§ SIR ROBERT PEEL
Mr. Speaker, I feel it to be my duty to avail myself of the earliest opportunity of notifying to this House, that in consequence of the position of Her Majesty's Government, and especially in consequence of the vote to which the House came on the night of Thursday last, refusing to give to Her Majesty's servants those powers which they deemed necessary for the repression of outrage and the protection of life in Ireland, they have felt it to be their duty to tender their resignation to a gracious Sovereign. The resolution to tender that resignation was unanimously agreed to by Her Majesty's servants, and adopted without hesita- 1041 tion. If I had any complaint to prefer with respect to the course pursued by the House, this is not the occasion on which I would make it. It is impossible not to feel that the occasion of a complete change in the councils of a vast Empire, affecting, for weal or for wo, many millions of the Queen's subjects in nearly all parts of the habitable globe, is an important, I might almost say, a solemn occasion. It is not upon such an occasion that one word ought to be uttered by a Minister of the Crown, acting in homage to constitutional principles, that can by possibility provoke party controversy. Such controversy would be wholly unsuited to the magnitude of the occasion; and, I must add, that to provoke any such controversy would be entirely at variance with the personal feelings which influence me in addressing this House. Those feelings would rather prompt me to acknowledge with gratitude the many occasions on which, speaking of the great body of the Gentlemen who sit on this side of the House, they have given to my Colleagues and myself, at a period antecedent to the present Session, their generous and cordial support. They would prompt me also to acknowledge with gratitude the disinterested aid which we have not unfrequently received from Gentlemen opposite, in oblivion of party differences. I trust, therefore, that nothing will escape from me in explaining the course Her Majesty's Government have thought it their duty to pursue, that can run the risk of provoking the controversy which I deprecate.
Her Majesty, Sir, has been graciously pleased to accept our tender of resignation, and Her servants now only hold their offices until their successors shall have been appointed. I said, Sir, that if I had complaints to prefer, this is not the occasion on which I would prefer them. But I have no complaints to make. I did not propose the measures connected with the commercial policy of the Empire, which have been so severely contested, without foreseeing the great probability that, whether those measures should succeed or fail, they must cause the dissolution of the Government which introduced them. And, therefore, I rather rejoice that Her Majesty's Ministers have been relieved from all difficulty, by an early and unambiguous decision of the House of Commons; for I do not hesitate to say, that even if that decision had been in our favour on the particular vote, I would not have consented to hold office upon suf- 1042 ferance or through, the mere evasion of Parliamentary difficulties. It is not for the public interest that a Government should remain in office when it is unable to give practical effect to the measures it believes necessary for the national welfare; and I certainly do not think it probable, in the position in which Her Majesty's Government were placed by the withdrawal—perhaps the natural withdrawal—of the confidence of many of those who heretofore had given it support, that even if the late vote had been in our favour, Ministers would have been able with credit to themselves, and with advantage to the interests of the country, to conduct the administration of public affairs.
We have advised Her Majesty to accept our resignation at once, without adopting that alternative to which we might have resorted, namely, recommending to the Crown the exercise of its prerogative, and the dissolution of the present Parliament. I do not hesitate to avow, speaking with a frankness that I trust will offend no one, that if Her Majesty's Government had failed in carrying, in all their integrity, the main measures of commercial policy which it was my duty to recommend, that there is no exertion that I would not have made—no sacrifice that I would not have incurred—in order, to ensure the ultimate success of those measures, or at any rate to give the country an opportunity of pronouncing its opinion on the subject. For such a purpose, I should have felt justified in advising dissolution; because I think the continuance of doubt and uncertainty on such important matters, would have been a greater evil than the resort to a constitutional mode of ascertaining the opinion of the nation. But there has been fortunately no necessity for a dissolution of Parliament upon that ground. Those who dissented most strongly from our commercial policy, withdrew all factious and unseemly opposition, and, protesting against our measures, they have finally allowed them to pass. Those measures having thus become the law, I do not feel that we should be justified, for any subordinate considerations, for the mere interests of Government or party, in advising the exercise of the prerogative to which I have referred, and the dissolution of Parliament. I feel very strongly that no Administration is justified in advising the exercise of that prerogative unless there be a reasonable presumption, a strong moral conviction indeed, that after dissolution 1043 they would be enabled to administer the affairs of the country through the support of a party sufficiently powerful to carry their measures. I do not think a dissolution justifiable for the purpose merely of strengthening a party. The power of dissolution is a great instrument in the hands of the Crown; and it would have a tendency to blunt the instrument if it were employed without grave necessity. If the purpose were to enable the country to decide whether Ministers had been justified in proposing the measures of commercial policy brought forward at the beginning of the Session, those measures having passed into a law, I do not think such a purpose alone would be a sufficient ground for a dissolution. There ought also to be a strong presumption that, after a new election there would be returned to this House a party with strength sufficient to enable the Government, by their support, to carry on that system of public policy of which it approved. I do not mean a support founded upon mere temporary sympathy, or a support founded upon concurrence in one great question of domestic policy, however important. We ought not, in my opinion, to dissolve without a full assurance that we should have the support of a powerful party united with us by accordance in general views and principles of government. In the present state and divisions of party, and after all that has occurred, I do not entertain a confident hope that a dissolution would give us that support. I think, too, that after the excitement that has taken place—after the stagnation of trade that has necessarily followed our protracted discussions on the Corn Laws and the Tariff, it is not an advantageous period for a dissolution, but that the country should be allowed an interval of tranquillity and repose. We have, therefore, on these several grounds preferred instant resignation to the alternative of dissolution.
