HC Deb 26 January 1855 vol 136 cc960-79

Sir, at the request of my noble Friend at the head of the Government, I have postponed to this day the statement I wish to make with respect to my resignation of the office which I lately had the honour to hold—that of President of the Council. I shall go at once to the matter, fearing that the statement I have to make may be prolonged more than I could wish it should be. On Tuesday last, when I was present in this House, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) gave notice of a Motion for a Select Committee— To Inquire into the condition of our Army before Sebastopol, and into the conduct of those Departments of the Government whose duty it has been to minister to the wants of that Army. Sir, I of course had thought it probable some Member might move for an inquiry of that kind. I had not, however, fully considered the course that I ought to take; that depended much on the nature of the Motion that might be made, and I should say, likewise, that it depended much on the quarter from which it might come. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Mem- ber for Sheffield, it is evident, is in a position to evince no hostility to the Government which he has supported, and I could not conceive that he had any other object than that which we have all at heart—the vigorous prosecution of the war. Now, Sir, with respect to the power of inquiry, it is a most valuable privilege of this House. This House has no power of appointment, no power of directing the measures that may be taken; but by the power of inquiry it corrects abuses, it reforms maladministration, and strengthens those establishments which it may seem for the time to shake. A Motion for inquiry, however, may be resisted on two grounds—the one, that there are no evils existing of sufficient magnitude to call for inquiry; the other, that sufficient means have been taken to remedy those evils, and that they will be best cured by other means than by a resort to the inquisitorial powers of this House. Now, Sir, with respect to the first off these grounds which I have stated, it is obvious that it was impossible to he resorted to. No one can deny the melancholy condition of our army before Sebastopol. The accounts which arrive from that quarter every week are not only painful, but horrible and heartrending; and I am sure no one would oppose for a moment any measure that would be likely—if not entirely to cure—even to do anything to mitigate those evils. Sir, I must say that there is something, with all the official knowledge to which I have had access, that to me is inexplicable in the state of our army. If I had been told as a reason against the expedition to the Crimea last year that your troops would Le seven miles from the sea—seven miles from a secure port—which at that time, when we had in contemplation the expedition, we hardly hoped to possess—and that at that seven miles' distance they would be in want of food, of clothing, and of shelter, to such a degree that they would perish at the rate of from ninety to a hundred a day, I should have considered such a prediction as utterly preposterous, and such a picture of the expedition as entirely fanciful and absurd. We are all, however, forced to confess the notoriety of that melancholy state of things. It was not, therefore, by denying the existence of the evils that I could hope to induce this House to reject the proposition of the hon. and learned Gentleman. But, Sir, I had further to reflect that I was in a position not to give a faint "No" to the proposal —not to express in vague and equivocal language a wish that the Motion should not be carried, or to use any evasion with respect to the letter of its terms with a view to defeat the Motion, It was my duty—a duty which, I trust, I have ever performed when in that situation—to stand in the front of the battle, and manfully to take my part in opposing the appointment of that Committee. Then, Sir, I had to consider whether I might not give the second reason for refusing the Committee to which I have alluded—namely, that measures had been taken, that arrangements were in progress, by which those evils would be remedied, and by which the administration of the war would be vigorously and, as was to be hoped, successfully prosecuted. Sir, I should have been more disposed to give that reason, because it is obvious that the concession of a Committee on the subject—a Committee sitting for weeks, perhaps for months—would be fatal to the efficiency of those military departments which it would chiefly affect. There was, therefore, the strongest inducement, if possible, to put forward such an objection to the inquiry which the hon. and learned Gentleman proposed to make. But, Sir, I found upon reflection that it was impossible for me to urge with effect, and according to my own conscience, and with truth, that objection to the proposition for a Committee.

