§ THE EARL OF DERBY
I hope, my Lords, that in asking your Lordships' per-mission on Friday night to postpone to this evening the statement which constitutional usage requires from those in the situation in which I have now the honour to stand, I shall not have been thought guilty of any disrespect to your Lordships. On the contrary, considering that during the whole of last week I was engaged, I may say day and night, in making those preliminary arrangements for the formation of that Government which I had not the slightest idea of being called upon at that time to form, and that, consequently, I have not had a single moment to spare for any matter not immediately connected with those arrangements; I thought, considering, too, the great importance of the subject, that it would be more respectful to your Lordships that, having only just acceded to office, and having only departed from the presence of Her Majesty at half-past four o'clock, I should not come down here at five o'clock to lay before your Lord-ships what must necessarily, under the circumstances, have been but a crude and imperfect statement. Believe me, my Lords,—and I say it with all sincerity—I address your Lordships from this place on the present occasion with no feelings of triumph or exultation. I am overwhelmed with the sense of my own incompetency to perform duly the arduous task which lies 23 before me. I am overwhelmed with the sense of the magnitude of the difficulties which I must encounter, and of the questions with which I have to deal; but my satisfaction, my consolation, in feeling myself so unable to deal adequately with these great questions is, that indulgence will be extended by your Lordships and by the country to one who, having been called suddenly into office by the favour of his Sovereign, has certainly sought for it by no unworthy means, and by no underhand intrigues.
Before proceeding to enter upon public questions, I believe it will be proper that I should remind your Lordships of the course of events which have placed me in my present position. Your Lordships will all remember that last Friday se'nnight a vote of the House of Commons, taken in a full House, resulted in a majority of nineteen against the then Government upon a Motion which, in point of fact, involved a vote, if not of censure, at least of disapproval of the course which had been pursued by the Government upon a matter of great importance. Into the substance of that vote I will not at present enter, though it will be my duty so to do before sitting down; but I rejoice to think, my Lord, that, although that majority was composed of parties certainly not usually in the habit of acting together in concert, but entertaining different opinions upon most subjects, I have not hoard from any quarter upon the present occasion any of those taunts of combination and coalition which were so freely poured forth upon a similar occasion last year. For myself, I must confess that I never was taken more by surprise than by the vote of Friday Week; and for those with whom I have the honour of acting I can only say that there was not the smallest step taken for the purpose even of securing attendance, or for inviting a single Member to remain in his place. The Government having been placed in a minority of nineteen acted in accordance with constitutional usage in at once tendering their resignations to Her Majesty; and Her Majesty, as I understand, at once accepted those resignations. I believe that the noble Viscount lately at the head of the Government was with Her Majesty at five o'clock on the Saturday, and in the course of that evening Her Majesty did me the honour of summoning me to Her presence. With Her Majesty's gracious permission I will venture to state what took place during that interview. 24 Her Majesty having been pleased to inform me that she had accepted the resignation of Her late servants, called upon me for my advice as to the course which she ought to pursue, and asked me whether, looking to the circumstances of the case, I was willing to undertake the responsibility of forming an Administration. In reply to that gracious intimation, I took the liberty of requesting Her Majesty not to press for an answer to her question on that day; and I then proceeded to lay before Her Majesty as fully and clearly as I could, without partiality and without any bias, what I conceived to be the state of political parties in the House of Commons—an element in the question which I thought Her Majesty ought to have clearly presented to her. I entreated Her Majesty to take till the following day to consider whether She would think it expedient to call me to Her councils; and I stated that if, upon reflection, She should continue of that opinion, my sense of public duty would render it imperative on me to attempt to execute the task which she was pleased to entrust to me; but at the same time I felt bound to add, that if upon full consideration Her Majesty should be of opinion that any other person would be better qualified to form a sound and stable Government for the country, she should not for a single moment consider my position, feelings, or interest, but take the course which upon reflection she should doom most advantageous for the country. On the following morning I had the honour of receiving a note from Her Majesty, informing me that further reflection had fully confirmed Her in wishing me to accept office; and I felt then that I had no course to pursue but humbly to submit myself to Her Majesty's pleasure. My Lords, it may be said that in taking that course I acted with precipitation and rashness; but I venture humbly to think that I was called on to act as I did by every sentiment of loyalty and public duty.
My Lords, having taken upon myself the responsibility of forming an Administration, my next care was to endeavour so to form it as to secure the largest portion of Parliamentary support. My Lords, I do not share in the opinion which was expressed some three years ago by a noble Earl not now in his place, that the state of parties in this country is such that any combination may reasonably be expected, and that the leaders of all the great political parties might, without inconsistency, sit harmoniously in the same Cabinet. I 25 do not go as far as that; but it is undoubtedly true that, as compared with former periods of our history, the line of separation between parties in the State is much less sharply and distinctly drawn than it used to be. Parliament and public opinion, which Parliament represents, are not now, as formerly, divided by the broad lines of demarcation to which we were accustomed, but they are separated by vast numbers of small gradations which it is scarcely possible strictly to define. Persons call themselves now-a-days by so many different names—Tories, Conservatives, Liberal-Conservatives, Whigs, Liberals, and Radicals; and such are the niceties of distinction between some of these names that I believe there are no inconsiderable number of Members in the House of Commons—perhaps there may also be some in your Lordships' House — who would find it difficult to say with which of all these they have the closest sympathy. The state of parties is very like the distinctions of the various grades of ranks in society at large. There is a broad interval between the highest and the lowest; but the gradation by which one melts into the other is so imperceptible that it is difficult with regard to social rank and to political parties in the State precisely to say whore one commences and another ends. But I did think that — desiring to form a Government upon a basis which should be Conservative in the truest sense of the word, but at the same time not indisposed to measures of progressive improvement—I might hope to obtain the assistance of those eminent persons who, not belonging to the Government which we have succeeded, shared to such a degree the opinions of the Conservative party that they might not be deemed guilty of any inconsistency in associating themselves with me in the difficult task which I had undertaken. Thus thinking, I applied to a right hon. Gentleman and to two noble Lords, Members of your Lordships' House—[Mr. Gladstone, the Duke of Newcastle, and Earl Grey, were supposed to be referred to]—who I conceived might not be indisposed to render me their assistance in framing such a Government as I have described. They did not, however, deem it consistent with their position to afford me such aid. I cannot, of course, find the smallest fault with their decision; but although I must undoubtedly regret that I have been deprived of the benefit of their assistance, I cannot regret that I made such an offer. My Lords, having 26 been thus thrown entirely upon the resources of those with whom I was more immediately and intimately connected, I proceeded to select for the various departments of the business of the State such gentlemen as I thought best qualified to fill them with honour to the country and with credit to themselves. My lords, in changes of this description—and more particularly when such changes take place during a Session of Parliament, and still more at an early period of the Session—there are always inevitable evils to be encountered. In the first place, at such an important period of the Session, public business is interrupted to a very inconvenient extent from the necessity of new elections in the case of many Members of the House of Commons who may have accepted office. In the next place, some considerable time must elapse before those who are appointed to high offices have the opportunity of making themselves masters of the various details of the Departments to which they are called, and of taking up the thread of the tangled skein which may have been left by their predecessors. More especially is this the case with respect to a most important Department—that of Foreign Affairs—over which my noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Clarendon) has presided so admirably, and in which so many questions of the most delicate description are at this moment pending. In some cases, as my noble Friend well knows, negotiations and discussions have been pending for a series of years, with the whole details of which the person who succeeds to office must be familiar in order to take them up with advantage. The case is the same, with regard to other Departments. I understand that my noble Friend opposite the late President of the Council (Earl Granville) said the other night that he thought it very desirable that a period of three days should be allowed to Her Majesty's Government, in order that they might make themselves masters of the business of their respective Departments, and give the House an intimation of the policy which they intended to pursue. If the noble Earl made use of those expressions, I must say that I certainly cannot pretend to such a speedy acquisition of knowledge or such rapidity of execution as may characterize my noble Friend, and I must frankly say that at this moment I possess a very imperfect account of what has taken place in the different Departments, and of the state in which they were found by the present Govern- 27 ment. But, my Lords, there was one subject as to which I was anxious. Knowing the vast drain which there must have been upon our military resources in consequence of the unfortunate war in India, and fearing what might have been the result of that unusual demand upon the resources of this country, which undoubtedly never pretended to be a first-rate military Power, I did feel great anxiety to ascertain what was the state and numerical force of the army and the condition of the War Department; and I should do an act of great injustice to the noble Baron opposite (Lord Panmure) and to the illustrious Duke (the Duke of Cambridge) the Commander in Chief, if I did not say that it has not only afforded me the greatest satisfaction, but also the greatest surprise and pleasure, to find, after all the drain that has taken place, how respectable a numerical force is still in hand within the limits of the United Kingdom. I well recollect the state of affairs when I took office in 1852, and in contrasting the numerical strength of the army — and I may probably also add its deficiency—in 1858, notwithstanding all the demands that have been made upon our forces, with what it was in 1852—I say, in the first place., that it affords me an agreeable surprise to find the amount of military ardor.and of readiness to enter the service exhibited among the population of this country; and I must add that the change which has taken place within the past six years reflects the greatest credit upon the Governments which have held office during that period. My Lords, so long as the unfortunate war in India continues there must, no doubt, be a heavy drain upon the military resources of this country; but I trust, my Lords, although much remains to be done—although our labours are not yet drawing to a close—that we are beginning to see a favourable turn of events, and that the operations of Sir Colin Campbell, following upon those of the gallant officers who preceded him, have already struck terror into the great body of the insurgents, and have restored to a great extent the public confidence. Much, unquestionably, yet remains to be done; and I do not entertain for a moment any doubt that the continued exertions of the gallant troops of Her Majesty, aided by the cordial support of the people of this country, will, at no distant period, put down the formidable insurrection which has lately raged, and which still rages, in 28 some parts of India, and that Her Majesty's Government will then have leisure, both here and in India, to apply themselves to the far more agreeable task of the pacification and reorganization of that vast portion of Her Majesty's dominions. The accounts which we have received within the last day or two from the coast of China lead us to expect that the unfortunate war in that country—if, indeed, it is to be called a war—at all events, that the unfortunate operations in that country will be brought to a speedy termination: those unfortunate operations I call them, because unfortunate they are in their origin, however fortunate in their conclusion, so far as we have arrived at a conclusion; but I cannot but entertain the same opinion as I formerly expressed —namely, that the war was entered into unadvisedly and upon insufficient ground. I never denied, and I do not now deny, that we had ample cause of complaint against, and of quarrel with, the Chinese authorities at Canton; and, as we have taken the course of employing military force to bring the Chinese to submission, I cannot but cordially rejoice at the success which has hitherto attended Her Majesty's arms. The best result of that success, however, I conceive will be, that it will give us the opportunity—standing in such a position towards China—of concluding with the least possible delay a safe and honourable peace, and will enable us to resume the benefits and advantages of that commercial intercourse for which alone it can be of the slightest advantage to us to maintain any communication whatever with such a country. The idea of territorial aggression—the idea of acquisition of power—the idea of doing more than obtaining adequate security for carrying on freely peaceful commerce will, I trust, never enter the head of any Minister who conducts the affairs of this empire.