The question on which we were defeated, was one connected with Ireland. I should, indeed, deeply lament that defeat, if it could be thought that the measure we proposed for the repression of outrage in Ireland was an indication that Her Majesty's servants held any opinion in regard to the policy to be pursued towards that country different from that which I declared towards the close of the last Session. To the opinions I then avowed—opinions which had practical effect given to them by the measures we proposed—by such measures, for example, as the Charitable Bequests 1044 Act, and by the vote for the enlarged endowment of the College of Maynooth—I now profess my entire and unqualified adherence. We brought forward the measure against which the House has recently decided, not under the belief that resistance to the contagious spread of crime, and a vigorous repression by law of offences disgracing some parts of the country, were in themselves calculated permanently to improve the social condition of Ireland; but we thought that the restoration and maintenance of order were necessary preliminaries to the success of ulterior legislation for the improvement of the condition of the people. The House, however, has decided otherwise, and I am not about to arraign that decision. I only deprecate the inference that, because we proposed that Bill, which some called a measure of coercion, but which we considered a measure necessary for the protection of life, our views in regard to the policy to be pursued towards Ireland have undergone a change. Speaking for myself, I do not hesitate to avow the opinion, that there ought to be established a complete equality of municipal, civil, and political rights, as between Ireland and Great Britain. By complete equality I do not mean—because I know that is impossible—a technical and literal equality in every particular respect. In these matters, as in matters of more sacred import, it may be that "the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life;" and I speak of the spirit and not of the letter in which our legislation, in regard to franchise and privilege, ought to be conducted. My meaning is, that there should be a real and substantial equality of political and civil rights, so that no person, viewing Ireland with an unbiassed eye, and comparing the civil franchises of Ireland with those of England or of Scotland, shall be able to say with truth, that a different rule has been adopted towards Ireland, and that on account of hostility or suspicion or distrust, civil freedom is there curtailed and mutilated. That is what I mean by equality in legislating for Ireland in respect to civil franchise and political rights.
With regard to the Executive Administration in Ireland, I think the favour of the Crown ought to be bestowed, and the confidence of the Crown reposed, without reference to religious distinctions. It may appear that we have not practically acted on that principle; but it is not because we repudiate it or deny its justice. When 1045 we have taken the opportunity of manifesting confidence in any member of the Roman Catholic body, I cannot say that justice has been done to our motives, nor has the position of the individual accepting a mark of favour from us been such as to encourage other Roman Catholics to receive similar proofs of confidence. Those who succeed us in the Government of Ireland may have better means of carrying that principle into execution; and if they act upon it, and bestow the favour and confidence of the Crown without reference to religious differences, they shall hear no complaint from me on that ground.