I hope the House will here permit me to refer to some circumstances personal to myself, though they hardly come within the scope of the statement 1 have to make. When the office of Secretary of State for War was separated from the office of Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Earl of Aberdeen thought it right to propose to the Duke of Newcastle to keep which of the two offices he should most desire; and the Duke of Newcastle, with a commendable ambition, as I think, replied that, having exerted himself in fitting out a very large expedition, be should, of course, like to remain at the head of the department which should have the direction of the orders of that expedition and the general management of the war. The Earl of Aberdeen consented to that arrangement, and I was a concurring party to the appointment. At the end of the Session, the various Members of the Government, especially those who are Members of this House, dispersed, as they usually do; and it appears to me that that dispersion, after the excessive labours of this House, is so necessary to the due performance of their duties, that no one, unless he is in charge of very urgent duties, is to blame for resorting for purposes of health to distant parts of the country. I was not in any office which obliged me to take any part in the conduct of the war; but, during my absence, there was scarcely a day in which I did not both receive from, and write a letter to, my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, with respect to the occurrences that were daily taking place. It has been said, that I went lecturing about the country at that time. The truth is, an hon. Friend of mine, the Member for Bristol (Mr. H. Berkeley), had said, on the day this House separated for the holidays, that it would give great gratification to his friends at Bristol if I would attend the meeting of a literary society in that place; and the day was named between us. Then, when I was coming from the north, and being at the house of my brother, he informed me that his neighbours in Bedford would be gratified if I would attend a literary meeting in that town. I complied with these two requests, which certainly did not exhaust much time, or call for much study with respect to what I had to say. I conceive, however, that, as President of the Council, these meetings were not very alien from the duty of promoting education. It has, nevertheless, been cast on me as an imputation that I attended to the request of these gentlemen. But, passing from that to a more important point, I have to state that, having attended all the Cabinet Councils that met on the subject of the war, I wrote to my noble Friend (the Earl of Aberdeen) at the time that I supposed there would be Cabinet meetings—at the beginning of October—that I should be ready to attend them whenever they met. My noble Friend, in reply, informed me that he should not return from Scotland till the 14th of October, and on the 17th of October a Cabinet Council was held, which I thought it my duty to attend. But in the course of that month, and from the beginning of the month of November, it struck me that a better administration of affairs relating to the war was required. I made up my mind with considerable difficulty. I was 10th to stir up any difference on a subject that affected, in some degree, the reputation of a colleague who had not long before assumed the office which he held; but, still, I thought that duty imperatively called upon me to state my views, and a correspondence ensued between my noble Friend at the head of the Government and myself, from which I shall be obliged to read some extracts in order to put the House in possession of the ground on which I came to the decision at which I arrived on Tuesday evening last. The correspondence itself is long, and enters into the details of some personal matters it is quite unnecessary to quote; but, as it is, I must request the House to listen to the representations which I thought it necessary to make, and to the answers I received. I wished, if possible, to put the matter in a light that would bear rather the air of a different official arrangement than any displacement of individuals. I, therefore, stated the question of the War Department in two points of view—the one as referring to an arrangement which it was necessary to make, in consequence of the pledge given to this House last Session, that the whole of the War Department should be considered with a view to arrangements which should provide for its efficiency; and the other point of view, that which related to the carrying on of the war. With respect to the first point, I said I thought it was of the utmost importance that a person of the rank of Privy Councillor should hold office in this House, upon whom should devolve the moving of the War Estimates, and who should be an authority able to answer the various difficult questions which it was to be foreseen would come before the House. I will not trouble the House with any details on that part of the subject; but I proposed that time office of Secretary of State for War and the office of Secretary at War should be held by the same person. In a letter addressed to the Earl of Aberdeen on the 17th of November, 1854, I said— From the other point of view the prospect is equally clear. We are in the midst of a great war. In order to carry on that war with efficiency, either the Prime Minister must be constantly urging, hastening, completing the military preparations, or the Minister of War must be strong enough to control other departments. Every objection of other Ministers—the plea of foreign interests to be attended to, of naval preparations not yet complete, and a thousand others, justifiable in the separate heads of departments, must be forced to yield to the paramount necessity of carrying on the war with efficiency of each service, and completeness of means to the end in view … If, therefore, the first consideration here presented lead to the conclusion that the Secretary of State for the War Department must be in the House of Commons, the latter considerations point to the necessity of having in that office a man who, from experience of mili- tary details, from inherent vigour of mind, and from weight with the House of Commons, can be expected to guide the great operations of war with authority and success. There is only one person belonging to the Government who combines these advantages—my conclusion is, that before Parliament meets Lord Palmerston should be entrusted with the Seals of the War Department. That is the opinion I gave, confidentially, to the Earl of Aberdeen. Before I read the Earl of Aberdeen's answer, I have to say that, the Earl of Aberdeen having requested some days to consider a matter of such importance, I wrote to him again on the 18th of November, stating that I concurred in that delay, adding— I wish, however, that before you decide you should show my letter to the Duke of Newcastle. It was my intention in writing the letter