My Lords, I now approach a most important portion of the statement which I have to submit to your Lordships, but with one exception I may deal with it in very general terms. I trust, my Lords, that in conducting the foreign policy of this country our aim will be to maintain friendly relations with all powers, great and small, with which we are brought into contact. I trust we shall maintain those-relations without adopting either a tone of haughty intimidation or a tone of servile submission towards any Government. I 29 hope that we shall carry on intercourse frankly and unreservedly with foreign Powers; that we shall carefully abstain from any interference whatever with the purely domestic affairs of any of them; and that if, in any instance, a cause of difference should arise, we shall in public, as we should in private life, seek the first opportunity of arranging such differences by means of frank and unreserved but amicable communications. My Lords, if there should still remain, from that conflict in which several important Powers were engaged some years since, any animosity or ill-feeling between ourselves and that great empire with which we were at war, I trust such a feeling may rapidly and entirely subside, and that our relations with that Power may speedily resume—if, indeed, they have not already resumed—the friendship and cordiality by which they were formerly marked. I hope, my Lords, I shall not be regarded as unduly depreciating the value of our alliance with any country if I here express my firm conviction that if there be one country with which, more than another, it is necessary for our mutual welfare and for the advantage of the world, that we should maintain a permanent good understanding, that country is our nearest and most powerful neighbour—the great empire of Franco. The geographical position of the two countries, the facility and constancy of intercourse between their populations, their force respectively at sea and on land, render their harmonious union almost a pledge and guarantee for the peace of the world; while those circumstances also render quarrel or coolness between the two Powers a matter of danger which may involve alarming consequences to the world at largo. My Lords, for France this country can have but one desire,—that, remaining upon friendly terms with us, she should have within herself all the means of contentment, of wealth, and of prosperity. There is no country in the world blessed with greater natural advantages, none more fortunate in position and in climate; and if there be one thing which is alone sufficient to make her and to keep her great, powerful, mighty, and happy, it is the absence within her own bosom of political convulsions and social feuds. My Lords, with regard to foreign countries, the peculiar form of Government which best suits the people is, if not a matter of indifference to us, at all events one into which we have no cause or right to inquire. 30 Be it a limited monarchy, be it a republic, be it an empire, that government is best for France which best suits the disposition, the habits, and the affections of the people. But, whatever may be the Government, it is of vast importance to France, and it is hardly of secondary importance to Europe, that that government should not be liable to perpetual change, but should enjoy a condition of permanence and stability. My Lords, towards the maintenance of such permanence and stability I believe the life of that remarkable man who, elected by the voice of the French people, now presides over the destinies of that country is of great and paramount importance. I will not go so far as to say that civil commotion and disturbance would inevitably follow upon any fatal attempt upon the life of His Imperial Majesty; but this I do say, that his absence from the helm of the State would at this time seriously endanger the new born tranquility which that country now enjoys, and which for the last sis years it has enjoyed under his Government. Therefore, my Lords, it was with a feeling as if all mankind had escaped a great danger—as if Europe was freed from an imminent peril by a special interposition of Providence—that the news was received of the late escape of His Imperial Majesty from the foul and murderous attempt upon his life lately made at Paris. I need not recall to your Lordships the circumstances under which that dastardly attempt took place. Those circumstances are too recent and must have made too strong an impression on your minds to require any such recital. Suffice if, my Lords, to say, that there was not one single circumstance of aggravation by which a parallel atrocity could be attended that was not present in the details of this horrible crime. It was not only that by the basest means a highly important life was aimed at, but if you look at the time and the place in which the attempt was made—namely, when His Majesty was proceeding to the Opera House and had arrived at the door of the theatre in one of the most crowded streets of Paris, surrounded by loyal subjects waiting to receive their Emperor with acclamations and enthusiasm,—above all, when at his side was the Imperial partner of his throne, exposed as a wife, as a woman, and an Empress to all the dangers which threatened her august consort, you will sec, my Lords, that no circumstance of aggravation was wanting to deepen the guilt of those who, under such circumstances, com- 31 mitted the atrocious act of throwing under the carnage of His Imperial Majesty weapons of the most formidable and deadly character. My Lords, the hand of Providence was visibly watching over the destinies of France; but much innocent blood was shed, much calamity was caused to the people of Paris, much alarm was excited throughout the entire country. The effect, my Lords, of such an attempt and its happy failure was that which might naturally have been expected upon the minds of an enthusiastic and sensitive people. The peril which the Emperor and Empress had escaped, doubled and trebled the enthusiastic feeling and the indignant loyalty which burst forth upon the instant. From every quarter were poured in addresses of congratulation and of thankfulness that lives so valuable to France and to Europe had been saved. Nor was it by France alone, but by the British residents in France, and by the inhabitants of various parts of this kingdom, that these feelings of thankfulness and congratulation were testified. But, unfortunately, my Lords, it transpired that among the small band of miscreants by whom this outrage was perpetrated were some at least who, having been compelled to flee from their own country, had for a certain period of time been enjoying and abusing the hospitality of England. Supposing the circumstances had been reversed — supposing that Her Majesty, going among her subjects with that frank confidence which characterizes her, knowing as she does that in the loyalty and affection of her people she has her best and securest guard — supposing that being surrounded by a loyal and devoted multitude she had been exposed to an attack upon her Royal person while proceeding to the Opera House in London —what, I ask your Lordships to consider, would have been the feelings of the people of this country?—what would have been the indignation of the people of this Metropolis? And if it had come to their knowledge, as it undoubtedly would in such a case, that that dastardly attempt was not the work of any native-born subject of Her Majesty, but the preconcerted design of a band of assassins who had abused the hospitality they received in a neighbouring country, I put it to your Lordships whether you think that their censures and their indignation at so foul a crime would have been very cautious or very discriminating? I cannot therefore wonder, how- 32 ever deeply I may deplore, that upon the news spreading through France that this atrocious deed was the act of refugees coming straight from England, with the enthusiastic expressions of loyalty and congratulation at the safety of the Emperor there should have been mingled — more especially from the army of France—some expressions which, seeing how unwarrantable they were as applied to England, must naturally have wounded the feelings of the people of this country. Under the circumstances, my Lords, I think that such expressions ought not to have been too nicely scanned, even if his Imperial Majesty, with that frankness and candour which he has always displayed in his relations with England, had not fairly avowed the regret he felt that such language, accompanying the manifestations of loyalty to himself, had been suffered to appear in the public papers, and thereby to create a just resentment in the people of this country. But, my Lords, I should be sorry, indeed, to think that those expressions, whatever they may have been, truly represented the calm and deliberate feeling entertained towards England by the great and noble army of France. I will not believe it, my Lords, for true valour never indulges in bombast; and I should be surprised to find that those who were the authors of these intemperate addresses were in reality the most distinguished among those glorious soldiers of France who, in many a hard-won battle on the fields of the Crimea, fought and bled in honourable rivalry with their British Allies, and who must have learnt in that campaign how to appreciate British bravery and British co-operation. My Lords, fortunately for us it is now more than 100 years since we have had in England any of those civil disturbances which have compelled any of the citizens of this country to take refuge in foreign lands. We cannot, therefore, judge (but we ought to make allowance for French feeling) how annoying and irritating it must be, and would be to ourselves, if in a neighbouring country on the Continent we were conscious that many disaffected persons were confederated together, entertaining the most hostile sentiments towards the Government of this country, and bent upon overthrowing it by the most treasonable designs. My Lords, although the oppression must be most grievous and intolerable which can justify any man or set of men in exposing their own country to the hor- 33 rors of civil war, yet when that dreadful state of affairs arrives—when the sword is drawn in civil strife in defence of opposing principles, whatever may be our own predilections or our own opinions, we cannot but accord respect and sympathy to those to whom fortune has been unfavourable, on whatever side they may have struggled. Whether they be those who, from an unwavering sentiment of loyalty, stood to the last by an unpopular and ill-fated Sovereign, or those who, impatient of a life of slavery undeserved, or who, sternly resolved to free their country from the oppression of a successful foe, have risen in unsuccessful revolt, if they have fairly and in the open field maintained their principles by the sword, at the risk of their lives, their fortunes, their homes—all that they hold most dear—public sympathy will always follow them in their misfortunes and in their exile. Contemporary history may not be as indulgent; but posterity will do justice to those who, from whatever cause, have suffered, in defence of doctrines which they honestly believed to he sound and true. If we look back to the period of our own civil war, when Englishmen contended earnestly and vehemently for principles truly and deeply implanted in their minds, and sternly uphold them in the field of battle—through all difficulties and all dangers—if we revert to those distant times and view them by the light of history, we can even now sympathize with the gallant and devoted Cavaliers in the days of their affliction— we can sympathize with the stern Puritans, whoso ardent love of liberty led them to prefer poverty and exile to the violation of their conscientious convictions. My Lords, there is no man, however warm an admirer he may be of that great deliverer William III., but looks with sympathy upon the faithful attachment to a fallen monarch of many of the followers of James II. And coming down to a later, and happily the last, period to which I can refer in our own history for an illustration, even at this day, devoted as this country is to the House which now so auspiciously reigns over us, no man can look back without a feeling of sympathy and admiration upon the heroic and romantic sacrifices made by the supporters of the unhappy Stuarts. But, my Lords, it we have this sympathy for men whose misfortunes have followed their open and manly defence of their principles by the 34 sword, no such sympathy is due, and none will be extended either by con temporary history or by impartial posterity, to those who, in order to attain their political ends, resort to the base and vile means of assassination. If there is one degree of infamy beyond that which attends the man. who wields the assassin's knife, that infamy belongs to him who, lacking the only palliation of the assassin's guilt, the bold sacrifice of his own life, skulks in safety at a distance, and, plotting and devising crimes of assassination, sends forth from his safe retirement his wretched tools to perpetrate and suffer for deeds which he has the heart to conceive, but not the boldness to execute. And these men call themselves the friends of liberty! Why, my Lords, these men are the bitterest and most determined foes of liberty. These are they who cause every right-thinking