Then, Sir, with respect to the general spirit in which our legislation for Ireland should be conducted. Adhering to all the opinions which I have heretofore expressed on the greater and more important points of Irish policy, I am at the same time prepared to co-operate with those who feel the present social condition of the people in respect to the tenure of land, and to the relation between landlord and tenant, to be one that deserves our immediate though most cautious consideration. It may be impossible, by legislation, to apply any instant remedy to the state of affairs which unfortunately exists in that country; but, even if the benefit be necessarily remote, that very circumstance ought to operate as an additional stimulus to us to apply our minds without delay to the consideration of a subject of equal difficulty and importance. On all those matters connected with the tenure of land and the relation of landlord and tenant—I would uphold the rights of property. There may be occasionally a seeming temporary advantage in disregarding those rights—but the ultimate and permanent benefit of strictly maintaining them greatly preponderates. The course we have taken during this Session of extreme pressure of public business is a sufficient proof that there has been no disinclination on our part to consider the amendment of the law in respect to the tenure and improvement of landed property in Ireland, nor will there be any disinclination to co-operate in our private capacities with those on whom the public trust committed to us is about to be devolved.
Sir, I have reason to believe that the noble Lord the Member for the city of London has been commanded by the Queen to repair to Her Majesty for the purpose of rendering his assistance in the formation of a Government. I presume the 1046 general principle upon which the Government to be formed by the noble Lord will act, so far as its commercial policy is concerned, will be the continued application of those principles which tend to establish a freer intercourse with other countries. If that policy be pursued, as I confidently expect it will, I shall feel it to be my duty to give to the Government, in the furtherance of it, my cordial support. If other countries choose to buy in the dearest market, such an option on their part constitutes no reason why we should not be permitted to buy in the cheapest. I trust the Government of the noble Lord will not resume the policy which they and we have felt most inconvenient, namely, the haggling with foreign countries about reciprocal concessions, instead of taking that independent course which we believe to be conducive to our own interests. Let us trust to the influence of public opinion in other countries—let us trust that our example, with the proof of practical benefit we derive from it, will at no remote period insure the adoption of the principles on which we have acted, rather than defer indefinitely that which per se is advantageous to ourselves, in the hope of obtaining by delay equivalent concessions from other countries. Sir, when I express the confident hope that these general principles will influence the commercial policy of the new Government, I do not advise that the adoption of them should overrule every moral consideration, or should at once subject every species of production in this country to competition with other nations. I speak generally as to the tendency of our commercial policy. I trust that every step that is taken will be towards the relaxation of restriction upon trade. I, for one, shall not urge upon the Government a hasty and precipitate adoption of principles sound in themselves, if through the abrupt and sudden application of them, we incur the risk of a great derangement of the social system. I shall bear in mind that vast experiments have been recently made under the present Administration—I shall bear in mind also, that the surplus amount of public revenue is smaller than it ought to be, consistently with the permanent interests of the country. While, therefore, I offer a cordial support in enforcing those general principles of commercial policy which have received the sanction of Parliament in the present Session, I shall not urge the Government to any such simultaneous and precipitate extension of them 1047 as may be either injurious to interests entitled from special circumstances to some degree of continued protection, or may incur the risk of deranging the financial system of the country. In delivering these opinions, I am bound to say that I am rather indicating my own intentions and the course I shall individually pursue, than that I have had the opportunity of conferring with others, and am authorized to speak their sentiments. I cannot doubt, however, that those who gave their cordial concurrence to the commercial measures which I have proposed, will be ready to give their general acquiescence and support to measures of a similar character when proposed by others.