to avoid throwing any blame upon him. Indeed, I think he deserves very great credit for the exertions he has made. But he has not had the authority requisite for so great a sphere, and has not been able to do all that might have been done with larger powers of control. To my letter Lord Aberdeen replied—misstating my proposition, I must say—that he could not acquiesce in the proposal I had made. On the 21st of November he writes thus— Your proposal being founded on the supposed impropriety of Herbert moving the Estimates, and the consequent necessity of the Secretary of State for War being in the House of Commons, renders the removal of the Duke of Newcastle from his present office unavoidable. But, although you would regard this as the inevitable result of an official arrangement, it is not to be supposed that it would be considered in this light by the public, or, indeed, by any impartial person. The dislocation of the Government would be so great, and the reason assigned for it apparently so inadequate, that it could only be considered as a mode of substituting one man for another. Although you may be far from entertaining any such desire, the transaction could receive no other interpretation. In justice to the Duke, I do not think that his colleagues, without very strong grounds, would wish to place him in such a position. In the other parts of his letter the Earl of Aberdeen states that he did not think any man would undertake the duties which I proposed should be undertaken by one person—namely, those of Secretary of State for the War Department, and, at the same time, Secretary at War. He considered it to be necessary that a Privy Councillor should be continued in the latter, and that that office should be held in connection with the finances of the Army, independently of the Secretary of State for the War Department. He stated also—a consider- ation well deserving of attention—that it might be desirable that hereafter some military chief, who might be a Member of the House of Lords, should have the office, and, therefore, it could not be always held by a Member of the House of Commons. I considered the various objections of the Earl of Aberdeen, and on the 28th of November I wrote as follows— I come, therefore, having cleared the ground of all these obstructions, to the real question, what are the requirements of the great war in which we are engaged? Setting aside all historical references, both on your part and mine, I think it is clear either that the Prime Minister must be himself the active and moving spirit of the whole machine, or the Minister of War must have delegated authority to control other departments. Neither is the case under the present arrangement. I went on to give some instances of errors that had been committed, I thought, owing to that want of power and control. I then said— The Cabinet has, it is true, in its recent meetings, done much to repair omissions; but a Cabinet is a cumbrous and unwieldy instrument for carrying on war. It can furnish suggestions, or make a decision upon a measure submitted to it, hut it cannot administer. What you want, therefore, I repeat, is a Minister of War of vigour and authority. As the welfare of the empire and the success of our present conflict are concerned, I have no scruple in saying so. Keep up, if you think right, as a temporary arrangement, a Secretary at War. Make it clear that it is temporary —that is to say, only to last till more complete consolidation can take place; but let Parliament and the country be assured that you have placed the conduct of the war in the hands of the fittest man who can be found for that duty. In answer to this, I received a long letter from Lord Aberdeen, which I shall read to the House. It is dated November 30, 1854, and is as follows:— After all, I think your letter plainly reduces the question to the simple issue of a personal preference, and the substitution of one man for another. In answer to my suggestion that some consideration was due to the Duke on the part of his colleagues, you say that you understood the Administration was founded on the principle of doing what was best for the public service, without regard to the self-love or even the acquired position of individuals. Undoubtedly this was the case; and I fully agree in thinking that the Duke of Newcastle would be the last man to wish for any exception to this rule in his favour. But I must observe that at the formation of the Government no such office as the War Department was contemplated; and when, subsequently, the Colonial Office was divided, no objection whatever was made to the choice of the War Department by the Duke; nor, as far as I am aware up to this moment, to his management of the office. Now, I think you will admit that, although another per- son might perhaps have been preferred on the first constitution of an office, it is a very different thing to displace a man who has discharged its duties ably and honourably, merely in the belief that another might be found still more efficient. Undoubtedly, the public service must be the first object; but, in the absence of any proved defect or alleged incapacity, I can see no sufficient reason for such a change, which, indeed, I think is forbidden by a sense of justice and good faith. … On the whole, then, believing that any change like that proposed would be of doubtful advantage to the public, feeling very strongly that it would be an act of unfairness and injustice towards a colleague, and thinking, also, that all such changes, unless absolutely necessary, only tend to weaken a Government, I must repeat that I could not honestly recommend it to the Queen. Lord Aberdeen spoke to me afterwards on this subject, and asked me when I intended to bring the question before the Cabinet; and I, certainly after a good deal of hesitation, told him that, as he had said he could not honestly recommend that change to the Queen, and as I did not wish to do anything which might tend to disturb his Government and remove him from office, I should not press the matter further. I should say that my hesitation arose very much in consequence of the opinion of other high authorities, with whom I for years—during the whole of my political life perhaps—have been living in the closest intimacy, who told me they thought the change unadvisable, and that it would weaken that which I meant to strengthen, and who therefore advised that I should not press it. Now, when I stand here to justify my resignation, and when I am told as I have been, that I have acted prematurely, I own that the doubt that presses on my mind is whether I ought not at that time to have brought the question of this change to an issue. But among those who urged me not to do so was the noble Lord himself, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who at the time when the correspondence took place was absent, but to whom I afterwards read it. He urged me, considering the objection which had been made by Lord Aberdeen, not to press the matter any further.