mind to shrink from connection with the purest and holiest cause, because they pollute it by the vile machinery they em-ploy— these are they who in their own country rivet the chain of slavery and oppression—these are they who drive from their cause every upright and every honourable mind—these are they who compel the treachery of the assassin to be met by the machination of the secret spy—those are they who by their dark and secret plots and conspiracies make despotic Sovereigns have recourse to measures more despotic still, and who, by their conduct, do the utmost to destroy that liberty of which they presume to call themselves the constituted champions. Are men, then, who so conduct themselves—are men who thus abuse the hospitality and asylum which England affords them—are these men, whom the law of England protects and shelters, to commit crime among us with impunity? No, my Lords, they are not. There's not a crime of which these persons can be guilty, there's not an approach to such a crime, for which the law of England does not provide—I will not say in all cases an adequate and well-proportioned remedy—but not only assassination, not only conspiracy to assassinate, but even an incitement to assassinate, whether by publication or by word of mouth, is an offence recognized by the law of England and upon which it imposes heavy penalties when the guilt of the-accused person shall be proved. But it is naturally said, "If these things are done —if these crimes are concocted in England 35 and in London, how is it that the Government of England has not the power to prevent their repetition?" My answer is perfectly simple; but let me say that I can understand that persons residing at a distance from us and ignorant of our institutions, believing that Government have the means of so dealing with such supposed offenders might consider that we exercised an unfriendly part in not using those powers by arresting those who conspire such atrocious crimes in the course of their machinations. Still the answer is plain and obvious. Although the law provides remedies for all those shades and colours of crime, yet the law cannot be put in force until the crime is established. Intention, unaccompanied by any overt act, so long as the intention remains in the mind of the party alone conceiving it, affords no ground for proceeding under the law of England. Of the great number of those whom misfortune or necessity has driven to these shores the vast proportion, I firmly believe, are honestly and honourably obtaining a living in this country by their own industry, and are performing in an honourable and unobtrusive manner the duties of peaceful citizens. Others there are, no doubt, who are engaged in designs of great atrocity, and who make use of language of the most menacing and dangerous description; but, as I have already said, these persons are all amenable to the law—if even the law does not provide a sufficient remedy—the moment that you have sufficient evidence to satisfy a jury of their guilt. But with us suspicion is not crime —suspicion does not warrant the punishment of crime, and "notoriety" is a word which is not recognized in our statute book. It is, I think, owing to the total difference between the law in this country and in France in this respect that some misapprehension has been excited in Franco as to what the Government of England might or ought to do to meet cases of this description, and the consequence has been that unreasonable expectations have been excited among the people of that country as to what we might have done to prevent these machinations. Now, I do not hesitate to say that it is the duty of Government, so far as it is in its power, carefully to watch the proceedings of persons who may justly be suspected of conspiring against foreign Governments; nor do I doubt that the late Government—or any Government that was ever formed in 36 this country—would do its utmost, subject to the laws of this country, to protect a friendly nation against machinations and attempts like this; but in every case, as I have already said, the evidence of guilt must be such as would satisfy a jury. To that tribunal every case must necessarily be brought. Before that tribunal the Queen herself is bound to plead; to that tribunal she appeals for the protection of her person; and it is, in fact, so incorporated with the thoughts, the feelings, the whole public life of this country, that I cannot for a moment believe that it would enter the mind of any foreign Sovereign to suggest even the possibility of an alteration in that respect in our system of jurisprudence which would impair its free and complete action. What, then, my Lords, was the course taken by the late Government so soon as intelligence was received of the attempt—and of the happy failure of the attempt—upon the life of the Emperor of the French? Her Majesty's late Government—I think very properly—directed their immediate attention to the consideration of the question whether the existing law was adequate for the purpose to which it was directed, or whether it might not be desirable, not only for the protection of foreign Sovereigns, but as an amendment of our own criminal jurisprudence, that the law should be changed. With this view they introduced into Parliament a Bill, of the substance and merits of which I shall at present say nothing. The first reading of that Bill was supported by a very considerable majority of the House of Commons; but, most unfortunately, as I think, simultaneously with the introduction of that Bill, a despatch from Count Walewski was laid before the public, and which, still more unfortunately, remained unanswered at the time by Her Majesty's Government, and which was laid before the public without either answer or explanation. My Lords, I will not refer to any terms which are contained in that despatch. I have no doubt that it was the wish and sole intention of Count Walewski to represent to Her Majesty's Government the position in which the Sovereign of France was placed in consequence of attacks of this description, and to invite them to consider frankly and fairly whether the existing law of this country was sufficient to deal with such crimes. I will not, I repeat, refer to any expressions in that despatch which may have been calculated 37 —although quite unintentionally, I am sure, on the part of Count Walewski—to excite in the minds of the people of this country feelings very different from those which he desired to awaken. It was certainly, however, the belief of the people of this country that that despatch contained imputations on the state of our law which, if they had been founded on fact, would have amounted to a serious reflection on themselves. Now, I cannot help thinking that if Her Majesty's late Government had felt themselves bound to accept this despatch, that they would have acted more for the interest of the cause in which they were engaged, if—not entering into argument, controversy, or discussion—they had pointed out to the French Government the expressions and phrases which were liable to be misunderstood, and which, if left without explanation, were sure to create irritation in the minds of the people of this country. Unfortunately, however, the despatch was laid before Parliament without any explanation or accompanying correspondence; and it is idle to deny that the production of that despatch did produce a most unfavourable impression upon the fate of the Bill which Her Majesty's Government had brought forward. At the same time don't let me be misunderstood. It is most important to bear in mind that the vote at which the House of Commons arrived had no reference whatever to the merits of the Bill, and that they are just as free as before to proceed with the second reading if they please. It is impossible, however, to deny that the introduction of a, political element interfered in a considerable degree with a calm, impartial, and deliberate reflection upon the measure itself; but we must regard these questions in a judicial spirit. Now, what was the Resolution that the House of Commons came to on the 19th of February, and which led to the resignation of the late Government? Was it a Resolution hostile either to the principles or the provisions of the Bill—was it a re-resolution adverse to all change in the criminal law of the country — was it a Resolution which would give the slightest countenance to the atrocious practices of the assassins? No; the Resolution was this: —That this House hears with much concern that it is alleged that recent attempts upon the life of the Emperor of the French have been devised in England, and expresses its detestation of such guilty enterprises; that this House is ready at all times to assist in remedying any defects in the 38 criminal law winch, after due investigation, are proved to exist, yet it cannot but regret that Her Majesty's Government, previously to inviting the House to amend the law of conspiracy by the second reading of this Bill at the present time, has not felt it to be their duty to make some reply to the important despatch received from the French Government, dated Paris, January 20, 1858, and which has been laid before Parliament.The question, therefore, was not one as between Parliament and a foreign country. It was emphatically a question as between Parliament and the Ministers of the Crown. Upon that Resolution being carried Her. Majesty's late Government resigned office, and the first duty which the present Government had to perform was to consider what course they should take with reference to the state of affairs which had been produced by that decision of the House of Commons. My Lords, Her Majesty's Government came to the resolution, upon which they will feel it to be their duty to act, in full conformity with the vote of the House of Commons; and in terms of friendly conciliation, to point out to the French Minister the misinterpretations and misconstructions which have been placed upon his despatch, and in the most amicable manner to request of him an explanation which may remove the painful impression now prevailing among the English people. My Lords, if I know anything of the friendly feeling which His Imperial Majesty has at all times shown to this country—it I know anything of his earnest and cordial desire to maintain the British alliance—an alliance as beneficial to the one nation as it is to the other—if I bear in mind bow ready he has always been to listen to representations and counsels given in a friendly spirit and made in a friendly quarter—I am led to entertain the sanguine hope that the answer to the despatch which my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (the Earl of Malmesbury) has undertaken to prepare and to transmit to France, will be such as to remove from the minds of the people of this country all irritation, and enable us calmly and deliberately to proceed to the consideration of the important question of the amendment of the law. It is, of course, not desirable that I should enter into further details upon this subject at the present time. The course which Her Majesty's Government may deem it their duty to pursue must in a great measure depend upon the character of the reply 39 which they may receive to their friendly communication; hut I say without hesitation that in the meantime it is their bounden duty—and it is one which they will not shrink from performing faithfully and vigorously—to put in force the existing powers of the law for the purpose of checking by the strong arm of the law these dangerous and alarming conspiracies. At the present moment — and I speak therefore under some difficulty, because I should be very unwilling in the slightest degree to prejudice the cases which are now pending before the courts of justice— proceedings are being taken against a person named Bernard as a party concerned in the conspiracy which led to the recent attempted assassination of the Emperor of the French. Another person, and I blush to say it, a British subject, is now a fugitive from justice under a similar charge. Against a third person, for the publication of a work containing instigations and incitements to assassination, proceedings are pending before a British Court of Justice; and no further back than forty-eight hours ago the attention of Her Majesty's Government was called to another publication of a similar character, but, as it appears to me, of a still more violent tendency, and that publication also has been without a moment's hesitation placed in the hands of the law officers of the Crown. Should their opinion be that it affords reasonable and legitimate grounds for prosecution, Her Majesty's Government will not hesitate for a single moment in putting in force the existing powers of the law. For, my Lords, with all my desire to maintain inviolable now and for ever, under all circumstances, that right of asylum to refugees which it is the pride of this country to afford, without distinction of rank, of principle, or of opinion, I do Bay it is an intolerable grievance that persons who owe their life and their safety to the protection which we afford them should basely and ungratefully reward this country for the shelter and asylum it gives them by a course of conduct, by publications, by instigations to crime, which may have a most dangerous tendency towards embroiling England with one of its most faithful and also one of its firmest allies.