Sir, I do not know that it is necessary that I should make any other declarations as to the future, than those I have already made. I wish to draw no invidious contrast with preceding Administrations; I wish to make no allusions in a hostile spirit; but I cannot surrender power without expressing the confident belief that, during the five years for which power has been committed to our hands, neither the interests nor the honour of this country have been compromised. I can say with truth that, during that period, the burden of taxation has been rendered more equal, and that the pressure which was unjust and severe on many classes of Her Majesty's subjects has been greatly mitigated. I can say with truth, that many restrictions upon commerce injuriously affecting the trade of this country have been removed. Without interfering with legitimate speculation, without paralysing, or at all deranging the credit of the State, stability has been given to the monetary system of this country; and let me here acknowledge with gratitude the cordial support which (without reference to party distinctions) the measures I proposed with regard to the Bank of England, the joint-stock banks, and the private hanks of this country, received in the year 1843. Sir, I trust also that the stability of our Indian Empire has not been weakened by the policy we have pursued; and that the glory and honour of the British arms both by sea and land in every part of the world have been maintained, not through our exertions, but through the devoted gallantry of the soldiers and sailors of this country. Although there have been considerable reductions in the public burdens, yet I have the satisfaction of stating to the House that 1048 the national defences both by sea and land have been greatly improved, and that the army and navy are in the most efficient state. I trust, likewise, that I may congratulate the House, that, notwithstanding a great diminution of the fiscal burdens of the Empire, our finances are in a prosperous and a buoyant state, and that on the 5th July next the Return to be laid upon the Table will prove there has been an increased consumption of almost every article subject to customs and excise duties, and that general prosperity and the demand which it occasions have supplied the void in our finances that would otherwise have been created. Lastly, I can say with truth, that without any harsh enforcement of the law, without any curtailment of the liberty of the subject, or the freedom of the press, there has been, speaking at least of Great Britain, as much of obedience and submission to the law as at any period of our history. Nay, I will say more—that in consequence of greater command over the necessaries and minor luxuries of life—in consequence, too, of confidence in the just administration of the law, and in the benevolent intentions of Parliament, there has been more content, less sedition and public crime, less necessity for the exercise of power for the repression of political disaffection or outrage, than was ever known at any antecedent period. I said "lastly;" but I have reserved one topic, for which I think, without any unseemly boast, or invidious comparison, I may claim credit for Her Majesty's Councils—at least for that distinguished man, less conspicuous perhaps, in debate, than some others, but fully as deserving of public honour and respect—on account of the exertions he has made for the maintenance of peace—I mean my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. My noble Friend has dared to avow that there is a moral obligation upon the Christian Minister of a Christian country to exhaust every effort for the maintenance of peace, before incurring the risk, not to say the guilt, of war. But while he has not shrunk from the manly avowal of that opinion, I will in justice to him add this—and it is perfectly consistent with that opinion, as to the moral obligation of maintaining peace while peace can be maintained with honour—that there never was a Minister less inclined to sacrifice any essential interest, or to abate anything from the dignity and honour of this country, even for the purpose of securing that inestimable 1049 blessing. Sir, I do confidently trust that we leave the foreign relations of this country in a satisfactory state—that, speaking not only of France, but of the other great Powers of Europe, there is entire confidence in the honourable intentions of this country, and a real desire on the part of the Governments of other Powers to co-operate with us in the maintenance of peace. Sir, it is the spirit of mutual confidence on the part of public men, the Ministers of great countries, which most facilitates the maintenance of general peace. Let it he remembered that we necessarily and frequently come in contact with France in various and sometimes very distant quarters of the world—that there are on both sides employed in the public service warm partisans, naturally, perhaps justly, jealous of the honour of their respective countries—that grounds of quarrel, small in themselves, inflamed by the spirit of rivalry and keen sense of national honour, might easily be fomented into the causes of war, desolating nations, unless the counsels of the great Powers were presided over by Ministers of comprehensive views, who, feeling peace to be the true interest of the civilized world, are determined that trifling disputes, and the excited passions of angry partisans, shall not involve their respective countries in the calamities of war.