Sir, that being the case with respect to men, I had further to consider what was the case with respect to measures. I have reminded the House that last year a pledge was given that a new arrangement would be made of the military departments, with the view of rendering them more efficient. I have had the honour of serving on two commissions having for their object the consolidation and improvement of those departments. Various commissions have reported from time to time, that it was expedient that such a consolidation should be carried into effect. It is now, I think, twenty-two years since the first of them was appointed. At the commencement of the war, then, that which before had been expedient became urgent and necessary, and that consideration to which I have referred was due to the interests of the public and to the fulfilment of the engagements which had been entered into with this House. The only change I was able to announce in the Session before Christmas was that the Commissariat was placed under the War Minister. With respect to any further change I heard no mention until a proposal was made in the Cabinet—I think on Saturday last. I reflected on that proposal, and I then went to my noble Friend at the head of the Government, and told him that, after considering the proposal, I thought it incomplete and inefficient; I gave him also a paper containing my own views on the subject. This, the House will observe, was very lately; but I had no reason to expect that my views would be adopted. I had therefore to consider, when I came to reflect upon the Tuesday evening on the course to be taken on the following Thursday, whether I could fairly and honestly say, "It is true that evils have arisen; it is true that the brave men who fought at the Alma, at Inkerman, and at Balaklava, are perishing many of them from neglect; it is true that the heart of the whole of England throbs with anxiety and sympathy on this subject; but I can tell you that such arrangements have been made—that a man of such vigour and efficiency has taken the conduct of the War Department, with such a consolidation of offices as to enable him to have the entire and instant control of the whole of the war offices, so that any supply may be immediately furnished and any abuse instantly remedied." I felt I could not honestly make such a declaration. I could not say, after what I had written—and I only mention this in passing, because I think nobody will impute it as blame to my noble Friend Lord Aberdeen, as he had not taken an active part in the direction of the war—I could not say that there was a person with such power and control, and of sufficient energy of mind and acquaintance with details, at the head of the War Department. I could not say either that the arrangement which had been proposed on Saturday last—that of the consolidation of the military departments—had either been carried into effect or was in prospect in such a way that I could pledge the faith of Government to the efficiency of the arrangement. Well, feeling this—giving the matter the most painful attention — feeling also, as I have already said, that I could give no faint nor faltering opposition to the proposition of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield, and that I must get up, if I opposed it at all, and stand in the way of that which many would think might alford a remedy for those sufferings and distresses which had been complained of, or, at least, if it failed in doing that, might point out a way for their correction and remedy—feeling, too, that many Members of this House would look for an assurance on my part as that to which I have referred, and would act upon my assurance that such a provision would be made—knowing that many did so honour me with their confidence, I felt that I should be repaying that confidence with treachery if I gave an assurance of the kind, knowing it not to be justified by fact. Well, it appeared to me, no doubt, that the Members of the Government could hardly remain in office if such a Committee as the one proposed were appointed; that it would not be, I will not say dignified, but that it would not be consistent with the practical good working of our institutions, that there should be a Minister sitting on that bench —the Ministerial bench—to govern the war, and that the military departments should be at the same time constantly overlooked and checked by a Committee sitting upstairs; and that the Minister for War should have not only to the consider what he was to do in order to provide for the urgent necessities of the war, and to attend to applications for the requisitions which came from day to day, but should also have to consider the evidence to be adduced with respect to his conduct five or six months ago. Such a state of things could not be consistent with the efficiency of our administrative system. I, therefore, felt that I could come only to one conclusion, and that as I could not resist inquiry, by giving the only assurances which I thought sufficient to prevent it, my duty was not to remain any longer a Member of the Government. It would be competent for others, if they thought either that everything necessary had already been done, or would be