which for centuries they had held their sittings[1]; but they must be satisfied (for a time at least) with the new accommodation which is prepared for them; and they will endeavour to adapt, as well as they can, their ancient forms and parliamentary traditions to the new localities in which the business of the nation must – of necessity – be done. This is, as it appears to us, an apposite illustration of the duties of Sir Robert Peel and his administration. He must accept as a FACT – the change which the Reform Bill has made in the practice of the constitution, and endeavour, with anxious sincerity, to avail himself of all the good of which its friends consider it susceptible, and to palliate the mischiefs to which its adversaries may have thought it liable. There is no other common-sense mode of dealing with any of the fluctuating affairs of mankind, whether they concern individuals or societies; the mercantile speculations of a war are forced to seek new modes of employment when peace is restored. When the abdication of the house of Stuart became, in fact, irrevocable, the old loyalists transferred their allegiance to the house of Brunswick, and became the steadiest adherents of the Hanoverian dynasty. No event was ever so disliked, deprecated, and dreaded by the Sovereign, and the people of England, as the independence of the United States of America; but when the fact was accomplished, George III gave his ministers and his people an example, which they followed, of the most generous and cordial acceptance of the new circumstances of that most difficult and even mortifying case. When Sir Robert Peel entered the first reformed parliament, he undertook then the same engagement - neither more nor less - that he has since renewed by taking office - of doing the duties of a public station in the terms and spirit of a new constitution; and it has been admitted even by his political adversaries, that every speech he made, and every vote he gave, during the two sessions of that parliament, were marked by a fair admission of the new principles which had been introduced into the management of affairs. So far from endeavouring - as he might easily and effectually have done - to embarrass the reform ministry, and derange, and thus depreciate and damage the new system, it is notorious that it was mainly by the support of him and his friends in both houses, that the three successive ministries which composed the Government during the last session, were enabled to maintain their semblance of authority over parliament and the country.

All this was not only fully admitted by the Whig ministries and their followers, but gratefully applauded as a high example of constitutional principle and practical prudence, - as long as it tended to maintain them in place; but when they see that the self-same line of conduct has enabled Sir Robert Peel to form and will enable him to maintain an administration - to their exclusion, - their eyes are suddenly opened to two very different and contradictory views of the case they at first discovered that his adhesion to the new system must have been a mere insidious pretence, to cloak the most opposite designs and now, when they see that the evidence of facts is about to disprove that calumny, they become suddenly interested in Sir Robert’s reputation, and grievously lament that so eminent a statesman should be ready to tarnish his political character by supporting measures, which - in their candour any kindness they pre-suppose - must be in contravention of all the principle of his earlier life; and thus they fancy they have established an inevitable dilemma - either Sir Robert Peel must set himself against public opinion, and be unable - or he must yield to it, and become unworthy - to maintain his position as first minister of the Crown. To both of these alternative objections the Address to his constituents is an annihilating answer. As to the past Sir Robert Peel justly says that the whole of his public life evinces a sincere, though not blind, deference to public opinion; and as to the future, he professes that the measures he may propose will be influenced, not merely by what any particular set of men may endeavour to set up as public opinion, but also by the paramount consideration of what may be really and permanently beneficial to the public interests. Public opinion is, after all, but a variable wind; and that pilot will never conduct his vessel to a port of safety who sets out with a determination to run before it, blow how it may. Sir Robert Peel has undertaken a navigation which can be successfully accomplished as little by invariably yielding to public opinion, as by habitually disregarding it. He must know that it is - as the wind to the ship - his primum mobile [prime mover; first cause], and that his course must be obedient to its impulses, though not always to its direction.

And it has been. always so. No minister ever stood or could stand, against public opinion. In that principle, the Reform Bill has made no change - but it has made a great and, we fear, most injurious change in the manner in which the principle operates. Formerly, the action, as well as the growth, of Public Opinion was gradual; and during the time that it was slowly acting on parliament, and through parliament on the government, it was also examining, correcting, and improving itself. The first burst from the popular spring is naturally somewhat turbid, and requires to be filtered before it becomes fit for use. By the various salutary impediments of the old system, the stream, at once moderated in its velocity and purified in its quality was rendered, not eventually less powerful, but more regular in its supply, and more wholesome in its effect. The Reform Bill has destroyed the ancient conduits and strainers, and brings Public Opinion to act upon the government with the rapid, turbulent, and uncertain violence of a flood! It behoves, then, the Public to recollect that, as the checks which used to mitigate their first impulses are gone, it becomes their duty to be more slow in forming, more moderate in expressing, and more cautious in applying, that irresponsible and irresistible Opinion whose action is now so sudden, and whose errors may be so irretrievable and so fatal. If those who possess so tremendous an instrument do not learn to handle it with proportionable care, temper, and discretion, they will find that they have been made powerful only to their own destruction....