My Lords, if upon the present occasion I were addressing your Lordships at the commencement of a new Session, and after having with my colleagues had leisure to consider during the recess the measures to be submitted for the consideration and 40 approval of Parliament, I should of course feel it to be my duty to lay shortly before you what the measures were to which your attention was to be called. But your Lordships must be aware that from the shortness of the time which has elapsed since we accepted office it has been impossible for us to prepare anything like a programme of business to be laid before Parliament. The attention of the other House must no doubt be occupied for a considerable time with making those financial arrangements which are requisite at this period of the year for the purpose of carrying on the business of the country. There is, however, one measure to which I think it my duty even at this early stage to advert, because it is a measure which upon full and anxious consideration Her Majesty's Government have determined to introduce to the notice of Parliament. My Lords, it certainly was my opinion, and it was the opinion of most of those with whom I have the satisfaction of acting, that while the state of India was such as it is at present—while a revolt, or rather an insurrection, was raging in a considerable portion of our dominions in the East—it was not expedient to divert the attention either of the Government or of the East India Company from the consideration of the matters which were immediately pressing to a discussion of any change in the constitution of the executive administration at home. But, my Lords, the House of Commons, by a very large majority—a majority, I believe, of 147 members in a full House—affirmed the proposition that it was desirable to consider the question immediately, mainly with the object of transferring to the Crown the authority hitherto exercised by the East India Company. I think that vote in itself materially altered the position of affairs. It placed the Company in such a situation that they could not, after it passed, command the same amount of public confidence and of public support as they were entitled to receive previous to the decision of the House of Commons. Therefore, my Lords, after the best and maturest consideration which we can give to the subject, it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to introduce a measure, which is now being prepared by my noble Friend the President of the Board of Control (the Earl of Ellen-borough) which we trust will effect most of the objects contemplated by the Bill of the late Government, and which we hope 41 will at the same time be free from some of the objections attaching to that project. Of course, it would not be expedient for me to enter into further details upon the present occasion; the measure, indeed, is not yet framed; but I think it my duty to say, even at this early period, that in the course of the present Session it is our intention to deal with the question of the government of India, and we hope also to pass a just and satisfactory measure.
My Lords, it would be idle for me to enter into any general description of the opinions or the views which I hold upon many important questions in public affairs. Such abstract declarations of policy arc, in point of fact, of little or no use. They are mere words, which may be construed into any sense, or, as sometimes happens, into no sense. I can only say, my Lords, that the policy of the Government to which I belong will he, that which I hope might naturally be expected from the composition of the Administration—namely, that while we firmly and strenuously maintain the great institutions of the country, we shall not hesitate to propose and support measures of undoubted improvement and progress, and to introduce safe and well-considered amendments wherever amendment may be required, My Lords, there can be no greater mistake than to suppose that a Conservative Ministry necessarily means a stationary Ministry. We live in an age of constant progress—moral, social, and political. We live in a time when art and science are making rapid strides, when knowledge is daily more and more widely diffused. Our constitution itself is the result of a series of perpetual changes. Like the venerable old country-houses of England, it has been framed from time to time by successive occupants, with no great regard to architectural uniformity or regularity of outline, but adding a window here, throwing out a gable there, and making some fresh accommodation in another place, as might appear to suit, not the beauty of the external structure, but, what is of more importance, the convenience and comfort of the inhabitants. My Lords, in politics, as in everything else, the same course must be pursued— constant progress, improving upon the old system, adapting our institutions to the altered purposes which they are intended to serve, and by judicious changes meeting the increased demands of society.
This leads me, my Lords, to the last question upon which I shall have to trouble 42 your Lordships—one of great importance and of great difficulty; but one which it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to consider. I mean the question which commonly goes by the name of Parliamentary Reform, or, in more fitting terms, which means the consideration and arrangement of the system of representation in the House of Commons. My Lords, I am old enough to remember, and to have been in the Cabinet not when the last Reform Bill was framed, but when it was under discussion; and when I look back to the violence of feeling, to the bitterness of political excitement and of party spirit, and to the passion which accompanied the passing of that great and important measure, my wonder is, not that there should he in it defects and blemishes which the experience of twenty-five years has aptly brought to light; but that under such circumstances there should have been devised and carried through Parliament a measure which for so long a period has to a certain and no inconsiderable extent effected its purposes and satisfied the requirements of this country. My Lords, believing that, with all its anomalies and all its imperfections, that Act has given to the country a representative system, the result of which is a House of Commons which fairly and fully represents the feeling of the numbers as well as of the intelligence and the property of this country, I should myself have been well satisfied if it had been the pleasure of Parliament that no legislation upon a subject so exciting should be called for or demanded from the Government. I cannot, however, exclude from my consideration the fact that for three or four years not only has a demand been made, but a promise has been given by successive Governments, of the introduction of a Reform Bill. This promise has been given occasionally even in the name of the Sovereign and in the Speech from the Throne. My Lords, I must venture to say that I think it is a practice not deserving of imitation to appear in the Speech from the Throne to pledge the Sovereign personally, as it were, to measures which have not been well and fully considered by her advisers, and which they are not at once prepared to lay before Parliament. In my opinion it is highly inconvenient that from Session to Session a question of this importance and of this interest should be perpetually kept dangling before the Legislature, and that Session after Session it should be hung up till a future day; and, my Lords, hav- 43 ing regard to the inconveniences arising from this state of things, and to the promises which successive Governments have made, I have felt it my duty in conjunction with my colleagues to look into this important question. I will not pledge either myself or them to introduce either now or within any very short period a Bill upon this subject, I prefer to go beyond rather than to fall short of any pledges or promises which I may give in this House; but this I may say, that as soon as the pressure of Parliamentary business enables us deliberately and carefully to consider the question, we will direct our attention to the defects which exist in the laws regulating the representation of the people in Parliament, and to the amendments which may be made in those laws; and that we will give that attention with the sincere and earnest desire to trifle no longer with this great question, but with the hope that we may be able in the next Session of Parliament to lay before the Legislature find the country a measure upon that subject which may for a time settle a matter of such deep importance, and which, if we cannot hope to please every body,—which would indeed be a most extravagant expectation, —may at least be accepted as a fair and reasonable measure by all moderate, impartial, and well-educated men. I am aware that in making this early announcement I am perhaps somewhat premature, but I thought it was desirable that your Lordships and the country should at once know that, while we are not prepared in this Session of Parliament to introduce or to assist in passing any measure dealing with so extensive a question, we are prepared at the very earliest moment practicable to give our diligent and anxious attention to the subject, with the earnest hope that that consideration may lead to a successful issue. My Lords, I have now addressed to your Lordships at greater length than I could have desired the observations which I have found it necessary to make upon my assumption of the important office which I have now the honour to fill. My Lords, I can only conclude, as I began, by assuring you that I deeply feel my own incompetency for the discharge of the duties of that office; but this I can truly say, that I bring to their performance an earnest and conscientious desire faithfully and diligently to discharge them, as in the sight of God and in the presence of the people. Small as I know my own powers to be, and great as are the difficulties I shall have to 44 encounter, there is One who guides the destinies of all, and who, from the efforts of weak and inadequate instruments, can produce great and signal effects. Trusting to His guidance and to His blessing I will venture to take upon me the charge which has been intrusted to me by my Sovereign; and I fervently hope and trust that, be my Administration long or short, when I retire I may retire without a stain upon my public character, and with the consciousness that I have not left England in a worse position than that in which I found her.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
During the last two years it has often been my duty to follow the noble Earl who has just sat down, and in doing so I have always felt how great a tax it must be upon the pa-tience of your Lordships to attend to my statement of facts and arguments after listening to his extraordinary eloquence. Still more do I feel that this evening, when I judge from the appearance of the House that your Lordships have been greatly excited, not only by anxiety to hear the brilliant speech of the noble Earl, but also by curiosity to know what policy the Government of this country is about to pursue. I must therefore trust to the habitual indulgence of the House while I make a few remarks upon the speech of the noble Earl.