done, consistently to oppose the Motion for inquiry; but for my own part I felt that I could not do so, and I therefore wrote in very short terms, not quite accurately stating the terms of the Motion, a note to the following effect— Chesham Place, Jan. 23, 1855. My dear Lord Aberdeen—Mr. Roebuck has given notice of a Motion to inquire into the conduct of the war. I do not see how this Motion is to be resisted; but, as it involves a censure upon the War Departments, with which some of my colleagues are connected, my only course is to tender my resignation. I, therefore, have to request you will lay my humble resignation of the office which I have the honour to hold before the Queen, with the expression of my gratitude for Her Majesty's kindness for many years. I remain, my dear Lord Aberdeen, Yours very truly, J. RUSSELL. To that note I received no answer; but on the following evening my noble Friend informed me that he had been to Windsor with my resignation, and that Her Majesty had been pleased to accept it, with the gracious expression of her great concern in doing so. This, then, so far as this immediate statement is concerned, is my case with respect to my own conduct. Those Ministers who believe that they can successfully oppose inquiry—who believe that they are right in respect to what has been done and what is doing—will be perfectly justified in taking the part of opposing the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman. I should have been out of place in taking such a course. But, at the same time, I must say that I have heard that there is a rumour, and, I hope, a true one, that the arrangement which I proposed in my first letter, of the 17th of November, or rather in my subsequent letter, namely, that of placing the seals of the War Department in the hands of the noble Lord the Home Secretary, has been made. I shall greatly rejoice if that is the case, for I believe it will be of great benefit to the country that my noble Friend (Viscount Palmerston) should hold that office. I shall be glad to think that my retirement from office has in any way contributed to that change, and I believe it must in some way have contributed to it; for, otherwise, I have no doubt that my noble Friend (the Earl of Aberdeen), with the fairness and candour which belong to him, and which I always found in him, would have answered the letter I have just read, by saying that circumstances had in some respect changed, and that that which he could not honestly recommend to the Queen in November he had thought necessary at the present time; and that, therefore, my difficulty in opposing the Motion of inquiry might be in some degree lessened, if not entirely removed. That cannot have been the case. This must have been a subsequent arrangement, and I shall be very glad if my retirement from the less important office, in the present conjuncture, of President of the Council could have led to the appointment to the War Department of my noble Friend the Home Secretary, of whom I cannot speak in higher terms than I have already used in one of my letters.

Having, Sir, stated thus much with respect to my own position and the position of the Government, I have not regularly any right to go further; but as, perhaps, I shall take no part in the debate on the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield, and as it is not my intention even to give a vote on the question, I may be permitted to say somewhat more in reference to the present state of public affairs. I should state, in the first place, that I believe that all parties in this House, without distinction—for I will make no distinction whatever—are anxious that the war should be carried on, as the meeting at Leeds declared, by the most vigorous measures, until we can obtain a just and honourable peace; and I repeat my opinion that those measures which are the most vigorous for the prosecution of the war, and those terms of peace which are most decidedly and unquestionably just and honourable, will meet with the most favour from all parties in this House. I thoroughly believe that if any triumph attends Her Majesty's arms, those who are in opposition to the Earl of Aberdeen's Government will as heartily rejoice in that triumph as those who have supported it. This, at least, gives great facilities to the Government at present for carrying on the war with success. What further I have to say is, that I do not think that the general aspect of affairs abroad at all warrants the depression which I see it has in some quarters produced. No doubt the accounts which we have received from our camp before Sebastopol are gloomy and disheartening; but, with respect to the great objects of the war in which we are engaged, I believe that our prospects are by no means gloomy. When I spoke on a former occasion with reference to Austria, my language was most erroneously construed as depreciating the conduct and intentions of that Power. Now, I wish to give every credit and importance to that which Austria has done. It is in con- sequence of the large armaments she has made, the equipment of her Army to the extent of 500,000 men, the entrenchment and strengthening of points which were weak, and the raising of an enormous force of