The extraordinary anxiety, therefore, for the consistency of Sir Robert Peel now expressed by his political antagonists would be, in any circumstances, quite at variance with their own principles and practice and with the essence of that Reform which they are so proud of having introduced into our political system: but in this particular instance it is really surprising. It once before happened to Sir Robert Peel to be obliged to make an important concession to public opinion, backed as it was by a majority in the House of Commons - we mean in the case of Catholic emancipation. Was there then, on the part of the Whigs, such a morbid anxiety for the Right Honourable Gentleman’s consistency? On the contrary, did we not hear the concession then made of his former opinions applauded by every liberal in the country as one of the most generous sacrifices ever made by a public man? Were we not told that time and circumstances had so changed, that adherence to opinions which had, by such change, become obsolete, would have been the real inconsistency; and that statesman, to be, in the true spirit of the word, consistent, must adapt his judgment to the fluctuation of events in which he is destined to live? If we thought it worth while to press the argument ad hominem [literally, ‘argument to the man’; a logical fallacy]- home to individuals, we could show that the very same men who then went out of their way to eulogise Sir Robert Peel’s conduct on those grounds, are the very persons who have lately deprecated the possibility of any change in his opinions or conduct in consequence of the change of circumstances, in terms of the utmost virulence, and we will add - indecency. But with such persons discussion would be fruitless; and it is needless; their own idol, Public Opinion, has already done justice upon them; their idol, which, like those of the savages, they worship as long as it seems favourable to them, but are ready enough to revile, and even chastise, whenever they find its aspect to be inauspicious. We therefore satisfy ourselves with indicating the inconsistency of the argument, without descending to notice more particularly the worse than inconsistency of its advocates....

Sir Robert Peel’s Address is - in itself and independently of its topics - a proof that he accepts, and will - unfettered by old customs and traditions of government - endeavour to meet the exigencies of the times. When before did a Prime Minister think it expedient to announce to the People, not only his acceptance of office, but the principles and even the details of the measures which he intended to produce; and to solicit - not from parliament; but from the people - ‘that they would so far maintain the prerogative of the King as to give the ministers of his choice not, indeed, an implicit confidence, but a fair trial?’ In former times such a proceeding would have been thought derogatory and impugned as unconstitutional, and would have been both; but the new circumstances in which the Reform Bill has placed the Crown, by making its choice of ministers immediately and absolutely dependent on the choice of the several constituencies, and, in the first instance, quite independent of the concurrence of the assembled parliament, have rendered such a course not merely expedient, but inevitable. The day of the meeting of parliament might have arrived - the King and a majority of both houses might, as they certainly will, have the utmost confidence in Sir Robert Peel, and the firmest determination to support his administration - yet the Prime Minister himself might not be in parliament - some local or personal circumstances might have indisposed the particular constituency to which he had addressed himself - and where would have been the remedy? It had actually occurred to the late ministry to lose one of their Cabinet and their Attorney-General out of parliament, - one of their Secretaries of State, selected for that office (not more for his personal fitness than the expectation that he was sure of his re-election), had a narrow escape: and Lord Althorp himself, the favourite leader of the reformed house, would, we have reason to believe, have found his re-election exceedingly difficult, if in any new cabinet arrangement he had been driven to the necessity of appealing to his former Constituents. Sir Robert Peel’s Address does not complain of this new state of things, but, on the contrary, submits to it with equal dignity and candour, and is in itself, as we have already stated, a pledge that he adopts with frankness the new difficulties of his situation, and by frankness will endeavour to surmount them. He gives the system which he is called upon to administer, what he asks for himself and his colleagues, a fair trial. If the constituencies in general had unfortunately refused (as some have done) to ratify his Majesty’s choice, it might have been attributed to the neglect of the minister in not having laid before them the means and materials for a due exercise of their judgment. These considerations ought, we think, to satisfy, on the one hand, any who may have been at first startled by so unusual a ministerial profession of faith; and on the other hand, those who might suspect Sir Robert Peel of a bigoted attachment to ancient forms, and of an ignorance of, or indifference to, the conditions under which any minister must now be contented to enter and conduct the public service....