My Lords, to his statement of the course of events, beginning with the vote of want of confidence on Friday se'nnight, I have not a single objection to make. The noble Earl has candidly stated that after that vote — a vote upon a point affecting our honour perhaps more than any other — namely, a declaration that, in the opinion of that House, we had not kept the honour of the country intact, we had no alternative but to offer our resignations to Her Majesty. Her Majesty, having accepted those resignations, appears to have taken a perfectly constitutional course in sending for the noble Earl the head of that Conservative party the Members of which formed the great majority of those by whom that hostile vote was carried; and that vote having been so carried, and the noble Earl having been so called upon by Her Majesty to form an Administration, he would not have been justified in declining the trust. It appears to me that not the slightest excuse is required for the noble Earl's acceptance of the charge, because on no ground could that vote have been justified had it not been followed by the acceptance of office by the party which 45 mainly contributed to carry it. The only point upon which discussion may arise, and properly arise, is as to the character of that vote itself. That vote referred both to the Bill then before the other House and to the diplomatic communications which had taken place between the Governments of England and France subsequent to that most atrocious attempt upon the life of the Emperor of the French. I am exceedingly anxious not to weary your Lordships by going over ground which will have to be trodden again, and as I feel that my noble Friend the late Secretary of State for Foreign A flairs will be able to go into the whole history of these transactions with much more effect than I could, I will leave it to him to explain how the facts of the case actually stood. I see that the noble Earl smiles at this observation—let me not be misunderstood—I can assure him that it is not because I shrink from the responsibility of defending every single step which has been taken in respect to M. de Walewski's despatch, but because I am anxious to consult the convenience of the House, that I leave this part of the subject in the hands of my noble Friend behind me.
There is, however, one point upon which I think it was of great importance that the noble Earl should have made a distinct declaration — namely, as to the character which the Government attributes to the vote of the House of Commons which resulted in the change of Government. After the noble Earl had in one of his most eloquent speeches in this House expressed a decided hope that Her Majesty's Government would be able to introduce a measure which, without violating the constitution of the country, would prove our good-will to Finance and seriously alarm those who might contemplate the repetition of this wicked attempt; after the magnificent speech of the Gentleman who is now, I believe, Lord Chancellor of Ireland (Mr. Napier) as to what was the really dignified course for this country to pursue, in reply to the objection made to the introduction of the Bill; after the vote of the Conservative party in support of its introduction, and the precise declarations made by the present Home Secretary and President of the Board of Trade as to their approval of the principle and provisions of the Bill, I thought it was utterly impossible that any other construction could have been put upon the Bill than that which was fairly advanced by the noble 46 Earl. Therefore it was with the greatest surprise that I this morning found that— unless the whole thing is a hoax—one of the most important Members of the noble Earl's Administration, no less a person than the first law adviser of the Crown (the Attorney General), has deliberately, and in a written address, assured his constituents that —In common with the leaders of the Conservative party, he supported the Amendment to the Bill, on the around that the provisions of the Bill afforded no effective remedy to the evils proposed to be redressed, and that the Bill itself was an evasion of the principle of independent action which has hitherto been held sacred alike by the Parliament and the people.What that last sentence means I do not exactly understand, but it certainly condemns, "in common with the leaders of the Conservative party," all the principles of that Bill.
Another point concerns the noble Earl himself, and though I do not now press for an explanation, it might be convenient that we should understand what are the reasons which lead him to think it desirable to form a Government at the present moment, after having three years ago, in those eloquent words which stereotype opinions in the public mind, expressed so strong a feeling that with a minority of 280 Members in the other House, together with the popularity of Lord Palmerston at that time, it would have been a work of mockery and disgrace for him to form an Administration. I do not press for any explanation on this point, although the noble Earl's minority in the other House is a small one, and the voice of the country last year spoke their confidence in Lord Palmerston's Government. I am sure that what the noble Earl says about his not feeling anxious for office is perfectly true, and that it is owing to a feeling of patriotism that he has undertaken his present task. The noble Earl has spoken of the difficulties he will have to encounter. The difficulties which the noble Earl may anticipate will certainly not, I venture to say, arise from the condition in which Her Majesty's late Government have left the country; and I trust that your Lordships will excuse me if I enter into a few details to show that we have no reason to feel ashamed at the manner in which we have handed over the country to our successors. Your Lordships will remember the circum- stances under which Lord Palmerston formed his Government—after every leading statesman had confessed his inability 47 to attempt the task. The great difficulty with which at the outset he had to deal was the Crimean war. Public indignation bad been expressed at the state of our army there, which had been attributed, most unjustly, to the conduct of individuals instead of to the deficiency of our information, and more especially to our want of experience. Owing to the steps taken by the noble Duke behind me (the Duke of Newcastle), and to the manner in which my noble Friend (Lord Panmure) subsequently applied himself to the duties of the War Office, the state of our army became, it is not too much to say, superior to that of any other in the field. The Crimean war was then brought to a successful and a glorious issue; and having been sent officially to Russia after the war had been so successfully closed, where I was received with the greatest courtesy, I found that the defeat was considered more complete on their part than we on ours considered the victory. A treaty was then concluded which carried out the objects of the war so completely, that no objection, so far as I remember, was made to it in either House of Parliament, on that score; and by the firmness of my noble Friend (the Earl of Clarendon) the various articles of that treaty were not allowed to be frittered away in the course of subsequent proceedings. The war with Persia has been much criticized in this House, and yet I defy any one to state that we did not, with an incredibly small loss on our part, completely establish our military prestige in that portion of Asia, obtain every object for which the war was begun, and place our relations with the Court of Persia on a more amicable and a sounder footing than ever was the case before. Another war has been alluded to by my noble Friend—I mean the war with China. That war has, I hope, arrived at its conclusion; and although a fortnight ago we were assured by noble Lords opposite that it was impossible to do what we intended to do without inflicting on the inhabitants of Canton the most murderous cruelty—although we were told that it would be impossible to capture Canton, but that, if we did, it would be impossible to hold it—yet we have taken possession of that town, we see no difficulty in holding it, and, moreover, we have obtained possession of an individual to whom, I believe, more than any other person, are to be attributed the inconveniences and difficulties which have led to these hostilities. I 48 must say I was very glad to hear the noble Earl accept the Chinese affair in the position in which we have left it; and I augur still further that his excellect practical good sense will induce him not to demolish any of the fanciful structures which he thinks have been raised on this question, but to derive from the capture of Canton those reasonable and just advantages which may be expected to result not only to this country, but to the whole civilized world, without scrupulously and logically troubling himself to be perfectly consistent with the declarations he had previously made on the subject.
The noble Earl alluded in very fair terms to one other great difficulty in which the late Government was placed. Now, I do think that the result which, as he himself says, has been achieved in a very short time in India bears out the statements made by the late Government, namely, that, excepting the kingdom of Oude —and I presume the noble Earl will not adopt the advice recently tendered by one of his colleagues, that we should give back Oude to its former possessors—that with this exception, the pacification of India has really begun. I say that the result already accomplished justifies the tone assumed by the late Government, that though unquestionably we saw great cause for apprehending risk and difficulty, and for entertaining no little anxiety—though we thought ourselves bound to deal with the emergency as if it were of the gravest possible character, we never for one moment doubted the ultimate result.
In the course of his speech the noble Earl fairly and honourably expressed his satisfaction with regard to the military preparations of this country in a manner very complimentary to the illustrious Duke the Commander in Chief (the Duke of Cambridge) and to my noble Friend (Lord Panmure):—he said that he had no idea of finding them in such an efficient state. One of our great difficulties in this respect has been that, while it was obviously inconvenient and inexpedient for us to produce to Parliament and the public details of military preparations which were in hand, our general assertions on this head were very often considered as mere mystified official statements which could not be tested or checked. We must, therefore, feel grateful to the noble Earl for the testimony he has borne to the efficiency in which he has found those arrangements on his accession to office; and I am proud to be able 49 now to state, in the presence of those who can contradict me if I am wrong, that, while our naval preparations are in all respects in a very satisfactory state, and are in some respects in a position which they have never occupied before, our array, notwithstanding the drain made upon it, is equal, and our effective strength of trained soldiers in this country is actually greater, than at the outbreak of the Indian mutiny. I think it will be satisfactory to the public to know this, and I am glad to have this opportunity of thus publicly stating the fact. I hope, too, that due credit will be given to the authorities for the arrangements made respecting the transport of troops, in proof of which I will mention the fact that we have despatched troops to the number altogether of something like 60,000 men, of which 40,000 were sent from this country, not including 5,000 diverted from the Chinese expedition. These troops were safely conveyed, absolutely without a death (except in two or three cases upon the overland route), some thousands of miles, to a country on the other side of the globe, and were further conveyed up to the scene of action. I know as a fact that on the Continent of Europe the transport operations have excited feelings of astonishment and admiration, and I may repeat my hope that the home authorities will receive their due share of credit on this account.