cavalry—it is in consequence of these preparations that the Emperor of Russia has abated much of his pretensions, that he has been induced to consent to propositions which, in August last, he utterly rejected, and that he is now willing to consider whether or not he will make those concessions which are necessary for the purpose of procuring peace. We have, therefore, in a great degree owing to the admirable ability, and, still more, the admirable patience, exhibited by Lord Clarendon in his negotiations, obtained the advantage of Austria throwing her weight into negotiations, with the assurance that if a peace, such as she thinks safe for Europe, cannot be obtained, she will act in the field with the allies, bringing with her the aid of 500,000 men to the armies now employed. We have, in the next place, to rely, without the smallest hesitation or doubt, on the fidelity of our ally the Emperor of the French, of whose good faith, besides all other actions and all other assurances, I saw and heard such proofs during my last residence in his capital, that I cannot have the slightest hesitation in assuring the House that the two countries of England and France will remain united to the end of this great struggle. Well, Sir, with these advantages I think we may hope to see one of two things—one, no doubt, more desirable than the other; but the other, at the same time, an honourable course, and one from which we should not shrink:—either the Emperor of Russia will make those concessions which will be just and honourable for England, for France, and for the safety of Europe; or, if he should fail in making those concessions, that there will be such a force of European armies collected against him that final triumph must attend our arms. I could not help expressing this conviction on the present occasion; because I think that, whoever may be Minister, he may rely, first, on the patriotic zeal and loyalty of this House, and next on the unflinching alliance of the Emperor of the French, and, thirdly, on the assistance of the Emperor of Austria, if honourable terms of peace cannot be obtained.

Perhaps I may be permitted to say, as I have now left the Earl of Aberdeen's Go- vernment, that I cannot refrain on this occasion from quoting the words of Sir Robert Peel, with respect to that noble Lord, and also from declaring that, in my opinion, they are fully justified. When Sir Robert Peel was leaving office he said— 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 a 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 blessing. I believe the opinion thus expressed by Sir Robert Peel to be perfectly just. My noble Friend entered into tins war not until it was necessary; and it was only a few days ago that I had a long conversation with him on the terms on which peace might be satisfactorily concluded; and I must say I entirely concurred in all he said, and that I have the fullest reliance that he will not concur in any peace which is not just and honourable, and which would not be approved by the general opinion and feeling of this country.

Perhaps I may also say a few words with respect to the Government I have left, and for joining which I have been often taunted. I cannot but say, Sir, that I look back to my association with many of the measures and acts of that Administration with great pride and satisfaction. I look back, above all, with the greatest pride and satisfaction to that speech of eloquence and wisdom delivered by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer when proposing his financial scheme two years ago, and in maintenance of what I believe to be the true principles of finance. It is a satisfaction to me to think that the splendour of that exhibition was so great as to shed some portion of its brilliancy on those who were his colleagues. I know, Sir, it was said, at the time when that Administration was formed, that those with whom I had always been connected—the Whig party—had not, in the distribution of power, that share of influence that properly belonged to them on account of their character, their abilities, and their numbers. It always appeared to me, before that period, that a very unjust notion had found its way into the public mind to a very great extent—namely, that the Whig party was an exclusive party, and required all power and office for itself, and was not prepared to support any system of Administration in which it did not enjoy that monopoly. I must say I think that opinion is an unjust one, and that the conduct of the Whig party during the last two years fully, justifies my opinion. I will venture to say that no set of men ever behaved with greater honour or more disinterested patriotism than those—I might say the whole—of the Whig party, who, during the whole of that period, have supported the Government of the Earl of Aberdeen. It is my pride, and it will ever be my pride to the last day of my life, to have belonged to a party which, as I conceive, upholds the true principles of freedom and the just influence of the people; and, whether in or out of office, it will be my constant endeavour to preserve the principles and to tread in the paths which the great Whig party have laid down for the guidance of their conduct.