But although the fact and form of his Address be a tribute to the exigencies of the times and of his own personal position, Sir Robert Peel asserts that he abandons none of the great principles of his political faith, - he avows his determination to preserve unimpaired in essentials, the constitution in Church and State; and insists with great force and irresistible proof, that in the readiness he professes to correct acknowledged abuses, and to promote the redress of any real grievance, he is acting in perfect consistence with the whole course of his official life.

‘Now, I say at once that I will not accept power on the condition of declaring myself an apostate from the principles on which I have heretofore acted; at the same time, I never will admit that I have been, either before or after the Reform Bill, the defender of abuses, or the enemy of judicious reforms. I appeal with confidence in denial of the charge to the active part I took in the great question of the currency - in the consolidation and amendment of the criminal law - in the revisal of the whole system of trial by jury - to the opinions I have professed and uniformly acted on with regard to other branches of the jurisprudence of the country - I appeal to this as a proof that I have not been disposed to acquiesce in acknowledged evils, either from the mere superstitious reverence for ancient usages, or from the dread of labour or responsibility in the application of a remedy.’ :pages 7-8.

As the immediate influence of the Reform Bill on the expected elections must necessarily have been most powerful, we are not surprised that the Opposition in the absence of any other merit, should have made that their stalking-horse, and endeavoured to represent the present contest as being still for the Reform Bill and its consequences. Sir Robert Peel answers this sophism with equal truth and dignity: -

‘But the Reform Bill, it is said, constitutes a new era, and it is the duty of a minister to declare explicitly - first, whether he will maintain the Bill itself; and, secondly, whether he will act upon the spirit in which it was conceived. With respect to the Reform Bill itself, I will repeat now the declaration which I made when I entered the House of Commons as a member of the Reformed Parliament - that I consider the Reform Bill a final and irrevocable settlement of a great constitutional question, a settlement which no friend to the peace and welfare of this country would attempt to disturb either by direct or by insidious means. Then, as to the spirit of the Reform Bill, and the willingness to adopt and enforce it as a rule of government - if by adopting the spirit of the Reform Bill it be meant that we are to live in a perpetual vortex of agitation, that public men can only support themselves in public estimation by adopting every popular impression of the day, by promising the instant redress of anything which any body may call an abuse, by abandoning altogether that great aid of Government, more powerful than either law or reason - the respect for ancient rights, and the deference to prescriptive authority; - if this be the spirit of the Reform Bill, I will not undertake to adopt it: but if the spirit of the Reform Bill implies merely a careful review of institutions, civil and ecclesiastical, undertaken in a friendly temper, combining, with the firm maintenance of established rights, the correction of proved abuses and the redress of real grievances - in that case, I can, for myself and colleagues, undertake to act in such a spirit and with such intentions.’ :page 8.

...But there are considerations which must have their influence even with men who still profess adherence to party, if they also maintain, any regard to common sense and the practical welfare of the country. If the present ministers are to be displaced, by whom can they be succeeded? Does any Whig of the old school imagine that there remain of that party either leaders to compose an administration, or cumbers to support one? Four years ago, Lord Grey himself found it impossible - witness Lords Goderich and Palmerston, Mr Grant, and the Duke of Richmond - not to mention Lord Melbourne himself - all recent from an alliance with the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel. Above one-third of that Cabinet was composed of Tories, whose importance was acknowledged by their being placed in the most efficient offices of the administration. We need not insist on this point - we believe no man, who knows anything of the state of politics, can consider the composition of a Whig ministry as anything but an idle dream....Between the two cabinets there was but one important element in common - but one man, who, by his station in the government and the space he filled in the public eye, could have afforded any guarantee that even the general policy of the two administrations was likely to be the same; but, unfortunately, the personal deportment of that eminent but oblique-visioned man was in such violent contrast with the character of his office, as to afford a guarantee for nothing but uncertainty and emit embarrassment. The restless imbecility of some of that Cabinet - which, like a palsied hand, could not refrain from touching everything, and shook whatever it touched - was a little steadied by the supine and timid mediocrity of others, and so presented a less instant and immediate danger; but the explosive vigour and erratic activity of Lord Brougham had become to the sovereign and the country - even to those who had been his greatest partisans - a source of more urgent apprehensions; and to none, we really believe, more than to his own colleagues. If Lord Althorp had not been called up - if Lord John Russell had consented to postpone the question of the Irish church - if Mr. Ellice had retracted his resignation - nay, if the Cabinet could have agreed on the king’s speech - its doom was nevertheless already sealed; and the only speculation, either amongst themselves or the public, was, on what fine day or what odd occasion their ‘wildfire chancellor’ (as one of his former friends called him) might happen ‘ to blow them up.’ And although the death of Lord Spencer anticipated that catastrophe, and seemed to terminate the administration without the immediate intervention of Lord Brougham, yet no one can doubt that his extravagant proceedings had prepared both the king and the people to take the first opportunity of ridding themselves of a Lord Chancellor whose talents - precisely of the nature least suitable to the gravity and importance of his station - threw his colleagues into contempt, and his country into alarm.