Sir, if anything could have induced me to regret that decision on the part of the House which terminates the existence of the Government, it would have been the wish that we should survive the day when intelligence might be received from the United States as to the result of our last attempt to adjust the differences with that country—differences which, unless speedily terminated, must probably involve both countries in the necessity of an appeal to arms. The House will probably recollect that, after we had offered to leave the dispute respecting the territory of the Oregon to arbitration, and that offer had been rejected, the President of the United States sent a Message to the Congress, which led to discussions with regard to the termination of the convention entered into several years since, which provided for a temporary adjustment of our differences—at least, for a temporary avoidance of quarrel—and enabled the two countries jointly to occupy the territory of the Oregon. The two Houses of the American Congress, advised the President of the United States to exercise his unquestionable power, and to 1050 signify to this country the desire of the United States to terminate after the lapse of a year the existing convention. They, however, added to that advice, which might, perhaps, otherwise have been considered of an unsatisfactory or hostile character, the declaration that they desired the notice for the termination of the convention to be given, in order that an amicable adjustment of the dispute between the two countries might thereby be facilitated. It appeared to us that the addition of that conciliatory declaration—the expression of a hope that the termination of the convention might the more strongly impress upon the two countries the necessity of amicable adjustment—removed any barrier which diplomatic punctilios might have raised to a renewal by this country of the attempt to settle our differences with the United States. We did not hesitate, therefore, within two days after the receipt of that intelligence—we did not hesitate, although the offer of arbitration made by us had been rejected, to do that which, in the present state of the protracted dispute, it became essential to do—namely, not to propose renewed and lengthened negotiations, but to specify frankly and without reserve, what were the terms on which we could consent to a partition of the country of the Oregon. Sir, the President of the United States met us ill a corresponding spirit. Whatever might have been the expressions heretofore used by him, however strongly he might have been personally committed to the adoption of a different course, he most wisely and patriotically determined at once to refer our proposals to the Senate—that authority of the United States whose consent is requisite for the conclusion of any negotiation of this kind; and the Senate, acting also in the same pacific spirit, has, I have the heartfelt satisfaction to state, at once advised acquiescence in the terms we offered. From the importance of the subject, and considering that this is the last day I shall have to address the House as a Minister of the Crown, I may, perhaps, be allowed to state what are the proposals we made to the United States for the final settlement of the Oregon question. In order to prevent the necessity for renewed diplomatic negotiations, we prepared and sent out the form of a convention, which we trusted the United States would accept. The first article of that convention was to this effect, that—From the point on the 49th parallel of north latitude, where the boundary laid down in existing 1051 treaties and conventions between Great Britain and the United States terminates, the line of boundary between the territories of Her Britannic Majesty and those of the United States shall be continued westward along the said 49th parallel of north latitude to the middle of the channel which separates the continent from Vancouver's Island, and thence southerly through the middle of the said chanuel, and of Fuca's Straits, to the Pacific Ocean; provided, however, that the navigation of the said channel and straits, south of the 49th parallel of north latitude, remain free and open to both parties.Those who remember the local conformation of that country will understand that that which we proposed is the continuation of the 49th parallel of latitude till it strikes the Straits of Fuca; that that parallel should not be continued as a boundary across Vancouver's Island, thus depriving us of a part of Vancouver's Island, but that the middle of the channel shall be the future boundary, thus leaving us in possession of the whole of Vancouver's Island, with equal right to the navigation of the Straits. Sir, the second article of the convention we sent for the acceptance of the United States was to this effect, that—From the point at which the 49th parallel of north latitude shall be found to intersect the great northern branch of the Columbia river, the navigation of the said branch shall be free and open to the Hudson's Bay Company, and to all British subjects trading with the same, to the point where the said branch meets the main stream of the Columbia, and thence down the said main stream to the ocean, with free access into and through the said river or rivers, it being understood that all the usual portages along the line thus described shall in like manner be free and open. In navigating the said river or rivers, British subjects, with their goods and produce, shall be treated on the same footing as citizens of the United States, it being, however, always understood that nothing in this article shall be coustrued as preventing, or intended to prevent, the Government of the United States from making any regulations respecting the navigation of the said river, or rivers, not inconsistent with the present Treaty.Sir, I will not occupy the attention of the House with the mere details of this convention. I have read the important articles. On this very day, on my return from my mission to Her Majesty to offer the resignation of Her Majesty's servants, I had the satisfaction of finding an official letter from Mr. Pakenham, intimating in the following terms the acceptance of our proposals, and giving an assurance of the immediate termination of our differences with the United States:—
§ "Washington, June 13, 1846.
§ "My Lord—In conformity with what I had 1052 the honour to state in my despatch, No. 68, of the 7th instant, the President sent a message on Wednesday last to the Senate, submitting for the opinion of that body the draught of a convention for the settlement of the Oregon question, which I was instructed by your Lordship's despatch, No. 19, of the 18th of May, to propose for the aeceptance of the United States.
§ "After a few hours' deliberation on each of the three days, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, the Senate, by a majority of 38 votes to 12, adopted yesterday evening a Resolution advising the President to accept the terms prsposed by Her Majesty's Government. The President did not hesitate to act on this advice, and Mr. Buchanan accordingly sent for me this morning, and informed me that the conditions offered by Her Majesty's Government were accepted by the Government of the United States, without the addition or alteration of a single word.—I have the honour to be, &c.
§ "R. PAKENHAM.
§ "The Right Hon. the Earl of Aberdeen, K. T., &c."