Sir, I cannot allow the address of my noble Friend to pass without some observation on the part of Her Majesty's Government. I must, in the first place, assure my noble Friend and the House that nothing could be more painful to me, either officially or personally, than the step which my noble Friend thought it his duty to take in separating himself fret the Government of which we were both Members. There have, no doubt, at particular times, been temporary differences between my noble Friend and myself, which may, for a time, have appeared to estrange us from each other; but I can assure him and the House that those differences have passed away from my mind, and I know they have passed away from his; and that whether we act together, or whether we are divided in politics, the high esteem which I feel for his high character and for his great abilities, and the deep friendship with which I am animated towards him, never can be affected either by the past, the present, or the future. Now, Sir, undoubtedly I must admit that every public man has a perfect right, without any impeachment on the part of any person, whenever he thinks his continuance in office cannot be reconciled with his opinions or his sense of duty, to retire;—however those from whom he separates may regret his loss, still, if he acts in the manner I have stated, he stands perfectly free from all reproach. Now, Sir, with regard to the circumstances to which my noble Friend has adverted, it is not for me to say whether my noble Friend was right or wrong in acquiescing in the early part of last year in the appointment of the Duke of Newcastle as Secretary of State for the War Department; or in proposing in November last that I should be substituted for the noble Duke in the discharge of the duties of that office. I was absent in Paris when the correspondence of which he has read a portion to the House took place between himself and Lord Aberdeen; but he has correctly stated that on my return he communicated to me that correspondence, and that on the question arising whether, in consequence of Lord Aberdeen having declined to adopt his recommendation, he should or should not deprive the Government of his services—that I then, together with, I believe, every one of his colleagues, urged and entreated him not to quit the Government in consequence, I certainly thought it my duty to join with my colleagues in earnestly requesting my noble Friend to continue to give the Government the benefit of his services. Well, my noble Friend consented to do so;—he yielded to the recommendation of his colleagues; and from the time when that correspondence closed—I think on the 3rd of December—to the period of his resignation, I am not aware that he ever reverted to the proposal which he had made to Lord Aberdeen. Now, Sir, I am quite ready to admit that my noble Friend may have felt a difficulty in meeting such a Motion as that which stands for to-night in the name of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sheffield. Entertaining as he did an opinion that a change ought to be made in the War Department, my noble Friend may have felt a difficulty in resisting a Motion, the obvious intention of which was to effect a change in that branch of the Administration; but, at the same time, I think my noble Friend himself, in the remarks which he made just now upon that Motion, has abundantly shown that, independently of all personal considerations, apart from all preference for one man over another, there were grave constitutional objections to that Motion to have enabled him or any man to have opposed it upon that ground alone. My noble Friend has very properly said that it was impossible that a Committee of that sort, supervising, criticising, and superintending the daily transactions of the War Department, could coexist with the proper discharge of the executive duties of that department. But, though my noble Friend might properly and naturally have continued to entertain an opinion that a change was necessary with regard to the person who held the office of Secretary of State for War, yet I must venture humbly to submit to him that that opinion ought to have been repeated to the noble Lord at the heal of the Government before the reassembling of Parliament after the Christmas adjournment. He ought to have given him the opportunity, after consulting with the other Members of the Government, of stating to him whether or not that proposal would be accepted on his renewal of it. If, before Parliament met, my noble Friend had said to my noble Friend at the head of the Government, "I, in common with all mankind, expect that when Parliament meets some motion will be made, either inculpating the Government or requiring an explanation from them with regard to the conduct of the war"—for, indeed, the conversation at every street corner, the leading articles in every newspaper, must have satisfied every one that such an event was to be looked for—if the noble Lord had said, "Such a motion appears to me, if not inevitable, at least highly probable, and I tell you beforehand that if it comes on I cannot resist it, unless such and such changes are made in the department which has the conduct of the war," then the Government would have had the opportunity either of reconsidering the objections which had been urged to the noble Lord's proposal, or of acquiescing in it at once, if it had been thought fit to do so; or, if the same objections which had been made to it on a former occasion had prevailed, the Government would then have had the opportunity of determining whether they would continue in office after sustaining the loss of the noble Lord's services, or whether they would deem that loss to be of such preeminent importance as to impose on them the necessity of surrendering their offices into the hands of Her Majesty, with a view to the formation of some other Government. A resignation at that time, and under those circumstances, might have happened without any disparagement to any of the parties concerned. Ample time would have been given for arrangements of any kind—either for the remodelling of the existing Government, or for the formation of a new one; and such a course of proceeding would have been in accordance with the ordinary practice of politics. But