Looking from India, my Lords, to our other possessions, no find our Colonies in a satisfactory state—some working out the problem of their own self-government with that amount of friction which is useful for bringing the machinery into gear, and all alike peaceful, prosperous, and happy—so prosperous and contented, indeed, that in the last account from the Governor General of India, he stated that no further supports were necessary to put down the rebellion and restore order—that troops, horses, and stores were continuing to come in from our other colonies, which they could spare in consequence of the perfect tranquillity which prevails in those colonies.
Turning, then, from these our colonial possessions to our affairs at home—your Lordships will recollect that, at home, one great disaster overtook us at the close of last year—I mean the commercial panic which happened in the month of November. No one has ventured to attribute that disaster to the action or policy of the late Government, and I believe also that the only step which they took on the occasion has been 50 unanimously sanctioned by everybody in Parliament as the right step taken at the right time. Regarding this panic, I do think—without of course taking any credit to the Government on this head—that we have reason to congratulate ourselves upon the resources of our country, the result having been that, notwithstanding the failures which took place, computed at no less than £50,000,000 sterling up to the close of last year, an improvement has already been exhibited, the funds have risen almost to par (though they were checked by the late change of Government), and though the profits are still low, there is an appearance of revival in the general trade of this country, as well as of a more general employment of the labouring classes, who are, I think, entitled to the thanks of the country for the patience and endurance they have exhibited in this season of distress under very great temptations and trials.
I do not wish to trouble your Lordships with details upon every matter respecting which I think the Government may lay claim to some degree of credit; and yet I should be reluctant to pass over some of the law reforms effected by the late Government. Two of those reforms, having reference to the Ecclesiastical Courts, had during the last quarter of a century been twelve times attempted in vain, but were at last brought to a successful issue in the past year. There are other measures of great importance to which I might refer, such as the Limited Liability Bill, the settlement of the question of secondary punishments, and the distribution of an efficient police all over the country. These enactments are important; but the attention of the late Government was not confined to measures such as these. I will not now enter into details, but on another occasion I trust I shall be enabled to prove that with respect to education, on the spread of which, however much it may be sneered at by some, the welfare of the country mainly depends, more real progress has taken place within the last few years, both as regards our universities, our museums, and the education of the poor, than has ever been known before. It would perhaps seem to show something like detraction on my part were I to ask the noble Earl what steps he proposes to take, and how he will reconcile the different opinions of the First Lord of the Admiralty and the President of the Board of Trade on this subject; but I hope that 51 the Lord President of the Council (the Marquess of Salisbury) will be prepared actively to carry on the present system, remembering that, while increased grants for educational purposes are a great good, the very increase of those grants makes it more important to watch over their distribution and see that they are applied to the best possible advantage.
My Lords, I venture to make these observations because I should be sorry to let it be thought that Her Majesty's late Government, having great and brilliant achievements to boast of, had in the slightest degree neglected those matters which, taken altogether, contribute still more to the real happiness of the people of this country; and I think I have stated enough to show that they have not left the country, under circumstances of difficulty, to those who will have to administer affairs after them.
My Lords, I now come to the noble Earl's statement as to his future course, and I think I may put aside—what the noble Earl has stated to be not worth much — all general declarations, which must derive their value from the manner in which they are carried out. Putting aside, then, all those general statements as to the principles of Conservative progress which are to guide the now Ministry, there are certain points with respect to which I think it would have been satisfactory if the noble Earl had favoured the House and the country with some intimation of his intentions—though I will not press him on the subject. There is the question with regard to the Jews, for instance. [Lord REDESDALE made an observation across the table.] I do not think this matter is so entirely out of the question, for it excites some anxious curiosity out of doors, and it is one on which three leading Members of the present Cabinet take entirely opposite views from the rest of their colleagues. There is another point on which it was desirable that the noble Earl should have given us some information. The reform of our representative institutions was a subject which the noble Earl could not have passed by. He might either have said that he was able to deal with it at once or have made a pledge that he intended carefully to consider the best means of preparing a Bill on the subject, with the confident expectation that in the next Session of Parliament he should be able to introduce the measure. I think the course taken by the noble Earl is a 52 fair and legitimate course to adopt. Still, it would have been more satisfactory if the noble Earl had stated whether or not he concurred in the views which had been put forward by one Member of his Government, who, in his address to his constituents, declared his readiness to support and assist in any measure for the extension of the elective franchise to every man in Britain qualified by property or by education to exercise it with independence and intelligence; and in a redistribution of the boroughs and towns possessed and unpossessed of the franchise, so that all above the rank of villages may be represented in the Legislature. It would have been desirable that they should know whether that was a description of the Reform Bill which the noble Earl had in contemplation, or whether it was merely a statement put forward by one of his supporters in the hope of securing a few votes.
There is another point on which I shall venture to make a few observations, though with great embarrassment; I refer to the Conspiracy to Murder Bill. I understood the noble Earl to say that a despatch was about to be prepared by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in answer to Count Walewski, and upon the answer to that despatch the action of Parliament is to take place. This is a point on which I feel that great moral responsibility weighs on every individual who in the slightest degree, either by his tongue or pen, influences public opinion. In proceeding with the measure now before the other House, Her Majesty's late Government would have given the noble Earl their warmest support; hut as it is, I would not say one word which, either on this side of the water or on the other, might tend to increase in the slightest degree the excitement which prevails, and which always will prevail, between powerful and glorious nations when, falsely or truly, they fancy the national honour in the slightest degree hurt.
The noble Earl has said that he did not come into office with feelings of exultation and pride, but nevertheless, I am of opinion that the feeling with which the noble Earl has accepted this great task of forming an Administration does credit to him, and is such as might have been expected from his character. I am bound to acknowledge that, while I cannot disconnect the noble Earl's responsibility from the course often taken in other places, to which I must not allude, nor forget that his course has some- 53 times been much disapproved by his followers, then the noble Earl's course in this House has been, on the whole, one of the most dignified character, and his eloquence has added greatly to the interest of our debates; and I am the more bound to say this, because I have experienced from the noble Earl, during the last three years, the greatest possible courtesy; and this circumstance, added to the indulgent support of my own friends, has contributed to enable me to go through duties to which my own talents were totally inadequate. I can assure the noble Earl that the sentiments with which we enter into opposition are not associated with one bitter personal feeling. We have been so short a time in Opposition, that it is hardly fair to quote even the little we have already done as an indication of the course which we intend to pursue, and I should not have referred to this point but that the noble Earl appears to have erroneously understood me, in the allusion I made to a three days' adjournment, as meaning that that space of time would be sufficient to enable him to master all the business he would have to undertake. What I alluded to was this—that when Lord Aberdeen asked for an adjournment of a week, in order that he might have an opportunity of forming his Government and preparing a statement of his policy, the noble Earl grudged an adjournment for more than three days. Since then I have referred to Hansard, and I find that the noble Earl, in answer to Lord Aberdeen's proposition, said that he thought twenty-four—or at most forty-eight hours—would be ample time. But that is not all; even during Our short tenure of the Opposition benches we have shown more consideration than the noble Earl did when he quitted office; for, upon that occasion, when the noble Earl announced his resignation, he made one of his long and eloquent speeches, not in the slightest degree calculated to facilitate the execution of the duties imposed upon the noble Earl who succeeded him in his high office. We, on the other hand, have thought it more fair towards either the noble Earl, or any one who might be sent for by Her Majesty, simply to announce the fact of our resignation, deeming that to be the course the least likely to embarrass our successors. Having resigned, and the noble Earl having undertaken the Government, I can assure the noble Earl that, as party men, we will endeavour impartially to judge of his measures and 54 acts: and, as Englishmen, we hope he will not meet with any of those great difficulties which we have had to contend with; but, if they should unfortunately arise, we trust that, by the favour of Divine Providence, the noble Earl will be able to meet them, and to bring them to as successful an issue. I will, in conclusion, apologize to the House for the length to which I have detained them, and I thank you for the indulgence you have extended to me.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
I wish merely to ask permission to make an observation by the way of explanation. It is true that Lord Aberdeen, on Monday, December 20, proposed to move the adjournment of the House for a week. I then stated I certainly had hoped that the noble Lord's Cabinet would be in readiness to meet the House at an earlier period, and that I thought, under the circumstances, forty-eight hours would be sufficient; but I added this important fact, that the following Saturday being Christmas-day, and as I believed many of their Lordships would like to spend Christmas-day in the country, under such circumstances, I thought it only reasonable that the House should not adjourn to a later period than Thursday. I, however, observed, that if the noble Earl particularly wished for the adjournment of the House until the following Monday, I had no desire to embarrass the noble Earl by any objections.