§ Thus, Sir, the Governments of two great nations, impelled, I believe, by the public opinion of each country in favour of peace—by that opinion which ought to guide and influence statesmen—have, by moderation, by mutual compromise, averted the dreadful calamity of a war, between two nations of kindred origin and common language, the breaking out of which might have involved the civilized world in general conflict. A single year, perhaps a single month of such a war, would have been more costly than the value of the whole territory that was the object of dispute. But this evil has been averted consistently with perfect honour on the part of the American Government, and on the part of those who have at length closed, I trust, every cause of dissension between the two countries. Sir, I may add, to the credit of the Government of this country, that, so far from being influenced in our views in regard to the policy of terminating these disputes about the Oregon by the breaking out of the war between the United States and with Mexico, we distinctly intimated to Mr. Pakenham, that although that event had occurred, it did not affect, in the slightest degree, our desire for peace. Mr. Pakenham, knowing the real wishes and views of his Government, having a discretionary power in certain cases to withhold the proposals we had instructed him to make, wisely thought the occurrence of Mexican hostilities with the United States was not one of the cases which would justify the exercise of that discretionary power, and therefore most wisely 1053 did he tender this offer of peace to the United States on the impulse of his own conviction, and in full confidence in the pacific policy of his own Government. Let me add also, and I am sure this House will think it to the credit of my noble Friend, that on the occurrence of these hostilities between Mexico and the United States, before we were aware of the reception which the offer on our part in respect to the Oregon would meet with, the first packet that sailed tendered to the United States the offer of our good offices for the purpose of mediation between them and the Mexican Government. Sir, I do cordially rejoice, that, in surrendering power at the feet of a majority of this House, I have the opportunity of giving them the official assurance that every cause of quarrel with that great country on the other side of the Atlantic is amicably terminated.
§ Sir, I have now executed the task which my public duty imposed upon me. I trust I have said nothing which can lead to the revival on the present occasion of those controversies which I have deprecated. Whatever opinions may be held with regard to the extent of the danger with which we were threatened from the failure in one great article of subsistence, I can say with truth that Her Majesty's Government, in proposing those measures of commercial policy which have disentitled them to the confidence of many who heretofore gave them their support, were influenced by no other motive than the desire to consult the interests of this country. Our object was to avert dangers which we thought were imminent, and to terminate a conflict which, according to our belief, would soon place in hostile collision great and powerful classes in this country. The maintenance of power was not a motive for the proposal of these measures; for, as I said before, I had not a doubt, that whether these measures were accompanied by failure or success, the certain issue must be the termination of the existence of this Government. It is, perhaps, advantageous for the public interests that such should be the issue. I admit that the withdrawal of confidence from us by many of our friends was a natural result. When proposals are made, apparently at variance with the course which Ministers heretofore pursued, and subjecting them to the charge of inconsistency—it is perhaps advantageous for this country, and for the general character of public men, that the proposal of measures of that kind, under such circum- 1054 stances, should entail that which is supposed to be the fitting punishment, namely, expulsion from office. I, therefore, do not complain of that expulsion. I am sure it is far preferable to the continuance in office without a full assurance of the confidence of this House. I said before, and I said truly, that in proposing our measures of commercial policy, I had no wish to rob others of the credit justly due to them. I must say, with reference to hon. Gentlemen opposite, as I say with reference to ourselves, that neither of us is the party which is justly entitled to the credit of them. There has been a combination of parties generally opposed to each other, and that combination, and the influence of Government, have led to their ultimate success; but the name which ought to be associated with the success of those measures is not the name of the noble Lord, the organ of the party of which he is the leader, nor is it mine. The name which ought to be, and will be, associated with the success of those measures, is the name of one who, acting, I believe, from pure and disinterested motives, has, with untiring energy, made appeals to our reason, and has enforced those appeals with an eloquence the more to be admired because it was unaffected and unadorned: the name which ought to be chiefly associated with the success of those measures, is the name of RICHARD COBDEN.