the course taken by my noble Friend, I must venture humbly to submit to him, was not in correspondence with the usual practice of public men. It was one calculated inevitably to place the Government which he left in a position of embarrassment in which, at the hands of a colleague at least, they ought not to have been placed. But my noble Friend—not having while he was in the Cabinet made any distinct proposal, of which I am aware, for the better prosecution of the war, excepting that which had been rejected, and on the rejection of which he was entitled to say that he could not continue to he responsible for measures of which lie disapproved—my noble Friend, I say, on Tuesday evening last, after having appeared in this House, and having given notice of Motions which he had to make in his capacity of President of the Council on that very night, writes to the noble Earl at the head of the Government, and tenders his resignation upon the simple ground that he is unable to resist the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield. If, as I have said before, my noble Friend's resignation was founded upon the objection of the First Lord of the Treasury to adopt the change which he had proposed in the War Department, I think he would have done better to have repeated that reason in the letter in which he tendered his resignation. If my noble Friend had again laid his proposal before the noble Earl at the head of the Government, that would have given him the opportunity of reconsidering the proposal, and the reasons on which it was founded; and if he had again declined to adopt it, and my noble Friend had still continued of opinion that that was an essential and sine quâ non change which he had proposed, then his resignation would have stood on grounds to which it appears to me nobody could in reason have taken any objection. But I must say that I think the noble Lord's colleagues are entitled, not only to feel regret at the loss of so eminent and so influential a Member of the Government and of this House, but they are entitled also to say that that loss occurred to them in a manner so unexpected that, according to the usual practice, they were not justified in expecting it to take place. Now, Sir, having said so much with respect to the circumstances under which my noble Friend tendered his resignation—the hasty and precipitate way in which it was announced —and the grounds on which it was placed —having stated that I think it was a departure from the ordinary practice, and was a course of which the Government have some right. I will hardly say to complain, but at least to say that it was a thing they were not justified in expecting—having said thus much, I shall, upon that point, abstain from any further remarks. I can assure my noble Friend that, in making that criticism upon the course which my noble Friend has pursued, lie will consider that I do it from a strong sense of duty, and not from any unfriendly feeling towards him. Sir, my noble Friend said, in the conclusion of his address, that his conviction is that, whoever may be charged with the conduct of the war in future will feel it his duty, as far as he can, to conduct that war with vigour and energy, with a view to a successful result. Sir, undoubtedly I concur in that conviction. Her Majesty's Government have felt it their duty, notwithstanding the great loss they have sustained in the secession of my noble Friend, not to run away from the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield, which is to come on to-night. They have felt that it would have been a disgraceful flight if they had not resolved to meet that Motion—standing with regard to it exactly in the same position which they did before, minus the services of my noble Friend, but without any other change whatever. We present ourselves, therefore, to the House as we are to meet the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield. If that Motion should be carried, of course, as the noble Lord has said, it is unnecessary to say what the result will be. If in the course of the debate, reasons should be urged against the Motion of sufficient weight to induce the House to reject it, why then it will be for Her Majesty's Government to consider what course they shall pursue with regard to the recomposition of their own body. We present ourselves to-night as we stand; the future will depend upon the result of the debate. But again I say that, whoever may be the individual whose duty it will be to perform I the functions of the Minister of War, I am satisfied he will feel it his duty to act in the manner described by my noble Friend, and will consider that the war should be pursued, in accordance With the public feeling, with all the energy and vigour of which the Government is capable; and if so, like my noble Friend I am confident that the war will be conducted to a suc- cessful issue. Sir, as my noble Friend said, we have not only in our aid the unanimous and enthusiastic feeling of the British nation, but we have also the cordial assistance and co-operation of our great ally the Emperor of the French and the French nation; and I must say that it is one of the most magnificent spectacles which history has ever presented to mankind to see those two great nations uniting their efforts in a just and honourable cause. We have seen in former times great Powers united and co-operating for purposes of injustice—for purposes of conquest, and for the destruction of the independence of nations; but this I will say is the first time in the history of mankind in which we have seen two great nations co-operating cordially and disinterestedly in the vindication of a cause which is honourable to both; and I do feel the utmost confidence that, if the energies of this country are directed, in conjunction with those of the French nation, by a Government which knows the value of the instruments it possesses, and that duly appreciates the objects at which they aim—I am confident that in that case my noble Friend will be a true prophet, and that the war will be conducted to that honourable and safe issue which will secure, not only the dignity and safety of the nation, but the independence and future liberty and peace of Europe.

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