§ THE EARL OF CLARENDON
* I am reluctant to trespass upon the time of the House, but I feel bound to discharge the duty imposed upon me by my noble Friend (Lord Granville) and to make a few observations concerning the matters which for some time past have occupied a large share of the public attention, and which specially concern the department over which I had lately the honour to preside, but which, owing to accidental circumstances, have not yet been brought under the consideration of your Lordships. These matters, which are of the gravest importance, and seriously affect our interests both at home and abroad, have been so greatly misrepresented and disfigured, and so much error with regard to them still exists, that it is difficult to obtain for them the calm consideration which they not only deserve but demand. It is generally assumed that the language of France has been insolent towards us, and that an attempt has been made to bully us into legislation. I am well aware that a settled opinion of this kind is not easily disturbed, and that men 55 are always unwilling to admit that they have been mistaken, or have arrived at a decision lightly, or on insufficient grounds; but as it is my intention to appeal to the sober judgment of this House, I was glad to hear my noble Friend opposite, in that vivid and vigorous manner which is peculiarly his own, recalling your Lordships' recollection to the middle of January last, and begging you to remember what your own feelings and the feelings of the public were, when we first heard of the attempt to assassinate the Emperor of the French. It is no exaggeration to say, that throughout these realms the news of that atrocious crime was received with all the horror and disgust which among Englishmen it could not fail to inspire, and which could not have been greater in any other country. I need not say that in those sentiments Her Majesty's Government fully participated, but they shared likewise those feelings of shame and indignation which every honest Englishman entertained, that such plots should be conceived and brought to maturity in England by a knot of men who thereby abuse the hospitality they enjoy, and violate the laws under the protection of which they live in this country.
Our first thought on the very day we heard of the providential escape of the Emperor and the Empress, and there was no doubt that the plot had been prepared in England, was, whether any means could be devised for frustrating the schemes of murderers, whether the law was really sufficient for the purpose, and if not, whether it could be amended without the slightest violation of its fundamental principle, according to which a man is always considered to be innocent until he is proved to be guilty, and without the slightest infraction of the asylum which foreigners of all ranks and classes have always found, and will, I trust, always continue to find in this country.
We determined at once to refer the subject to the consideration of the law officers of the Crown. We felt that it was a point of national honour to pursue this course, and that we were bound to prove to a faithful ally that we did not view with apathy or indifference the dangers to which he had been exposed. The law does in certain matters provide for the security of foreign States—it does not allow of expeditions being fitted out and prepared in this country which may endanger the safety and tranquillity of States in amity with England. We have the means, and we 56 never hesitate to use the means, which the law places at our disposal to prevent such expeditions; and no expedition can be imagined more dangerous to another country than that of Orsini and his associates who quitted England for the purpose of murdering the Emperor, and of throwing France into a state of convulsion, in order to regenerate Italy; we desired, therefore, to ascertain whether it would be competent to us to take any measures for defeating such schemes; and we felt it was due to the feelings of the French people, and to the public opinion of Europe, to show, upon the highest legal authority, that great crimes did not or should not here meet with the encouragement which supposed impunity can afford.
We felt also that not only the national honour, but the gravest national interests required that we should satisfy ourselves whether any change in the existing state of things was necessary, and if necessary, practicable; because, next to France herself, no other country has as much reason as our own to be grateful for that merciful intervention by which France was spared from the calamities which the success of the assassins might have entailed upon her. It is not alone the two Governments that are in friendly and intimate alliance, but the interests of the two nations are now so interwoven together, those interests are of such surpassing magnitude, the intercourse of every kind between England and France is so close and continuous, that whatever happens for good or for evil in the one country produces its corresponding effect in the other, and a shock to the Government and social system in France vibrates, as we know by experience, through every part of the United Kingdom. It was with these feelings then, and under this sense of our duty, that we consulted the law officers of the Crown; and we determined that, if any measure was thought advisable, we would mark our sense of its importance by laying it on the table of Parliament at the earliest possible opportunity.
It was subsequently to this, namely, on the 21st of January, that M. de Persigny placed in my hands the despatch of Count Walewski. He informed me at the same time, that the Government of the Emperor had felt it to be their duty to address communications to the Governments of the countries neighbouring to France, where refugees habitually congregate, inviting their attention to any measures that might 57 be necessary for the prevention of these murderous conspiracies, and that in the despatch addressed to him for communication to Her Majesty's Government, the most studious care had been taken not only not to indicate any measure which might be adopted here, but to avoid the use of any expression which might in the slightest degree wound the susceptibility of the British people.
I repeated to M. de Persigny what I had often said to him before, and had explained personally at various times to Count Walewski, and also had had the honour of stating to the Emperor himself, namely, that no consideration on earth would induce Parliament to pass a measure for the extradition of political refugees, that the right of asylum could not be infringed, and that there were fundamental principles of law so ancient and so sacred in this country that they could not be touched; but that we required no impulse from without to set in motion the law as it stood, which was applicable to conspiracy, provided we had evidence to go upon, and that it had been for the want of sufficient evidence that the law as it stood had not been brought to bear upon such offences. I said it was a question whether the law was as complete and as stringent as it might be, but that the whole subject had been referred to the law officers of the Crown, under whose consideration it then was; and I moreover told M. de Persigny, that I had myself the day before written to the Attorney General, inviting his attention to certain points, and requesting an early opinion from the law officers.
Nothing could be more temperate, reasonable, and straightforward, than the con-duet of M. de Persigny in this matter, as will readily be believed by those among your Lordships who have the advantage of knowing that distinguished personage; nothing could be further than his language from exhibiting a desire to use pressure towards us, any appearance of which, I told him, would be resented from one end of England to the other, and would render absolutely impossible that which, under any circumstances, would be extremely difficult. M. de Persigny said that he asked for nothing, as his Government relied upon the friendship and good will of England, and the perfect solidarity of interests between the two countries, for our doing whatever we thought practicable, in order to guard against a renewal of those conspiracies against the Emperor's life.
58 And now, my Lords, with respect to the despatch of Count Walewski, about which so much has been said. I hope I am not more prone than another to take offence, but I feel sure that I am as ready as any man to resent an insult, and especially an insult offered to the honour and dignity of England; but often as I have read that despatch I have never been able to discover in it any insult to England. I am sure that none was meant, and I think that in international and public, as in private affairs, regard should be had to the animus of those with whom we are dealing, and that offence should not be lightly taken when we have every reason to feel sure that none was intended. There was another point, however, on which I felt sure, immediately after hearing Count Walewski's despatch road to me by M. de Persigny, namely—that if we had been aware that for years past plots against the life of our own gracious Sovereign had been preparing in France, that at three different times assassins had come over here from that country to put their diabolical plans in execution, that on the last occasion the Queen and the Prince Consort had escaped by a miracle, while 156 people had been killed and wounded at the door of the Opera House, and that five days after that murderous attempt I had addressed to Lord Cowley such a despatch as the French Ambassador received from Count Walewski, I should have been considered by your Lordships and the other House of Parliament, and the whole country, as a very feeble exponent of the universal popular indignation. I have really, however, been lost in amazement on finding that the spirit of party should have led any one so to misrepresent that despatch as to say that Count Walewski accused the English people of openly preaching and practising assassination. Why, my Lords, Count Walewski not only says "in recording these circumstances I at once add how much the Government of the Emperor is persuaded of the sincerity of the sentiments of reprobation which they created in England;" but the whole tenor and spirit, and the actual wording of the despatch, show that Count Walewski's observations had reference to a certain limited class of refugees in this country, and he who asserted the contrary either did not understand French, or had not read the translation, or wilfully perverted the meaning of the despatch.
Since the late Government resigned, but 59 before I quitted the Foreign Office, a despatch was received from Lord Cowley, which my noble Friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs has probably road, and which I hope he will lay on your Lordships' table, stating that Count Walewski was most desirous that Lord Cowley should express to me his astonishment and regret at the interpretation put, during the late discussions in the House of Commons, upon certain phrases in his despatch to Count Persigny—astonishment that his meaning could have been misunderstood, and regret that he should be believed, with his knowledge of England, capable of applying, as a generality, an imputation which the text of his despatch ought, he thinks, to have proved could only have been intended for a definite class of foreigners. And, my Lords, it is equally untrue to assert, as has been generally asserted, that Count Walewski in his despatch manifested any desire to interfere with the right of asylum in this country. Nothing can be more clear than that Count Walewski recognizes with approbation not only the right of asylum, but the mariner in which, with certain exceptions (and these can find no sympathy in England), that asylum has been afforded. Now what says Count Walewski? This is the paragraph to which reference has so often been made:—No one appreciates and respects more than we do the liberality with which England is disposed to exorcise the right of asylum in regard to foreigners, victims of political struggles. France, for her part, has always looked upon it as a duty of humanity never to close her frontiers to any honourable person in misfortune, whatever might be the party to which he belonged; and His Majesty's Government does not complain that its opponents should find refuge on the English soil, and live there in peace, remaining faithful to their opinions, to their very passions, under the protection of the British laws.He afterwards says: —Her Majesty's Government can assist us in arresting the danger to which France is exposed by the conduct of those demagogues who violate the right of asylum by affording us a guarantee of security which no State can refuse to a neighbouring State, and which we are authorized to expect from an ally. Fully relying, moreover, on the high sense of the English Cabinet, we retrain from indicating in any way the measures which it may deem fit in order to comply with this wish. We rest entirely upon it for estimating the decisions which it shall deem best calculated to attain the object; we are firmly persuaded that we shall pot have appealed in vain to its conscience and its good will.Now, my Lords, although there may, perhaps, be a word or two which might 60 have been omitted or altered with advantage in the passages I have just read, yet I think that, taking the despatch as a whole, your Lordships will feel that neither in its letter nor its spirit docs it contain anything which can fairly be construed into pressure, or menace, or insult, towards the people of this country. Was it possible, I will ask, that the Government of the Emperor, after the atrocious attempt upon his life, should have abstained altogether from communicating with the Government of the country from which the conspirators proceeded, and could that communication have been made in a form more temperate, or less calculated to offend? Why, it is the language of one friend to another, who says, "There are people living under the shelter of your hospitable roof who are determined to take my life—three times they have attempted to murder me, and they are so absolutely reckless that in their last attempt they killed and wounded scores of other persons—they are still conspiring—you cannot wish them to be successful. I don't indicate what measures you should take, but do what you can for my sake to keep these people within bounds." That is the spirit of the appeal made to us by the French Government, and that is the true and the just interpretation to be put on Count Walewski's despatch. But, on the other hand, I will ask, would it have been generous, would it have been Christian like, would it have tended to maintain friendship between these two individuals if the one so addressed had said, "I am sorry that people under my roof have been trying to kill you, but you must take care of yourself. I have my own regulations, and as you have presumed to allude to them nothing shall induce me to alter or modify them for your safety." And, my Lords, clothe it in what language you might, that is the sort of answer that has been called for, and that is the tone and spirit which we have been censured for not adopting. My noble Friend opposite I see differs with me, but let him remember all that has been said and written of late upon the subject, which fully bears out my assertion. I am well aware that my noble Friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, in the despatch which he has undertaken to prepare, may now use very different language after the discussions in the House of Commons, and the explanations already given by the French Government; but I have alluded to the answer which 61 we are reproached for not having given six weeks ago.