§ Sir, I now close the observations which it has been my duty to address to the House, thanking them sincerely for the favour with which they have listened to me in performing this last act of my official career. Within a few hours, probably, that power which I have held for the period of five years will be surrendered into the hands of another — without repining — without complaint on my part—with a more lively recollection of the support and confidence I have received during several years, than of the opposition which during a recent period I have encountered. In relinquishing power, I shall leave a name, severely censured I fear by many who, on public grounds, deeply regret the severance of party ties—deeply regret that severance, not from interested or personal motives, but from the firm conviction that fidelity to party engagements—the existence and maintenance of a great party—constitutes a powerful instrument of government: I shall surrender power severely censured also, by others who, from no interested motive, adhere to the principle of protection, consider- 1055 ing the maintenance of it to be essential to the welfare and interests of the country: I shall leave a name execrated by every monopolist who, from less honourable motives, clamours for protection because it conduces to his own individual benefit; but it may be that I shall leave a name sometimes remembered with expressions of good will in the abodes of those whose lot it is to labour, and to earn their daily bread by the sweat of their brow, when they shall recruit their exhausted strength with abundant and untaxed food, the sweeter because it is no longer leavened by a sense of injustice.
§ When the cheering which followed the close of this speech had subsided,
§ SIR R. PEEL
said: I have received a communication from the noble Lord whose services have been required by Her Majesty; and I trust, in conformity with his wish, the House will unanimously support the Motion I shall now make, namely, that the House at its rising do adjourn till Friday next.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
I do not rise, Sir, for the purpose of opposing the recommendation of the right hon. Baronet, that this House, at its rising, should adjourn to Friday next; neither do I at all differ from him in thinking that upon the present important occasion we should abstain from entering upon any topics likely to produce discussion. I entirely concur with him in thinking that we should, just at this moment, do nothing to renew party difficulties or revive past differences. Although that was the language held by the light hon. Baronet himself at the commencement of his speech, yet there can be no doubt that in the subsequent part of his observations, led away excusably by his own feelings, he did advert to topics which might have led some hon. Members who sit at this side of the House into a discussion of a different character from that which ought to characterize the present proceedings. I do wish, Sir, to state to the House, that if I abstain from following the right hon. Baronet through any of those topics which he has touched upon connected with his five years' Administration, I beg it to be understood that I am not thereby abandoning or retracting any of the opinions which I may have expressed, and which others may have expressed in this House on many occasions, with respect to the policy of the Government, and that our silence may not be construed into an acquiescence in that—I may say—general 1056 commendation which he has passed on the measures of his Government. Sir, I agree with the right hon. Baronet, that he has shown a proper deference to constitutional principle in bowing to the opinion—manifestly and clearly expressed—of the House of Commons. And I think he is perfectly right in having said that this would not have been an occasion on which it would have been becoming or proper in him to have advised the Crown to exercise its prerogative of dissolving the Parliament, and going to a new election. I agree with him, that no Government could stand in England with parties so divided as they are at present—that no Government could rest upon a minority of this House, and that it would be evidently inexpedient to dissolve Parliament at a time when there was no prospect of converting that minority into a majority. For these reasons, then, it is clear that the right hon. Baronet did best by not resorting to the course of dissolving Parliament. There were many parts of the speech which the House has just heard from the right hon. Baronet, I have listened to with much pleasure. I was glad to hear, for example, the principles which he put forth with respect to the government of Ireland. I rejoiced to hear him recognise the right of that people to every privilege—civil, political, and municipal—that difference of religious opinions was not in future to affect the policy pursued towards the people of Ireland—and that the employments disposable by the Government ought to be distributed freely, without reference to the religious sentiments of those who might become the candidates for such employments. If I were disposed to treat the speech of the right hon. Baronet in a different spirit, I might express some passing regret that the opinions which we have now heard him deliver, had not been expressed by him at a former period. But I propose to refrain from discussions of this character; and, upon the same account, I propose to avoid going into the question of the policy which we have pursued with respect to our Indian Empire. I will not stop to inquire whether it has or has not received in all its parts the unequivocal approbation of the House of Commons and of the country. Neither do I intend to touch some other topics which have entered into the composition of the right hon. Baronet's speech; though I may be again allowed to say, that the right hon. Baronet did not altogether so shape what he had to say, as not to afford 1057 an inducement or opportunity for discussion. I should be sorry to leave one topic of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, after the deep pleasure which it has afforded: I mean the communication which he made, and which will be received with entire satisfaction, not only within the walls of Parliament, but throughout the country—that the unfortunate differences which have arisen between this country and the United States have been brought to a termination, which, as far as we can at present judge, seems equally favourable to both parties. It would be one of the greatest calamities which could happen under present circumstances, if two kindred nations, like Great Britain and the United States, were involved in the misfortunes of war—misfortunes, the remotest chance of which should not be incurred, except in the maintenance of great and paramount interests. With reference to a totally different subject, I am well pleased that the right hon. Baronet has availed himself of the opportunity which this occasion has afforded to say that in which the whole country will concur. The right hon. Baronet has well said, that the merit of this great commercial measure is not due to hon. Members on this side or on that side of the House; it is, on the contrary, due to the talent, the ability, the perseverance, and firmness of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport. The right hon. Baronet has paid a just and deserved compliment to the name of Richard Cobden. When the House and the country look to the highest point in the history of these events, they will see the name of Richard Cobden—a man distinguished by great zeal and enlightenment in advancing a great and important change in our commercial code, and a man likewise who presents in his own person a distinguished result of that Parliamentary Reform carried by this side of the House,—a reform which has produced this among other great results, whatever might have been anticipated by hon. Gentlemen who now sit opposite. The true and original course which led the right hon. Baronet to propose a repeal of the Corn Laws was the fact that the Reform Bill had been previously passed. I have only to add, that I was, in the first place, anxious to express my congratulations with respect to the intelligence from America; and, in the second place, to enter my protest against its being supposed, that I did, upon the present occasion, acquiesce in any opinion different from those which hon. Members 1058 have been in the habit of hearing from this side of the House.