If is, however, no more than justice to express our belief, that the irregularity of Lord Brougham’s course was not solely, nor perhaps even chiefly, occasioned by either personal eccentricity or a spirit of intrigue - much is, we think, fairly attributable to his political position, which had become so - what the French call - false as to be untenable; and the efforts which he was obliged to make to balance for himself on the unsteady pinnacle where he stood, looked to the vulgar below like the contortions of a posture master. Lord Brougham is a person of great, but in a peculiar degree restless and discursive, ability; and he had, in the heat of his zeal and the vanity of his supposed influence, mingled with himself in so many projects, and allied himself with so many persons, which and whom he found, on experience, to be wild and dangerous, that he was driven at last to an alternative between his consistency and his duty - between what he owed to his own indiscreet pledges on one hand, and to the safety of the constitution on the other. If Lord Brougham could have ‘screwed his courage to a sticking place’ [this quotation comes from Macbeth] he would not have been reduced to his present anomalous, and, for the moment, almost ridiculous isolation; if he had sacrificed his conscience to his popularity he would have still obtained the applauses of the numerous and noisy party which he had so long flattered; or if he had repudiated that hollow popularity to devote his conscientious, and (therefore more than ever) powerful exertions to the maintenance of the constitution, he would have won the confidence of the still more numerous and infinitely more respectable party, to which experience and reason had, it seems, begun to incline him. This we believe to be a not inaccurate view of Lord Brougham’s position; and we are not wholly without hope that the interval which has been allowed for him for thought and reflection may have tended to confirm him in his later and better dispositions. ...

This statement on our part was met in some of the Whig newspapers by a positive contradiction. We re-assert our belief of its general accuracy, and all that we have heard reported from every quarter makes us wonder at the temerity which thus denied its truth. We did not mean to state, that the members of the Cabinet were, at the moment of its dissolution, at actual variance with each other: though the lingering resignation of Mr. Ellice - a symptom which has not been sufficiently noticed - might have justified such a suspicion. But the variance, to which we then alluded, was prospective - we stated, not that it had occurred, but that it was inevitable - not that the Cabinet had discussed the Church question and divided on it, but that the sentiments of its members had been so far declared, that Lord Melbourne saw that whenever the question should be discussed, there would be found irreconcilable differences between opposite parties; and that it was in the prospect of such future, but inevitable differences, that the King did in November what he must eventually have done when parliament should have met. This is, we had reason to suppose and we still believe, a true statement of the case; every thing that has since transpired tends to confirm our confidence in its substantial accuracy, and we have seen, in some of the best-informed journals, certain details which corroborate our opinions; for instance, it has been stated - and never, that we have seen, contradicted - that Lord John Russell - the proposed leader of the House of Commons - was pledged to a measure of Church Reform, to which Lord Lansdowne and Mr. Secretary Rice had declared themselves hostile; and as Mr. Rice and Lord Lansdowne were certainly two of the ablest and most respectable members of the Cabinet, their secession on a question so vital, and on which their sentiments approached most nearly to those of the King himself, must have occasioned its dissolution. When parliament meets, we perhaps may have some further details on this subject, but we are satisfied that they cannot substantially differ from our general statement; and - however willing it may appear that individuals were, by any compromise or sacrifice, to cling to their offices - the common sense of mankind will confirm his Majesty’s judgment, that the early and spontaneous dissolution of that Cabinet was inevitable; and we really believe that no political annuity office - except perhaps the Globe Assurance - would have underwritten them for three months.

But in our present circumstances these discussions are idle, except so far as they may tend to prove that a Cabinet which died of a complication of disorders in November, cannot be restored to life and health in February. The administration of Lord Melbourne can be no more revived than that of Lord Grey - ‘Forward - Forward!’ - is the cry of the only party in the nation which even affects to regret the Melbourne bubble; and that party has pledged itself for a deeper game and bolder players. We do not deny that some members of the deceased Cabinet might take a part in a new combination, even of ultra-radicals. No doubt they might, and would - and with no personal inconsistency; and, as we have said before, such is the incurable blindness of party, that many who call, and some who think themselves, Whigs might lend their votes to the erection of a power in the state which not only intends, but professes to intend, to destroy that Constitution, in the establishment of which it has been the peculiar boast of the Whigs of former times to have had the chief share. We shall say a word or two more on this point presently.

But the great question which now hangs in the balance of debate is no longer one of Whig and Tory - of this party or that - of individual men - or even of particular - - the question is, shall we maintain the British Constitution - YES or NO? The very word Constitution implies stability. The Conservatives need no more expressive watchword - no safer rallying-point - it is itself our whole object and argument. On the other side, the cry is ‘Change, change!’ and the word constitution is, in their mouths, a solecism in language, a contradiction in principle, and a fraud in practice. In the wide variety of rights and interests which are mingled and combined in what we call the Constitution, can our opponents designate even one item, one single item, which is not menaced with change? - The Crown? The earliest feature of the present crisis was an insolent denial of the first of its prerogatives; and though the leaders of the opposition have not yet thrown off their allegiance to the monarchy, their followers and partisans profess the most audacious democracy! - The Church? We need not say what is intended for her; her property is to be the first battle-field, and her temples the first objects of assault! - The Laws, civil, criminal, ecclesiastical? All are themselves arranged and served with notice of trial for illegality, cruelty, and injustice! - Land? - Manufactures? Menaced with a deluge of foreign produce, by a pretended free trade, and a system of fraudulent reciprocity which is to be all on one side! - Colonies? Already in the crucible! - Public Credit? Questioned in its principle, and practice placed in nightly jeopardy! - The rights and properties of Municipal Corporations? To be seized, abolished, and confiscated! - The Universities? If permitted to survive at all, to be forcibly diverted from their proper objects, and compelled to violate the institutions of their founders and the consciences of their members! - The House of Lords? Bullied, denounced, and devoted to immediate mutilation and ultimate annihilation! - The House of Commons? - yea, the reformed House itself, and even the idolized Reform Bill, - threatened with a radical subversion by means of annual elections, vote by ballot, and (by a large and consistent class of reformers) universal suffrage! - Nay, the very integrity of the Empire is at stake; and a majority, we are told, of the Irish representatives are pledged to attempt the repeal of the Union! - and finally, and most fearfully of all, the Protestant religion itself is to be stripped of its established rights - its connexion with the state, coeval with the state itself, is to be forcibly dissolved - it is to become merely a tolerated sect, and its evangelical truth and divine doctrine are to be placed by law on the same level with popery, unitarianism, Judaism, and all the nameless varieties of dissent and infidelity! These are the prospects of the Movement, system. They are no idle fears - no visions of a timid fancy. Every one of these various inroads on the constitution, and several others too tedious and too odious to enumerate, have been openly stated, avowed, and advocated by one class or other of that now united and unanimous body, which has arrayed itself against Sir Robert Peel’s administration. Most of them have been authenticated by pledges entered on the notice books of the two last sessions. No individual, perhaps, contemplates, or would à priori approve, the simultaneous success of all these propositions; but every faction will pursue its own object, and by a compromise with the exigencies of each other, the whole will be driven to concur in the universal change. All who take a share in the battle will claim a share of the spoil. The enemies of the Throne - and of the Church - and of the Protestant Establishments - and of the Colonial system - and of Protecting Duties - and of the House of Lords - and of the Reform Bill - and of the Irish Union - and of ALL our other institutions, will, by what the mathematicians call the amotion of each part, arrive at the destruction of the whole…

If any reader imagines that this picture of our danger is overdrawn or exaggerated, we entreat him to look round in his own circle and see what is the character of the individuals within it who are most prominent in the present opposition. Are they persons respectable in their private lives and natural spheres, for industry, property, intelligence, moral conduct, or social consideration? Is it not, on the contrary, notorious, that - although several worthy and respectable people (particularly among the Dissenters) are what they fondly call Reformers, yet - the majority of those who distinguish themselves by the violence of their language and the extremities of their designs, are men whose private characters would give them no influence in society. They are either the votaries or dupes of their own personal vanity, surprised and rejoiced to find an occasion of notoriety - or the disappointed and soured objects of some degree or species of public disapprobation. Look at some of the men returned even to Parliament by the most numerous, and what are therefore called the most respectable, constituencies - are they men in any respect entitled to have a voice in me government of the country? Would they be admitted into a club which was nice in its selection? Might we not rather ask, as we happen to know an elector in one of the metropolitan boroughs did in speaking with a brother tradesman, ‘How can any men of common sense confide the care of their lives and properties to persons whom in their individual capacities they would not trust with ten pounds’ worth of their goods?’ One or two names might justify the indignant exclamation of Cicero - ‘O tempora! O mores! - Senatus hæc intelligit; consul vidit - hic tamen vivit - Vivit? - immò verò etiam in senatum venit - fit publici concilii particeps!’[3]