§ MR. HUME
was anxious as a humble individual not to let the conversation close without saying one or two words. He had been long opposed to the right hon. Baronet; but he must congratulate the country on the right hon. Baronet's having brought his great measure to a successful termination. He had brought this country, by removing restrictions from our commercial code, to a situation to which the whole world would anxiously aspire. He considered that the right hon. Gentleman had rendered such a service to his country as would redound for ever to the honour of his name. When he came into office he found the country engaged in war, and he was sure that no consolation would be greater to the right hon. Baronet than that when he left office, he left it at peace with all the world. He had also by his great measure afforded fair and ample scope for the employment of capital and industry, and for which he deserved as much or more credit than any predecessor in office. He was satisfied when this measure was properly carried out that it would confer the greatest benefits on the civilized world; he therefore regretted that at this moment circumstances should compel the right hon. Baronet to resign the helm of power; and he was sure that his retirement was the source of regret and a matter of sympathy with millions. No one ever left power carrying with him so much of the sympathy of the people. He would venture to say that those hon. Gentlemen who were now opposed to him on this great question, would before many years elapsed regret the course which they had taken, and would become coverts to the system which he advocated. He individually felt the greatest gratitude to the right hon. Baronet for the manner in which he had carried out this great measure.
§ SIR R. INGLIS
merely wished to make one observation with, reference to the adjournment, although many passages in the speech of the right hon. Baronet, and, above all, the peroration of it, might tempt him into observations from which, however, he would abstain. He wished to know whether an adjournment would not be attended with inconvenience to private business. To-morrow was a day to receive reports on Private Bills; he therefore would appeal to the Speaker whether they might not meet at twelve o'clock each day merely for private business.
§ SIR R. PEEL
said, that he had made the Motion for adjournment in compliance with the wish of the noble Lord; and in assenting to this he had suggested to the noble Lord that this adjournment might be attended with some inconvenience as far as regarded private business: he therefore had asked the noble Lord, whether he would object to the House meeting for private business, on the understanding that no public business snould be taken. Since that he had received a note from the noble Lord, in which the noble Lord stated that he had no objection to private business being proceeded with.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
thought that the adoption of the suggestion would be attended with inconvenience. It would hardly be possible to secure a full attendance for private business, and few would be present besides those in some way interested. The business, therefore, would not be conducted in a satisfactory manner. If this suggestion was adopted, he would recommend the Vice President of the Board of Trade to attend when the private business was being conducted, and use his influence and give his advice as to the proceedings.
§ SIR G. CLERK
should feel it to be his duty to attend, but he trusted that he should have the assistance of the right hon. Gentleman and other Members opposite.
§ MR. GREENE
suggested that no opposed question should be brought forward. This would get over the difficulty.
The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
intended to make two Motions: the first was, that Committees should sit, notwithstanding the adjournment of the House; and that all reports for Private Bills, fixed for Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, should be postponed until Friday. He thought that the objection of the right hon. Gentleman was one of a very serious nature. He did not think that the delay from Tuesday to Friday, in the report of a Bill, could be of any serious consequence.
§ House adjourned till Friday at half-past Seven.