And what definite object, what limit is to be assigned to this feverish state of agitation, this delirious desire of change? Does not increase of appetite grow in all such matters by what it feeds on? Does any one believe that the House of Commons of 1831 would have read the Reform Bill a second time, by a majority of one, if it could have entered their imaginations that, within two or three years, that enormous, that overwhelming concession, at which the boldest Whig

‘Held his breath - For a time,’

should turn out to be not a sop, but a whet to the many-headed Cerberus of democracy; and that every privilege, every right, every establishment, every institution of the country, were to be assailed - and the assault defended and applauded - as the natural consequence of a measure which, they were told was to be a final and satisfactory adjustment of the constitutional balance? Would that some one would write the history of Concession! We can only indicate its genealogy - which is; like a Welch pedigree, in which Owen Griffith begets Griffith Owen, and Griffith Owen begets another Owen Griffith, and so on alternately to the end of the chapter. Agitation begets concession, and then concession produces agitation, and the new agitation is followed by another concession, and it by a fresh agitation - and so on, till there shall be nothing left to concede, and all is blind and indiscriminate Innovation, roaming, in vain for something else to devour, in a desert which it has denuded and depopulated. Can a nation exist in such a state of excitement, feud, worry, uncertainty, terror, and confusion, as England has undergone for the last four years; and as it is the object of the present coalition of Ultra-Whigs and Radicals to maintain, exasperate, and extend?

...The first great question now about to be decided is, whether the House of Commons is actuated by a like spirit of moderation, discretion, and justice; or is it resolved to strike without hearing and to rush at once into the chaos of general innovation? - which, in short, does it - intend - REFORM or - REVOLUTION?

We cannot - even after all the mischief which we predicted and have witnessed from the Reform Bill - we cannot bring ourselves to doubt that there still remain too much good sense, too much traditional attachment and too much rational respect for the principles of the constitution, to render possible the latter alternative. The day of such suicidal insanity may come - but we trust and believe that it is not yet arrived. We are aware that a considerable number of Members have, either in accordance with their own sentiments, or in the hope of propitiating certain classes of constituents, pledged themselves on the hustings to various extremities of reform, and - as a natural consequence - to an uncomprising hostility to the present administration. No doubt these gentlemen, with such of the Whigs as have made common cause with them, will form a very numerous and - as long as the question is only opposition to Sir Robert Peel - compact and unanimous body; but we hesitate not to predict, without making on meaning any individual allusions, that they will be found more deficient in ability, character, and social consideration, than any party, of anything like equal numbers, that ever marshalled itself in the House of Commons. On the other hand, there is a body, we believe, much more numerous, and certainly more distinguished for property, intelligence, respectability, parliamentary talent, and political experience, which professes its entire confidence in his Majesty’s ministers, and we are equally satisfied that the people in the country at large - taking the term people in its ancient and legitimate sense[4] - are in a still greater proportion disposed to Conservative politics.

But there is a third division - we cannot call it a party - in the House of Commons, which must be of great importance, and to whose conduct we look, not without anxiety indeed, but with a strong predominance of hope. We mean those who have not as yet indicated, or at least professed, a decided bias either towards the ministry or its opponents. The number of these gentlemen, we - who are certainly not in the secret of parliamentary parties - cannot even venture to calculate; but their intermediate position and their present independence invest them in this crisis with great consideration. Of them it may be generally said, that their principles and opinions tend rather to those of the ministry, while their personal attachments and predilections incline towards the Whigs. Indeed, in ordinary times and circumstances, we should not have hesitated to designate about two-thirds of them as moderate Whigs, and to have divided them in that proportion between the Government and the Opposition: but these are no ordinary times and circumstances blind and deaf must they be who can believe that it is the success of a party which is at stake. Would to God that we could persuade ourselves it were so! - We should then look on the conflict - not without interest, certainly - but without that painful, that absorbing anxiety which we now feel from the conviction, that the ensuing session - perhaps the next few weeks - will decide the fate of our monarchical Constitution, and of all the various interests which are, as we believe, inseparably connected and identified with it.

We therefore do not blame the principle, though we may question the prudence and propriety of the design which has been avowed, of endeavouring to place a radical Speaker in the chair to the exclusion of Sir Charles Manners Sutton, who has filled that difficult station for eight parliaments, and eighteen years, with, as we have always understood, the unanimous approbation of jail parties - unanimous in that alone. The pretence under which this bold stroke of the Radicals for immediate ascendancy offers itself, is Sir Charles’s supposed preference of Conservative politics, evinced by his attending His Majesty’s Privy Council during the late interregnum. Let us say two words on this strange accusation, and the stranger arguments and consequences to which it leads. ‘We suspect, say the Destructives,’ Sir Charles Sutton of party predilection; - let us replace him, therefore, by the most determined party man among us. Sir Charles Sutton attended a routine Privy Council of Conservatives; let us put into the impartial chair an active member of the late Cabinet. No man who has once belonged to a party can quit it with honour - Sir Charles was a Tory eighteen years ago, and because he now seems to be a Conservative he is unworthy of re-election. Sir Charles is now, no doubt, as he has been during his long and distinguished pubic life, a Conservative; but he is no more so than he always bias been, when eight times elected, re-elected, and led to the chair by Lord Morpeth and Sir Francis Burdett, amidst the cheers of the Whigs, full as zealous in his praise as the Tories. ‘But the attendance at the Privy Council!’ The blunder - the absurd inanity, of this complaint - is really most extraordinary. It is notorious to every man, who even knows as much of public business; as the Court Circular supplies to the newspapers, that at those kind of Councils there is no deliberation on questions of confidential policy - nothing is or can be done but formal and ministerial acts, which the law requires to be passed by the King in Council - and that it is necessary to have a certain quorum to compose such Councils. At the season when these events took place there were very few Privy Councillors in town, and Sir Charles Manners Sutton would also have been absent, but the burning of the House of Commons having accidentally brought him up and kept him in London, he was summoned - as any other Councillor who happened to be in town would have been - to attend to compose a quorum to do the routine business of the country…..

The course, therefore, taken by the Opposition is in every way absurd, inconvenient, and unjust; and seems at first sight to be prompted by the blind exasperation of disappointing men; but the course is perhaps not quite so rash and thoughtless as it looks. They have reason to suspect that his Majesty’s Speech will contain so full, and so frank, and so satisfactory an announcement of the intentions of his government, as to render direct opposition to it very difficult; and they imagine, that if they could affront and defeat the Government by the choice of, an adverse Speaker, they would strangle the King’s Speech in its birth, and prevent the measures of his ministers from being, even communicated to Parliament and the country. This would be not merely to strike without hearing, it would be to strike in order that they might not hear. We know not whether our conjecture is just, but it is really the only one that we have been able to imagine for a proceeding that, on all other suppositions seems so unaccountable. Not that this motive would be less absurd than the other, but it is not so offensively palpable; and it seems to us to be a device of petty manoeuvre and small ingenuity which might be expected. Lord John Russell - who, on this occasion, by soliciting Mr. Abercrombie, in the name of the party, to give into this project, seems to announce himself as the new leader of their Opposition: by whom elected into that station which has been heretofore filled by Fox, Grey, Tierney, and Brougham, we have not heard - nay, it has been called even by Whigs as gross a case of self-election as any close corporation in the kingdom can show; and it is even said that one of the motives of the measure itself may be the opportunity which its announcement gives Lord John of jumping into a situation to which he never would have been invited. However that may be, and whether the object and intention be a personal injustice or a political juggle, we are equally satisfied that it will be signally defeated; and that it will tend most potently to increase the distrust with which all moderate men already view the radical coalition and to stimulate the anxiety of the public that the King’s servants should have a calm hearing and a fair-trial. Under all these circumstances we think we may venture, to assert, from this now avowed union between the late Ministers and the Radicals and their violent resolution to attack the Speaker on such ridiculous grounds, that the Government, if it be not Conservative, must of necessity be Radical in the fullest extent of the term. The choice is thus narrowed to Destructive or Conservative, and between these two broad principles the House of Commons is now called upon to make its election.

But it may be said, could there be no other Conservative government than that of Sir Robert Peel - might not, for instance, Lord Stanley be placed at the head of a combination more congenial to the Whigs and less formidable to the Radicals? The theory, of such a combination is absurd ex hypothesi, which rests on the basis of conservation - and it would be found, we are confident, utterly impracticable when brought to the test. Where, in such case would, Lord Stanley have to look for colleagues - to the Cabinet which he had so recently quitted, or to that which he had just declined to join? This difficulty (not to mention fifty others) seems to us insuperable. Lord Stanley might, if his principles would allow, join the Movement - or he may, if his delicacy will permit, join the Government; and in either event his co-operation would be powerful for evil or for good - but we cannot imagine any permanent intermediate space. If Sir Robert Peel fulfils his professions - as no one doubts that he will - by correcting all acknowledged abuses, and operating all salutary reforms, he will leave no man any resting-place between him and Mr. O’Connell; and after such repeated proofs as Lord Stanley has given of his resolution to maintain the Constitution in Church and State, we cannot bring ourselves to entertain any doubt whatsoever of the side on which his influence and his talents will be eventually employed. We can fully appreciate the feelings which induced him to decline Sir Robert Peel’s proposition; and although, on the whole, we wish that he had accepted it (which we certainly should not do if we thought it any way derogatory to his character, which, for public objects, we prize as much as any of his fondest friends), we must confess, that if he erred, he erred on the safe side of disinterestedness and delicacy, and that his support of the Constitution may be, for a time, the more powerful and effective for being given with the cordiality of private conviction, uninfluenced by any bias of official obligation. But Lord Stanley must be aware that he is too considerable a person to hang loose on political society, statesman may, for a season, content himself with giving a parliamentary support to a particular line of measures; but candour and honour, and indeed the necessities of political life, will soon force him to take an official responsibility in the councils which he thus approves. Events may hasten or retard Lord Stanley’s decision, but it must be made - and we confess that we look forward with considerable confidence and satisfaction to his taking, at no distant period, the only course consistent, as we think, with his honour and character. If we are not mistaken in our estimate of his Lordship’s principles and of the nature of the questions that must arise, every night of the session must show more strongly his concurrence with the administration and his divergence from their opponents; and, as we expect to find a general accordance between Lord Stanley and Sir Robert Peel, we shall hail with great satisfaction their union in official responsibility as an additional protection to those sacred interests which they are almost equally pledged to defend.

But however that may be, and limiting ourselves to the immediate prospect before us, we must urge, with the deepest sincerity and anxiety, upon any one who may be disposed to give any weight to our opinions - humble, no doubt, in authority, but as disinterested and as honest as those of Lord Stanley or any other man can be - that this is really the CRISIS of the fate of the monarchy - never, indeed, was that medical metaphor more strictly applicable - for we are now at the very point which is to decide for life or death. If Sir Robert Peel - by his personal character - by his public services - by his readiness to redress all real grievances, to correct all abuses, and to concede to public opinion all that can be conceded with safety and without dishonour - by the strict economy of which he and the most illustrious of his colleagues gave such practical pledges in their former administration - if, we say, his talents, his integrity, his conciliation, his liberality, his firmness, and the congenial spirit which pervades his Cabinet, cannot recommend - even for a fair trial - the Sovereign’s choice to the sanction of parliament, then shall we arrive at the final and fatal confirmation of all our fears. It will be no longer doubtful that government, according to the old practice and principles of the Constitution, has become impracticable, and that the monarchy is in imminent danger of subversion, and the nation itself of anarchy. Let those by whose votes these momentous questions are to be determined duty appreciate the awful responsibility of their decision, and recollect that they will have to render an account - not only to this or that weathercock body of constituents, but - to their consciences, their families, and their country - for a vote which - however the formal question may be shaped - must involve the security of their and our properties, liberties, and lives.


[1] The Houses of Parliament burned down in 1834. Some of the mediaeval tax tally sticks were being destroyed by burning them. The man responsible over-filled the furnace then left the building. A number of blazing tally sticks fell from the furnace (the door had not been closed properly) and set the building ablaze.

[2] We doubt whether Mr. Cobbett’s strong sense and English feeling would permit him to take an actual part in this living dissection but our readers will easily suppose something analogous from the hands of Mr. Warburton or Mr.Wakley, or some such professor of political anatomy.

[3] Shame on the age and on its principles! The senate is aware of these things; the consul sees them; and yet this man lives. Lives! aye, he comes even into the senate. He takes a part in the public deliberations.

[4] See Mr. Burke’s definition of a People as distinguished from ‘a multitude, told by the head’ in his Appeal from the new Whigs to the old, an essay whose reasonings, as well as its title, are wonderfully apposite to our present condition

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