My Lords, I did not answer that despatch, and I say "I," because, although my late colleagues are, I know, fully prepared to share my responsibility, yet, being at the head of the Foreign Office, I feel I ought to he held more responsible than them for whatever was done or omitted in that department. Nothing would have been more easy—indeed more tempting, as has been said in another place— than to have written a despatch expounding our law and practice, and warning all foreigners against expressing an opinion that they were capable of improvement. Such a despatch might have figured well in a blue book. We might have gained some credit by it; it might have been applauded for its British spirit; and it would assuredly have been taken as the ground of opposition to any measure which the Government might have thought it their duty to introduce. But mistaken though we are said to have been, our sense of duty did not lead us in the direction of a blue book; we made great allowance for the excitement into which the whole of France had been thrown, staggering, as she then was, at the contemplation of the danger and disaster from which she had escaped; we did not wish to engage in angry controversy; and we thought that we should best show our sympathy with Franco, and best consult our own dignity by calmly considering what our course should be, and, uninfluenced by all the foolish talk about us, taking our own measures in our own way, and at our own time.
But let me add, that, tempting though it might have been to write a despatch for home consumption, it would not have been so easy as is imagined to answer Count Walewski's despatch, because to answer it properly we ought to have been able to contradict his statements; but his statements could not be contradicted for the simple reason that they were true. Count Walewski says, referring to the attempts which have been made upon the Emperor's life—It was in England that Pianori formed the plan of striking the Emperor; it was from London that—in an affair the recollection of which is still recent—Mazzini, Ledru Rollin, and Campanella directed the assassins whom they had furnished with arms. It is there also that the authors of the last plot have leisurely prepared their means of notion, have studied and constructed the instruments of destruction which they have employed, and it is from thence that they set out to carry their plans into execution.62 Now, my Lords, these words are strictly true. Count Walewski then proceeds to say—How different is the attitude of the skilful demagogues established in England. It is no longer the hostility of misguided individuals manifesting itself by all the excesses of the press and all the violence of language; it is no longer even the work of the factious seeking to rouse opinion and to provoke disorder; it is assassination elevated to a doctrine and preached openly, practised in repeated attempts, the most recent of which has struck Europe with amazement.That paragraph, my Lords, is also strictly and literally true; and the natural question to ask is—indeed my noble Friend opposite has not only asked but answered the question—why was not the law put in force? My Lords, it has been from no lack of vigilance or activity on the part of the police; it has been from no want of careful consideration on the part of the Government and the law officers, but it has been from the want of sufficient evidence. The want of evidence, however, against the actual perpetrators of the crime, is no proof that the crime has not been committed, and I have over and over again been shown the most infamous printed documents, but the authors and circulators of them could not be got hold of; at other times the result before a jury made the expediency of prosecution appear doubtful to the law officers of the Crown; again, we have bad reports of speeches of the most inflammatory nature made at funerals or debating societies, where nothing of the kind was expected; at another time the English version of a French speech advocating the murder if the Emperor was taken down, but the English words could not be sworn to by the reporter; and it was only the other day that a publication having the same object was obtained with the printer's name to it, and submitted to the law officers— this pamphlet was circulated at a meeting avowedly of Englishmen, to protest against the Conspiracy Bill, but which was in reality promoted by the refugees, and one half the hire of the room was paid by Bernard, the man who is now in custody as a principal conspirator against the Emperor's life. Well, my Lords, knowing all this, although Count Walewski did not, could I as an honest man tell him he was mistaken, or that assassination was not preached in this country by the class of persons indicated in his despatch? And what good purpose at such a moment would have been served by our admitting that Count Walewski's assertions were true, and regretting that, 63 owing to unavoidable circumstances, the offences of which he complained, and of which we were aware, had hitherto been committed with impunity, and for aught we could guarantee to the contrary would continue to be so? We could not without disrespect towards Parliament, for which we should hare been justly blamed, say that any measure, for the better prevention or the greater punishment of such offences should be adopted.—We could not even engage, that such a measure should be submitted to the consideration of Parliament, for we did not then know whether the law officers might not report against any alteration of the existing law. In short we could have written nothing at that time which would not have invited a rejoinder, and I accordingly suggested to my noble Friend then at the head of the Government that it might be advisable for us to rest satisfied with my verbal communication to Count Persigny, instead of entering into controversy, and increasing the exasperation which every Friend to the alliance desired to calm. I said, I thought it would be better to wait for the report of the Law Officers, and that if any measure was sanctioned by Parliament, then would be the time to explain to the French Government what the law really was, and how it would be applied, and that in making that explanation, which would set the whole question finally at rest, we should be strengthened and assisted by the debates in Parliament, which would have far greater force than any assertion coming from the Government; for by them the French Government and the French people would learn the extent to which the English people would go in legislation, and beyond which they would not be led one single step.
I thought then, as I think now, that that was the judicious, the friendly, and the politic course to pursue.
The example of Lord Hawkesbury has been again and again quoted against us, upon the ground that the two periods were alike, and that the nature of the demands made upon us were the same, and we have been told, in no very complimentary terms, that if we were incapable of ourselves framing an answer to Count Waleski's despatch, we should have taken Lord Hawkesbury's despatch as a model. But let me ask your Lordships to remember that the Peace of Amiens was nothing else than a hollow truce; whereas our relations with France for the last five years have been the most intimate and cordial that can exist between 64 two countries. The first Consul in 1802 was eagerly seeking some pretext for a rupture with England; and in 1858, the Emperor of the French has given too many proofs of his wish to maintain the alliance to permit of a shadow of a doubt of his sincerity. In 1802 the Plenipotentiaries of the French Republic made very precise demands in a very peremptory tone. In 1858 the French Ambassador declared that he made no demand upon us, and the French Government scrupulously abstained from indicating any measure which we might take for the better protection of the Emperor's life, and yet these are the periods and the circumstances which we have been told are precisely similar.
M. Otto, the Plenipotentiary of the French Republic, on the 17th of August, 1802, addressed a note to Lord Hawkesbury, in which the following demands were made.
A detailed and energetic answer was made by Lord Hawkesbury in a despatch to Mr. Merry, the British Minister at Paris —and to demands so offensive to the dignity of his country, how could any other than an energetic reply have been given. But what did this energy of Lord Hawkesbury amount to? I will read the answer to the French demands.
- 1. That effectual measures should be taken, for putting a stop to the attacks on the French Government in the English newspapars.
- 2. That certain individuals should be sent out of the island of Jersey.
- 3. That two French bishops should be sent out of the country.
- 4. That Georges and his adherents should be sent to Canada.
- 5. That the princes of the House of Bourbon, then in England, should be recommended to repair to Warsaw.
- 6. That such of the French emigrants, as wear the orders and decorations of the old French Government, should be sent out of the country.
With regard to the first demand, the English Government declined to take steps for altering their law of the press.
As to the second, they stated that all the emigrants had left Jersey.
As to the third, they state their readiness to remove the two bishops, if it can be proved that they tried to excite the French people against the Government.
4th. His Majesty is prepared to take steps for removing Georges and his adherents from the King's European dominions.
65 5th. His Majesty has no desire that the Princes of the House of Bourbon should continue to reside in this country, if they are disposed, or can be induced to quit it; but he will not deny them hospitality so long as they conduct themselves quietly, and abstain from attempts to disturb the peace which subsists between the two Governments.
6th. Few of the emigres wear orders— it would be better if all abstained from wearing them; but His Majesty cannot send them out of the country on such an account.
And yet it is for not following the example of Lord Hawkesbury, and not writing such a despatch, or not using such language, or making such concessions, that the honour of the country has not been thought safe in our hands.
Count Walewski's despatch was not answered, but the French Government was not left in ignorance of our views. I wrote in great detail, though privately, to Her Majesty's Ambassador at Paris as to what we could not do; and the French Government, even if they had wished us to take any steps repugnant to the institutions and policy of England, were made aware confidentially and in a manner not to impair the relations between the two Governments, of our true position. Lord Cowley made use of those letters, with the tact and judgment which characterise him, and which, together with his remarkable ability, have earned for him the confidence of his Sovereign, and the respect and esteem of all those with whom he is brought in connection; but as the House is in possession of the despatch in which Lord Cowley refers to these private letters, your Lordships have a right to know in what sense they were written, and I have accordingly made a few extracts, which with your permission I will read. On the 21st of January I wrote to Lord Cowley:—The more I think of the whole matter, the more allowance I make for the feelings of the French, who believe themselves to be in imminent danger, and that England, if she chose, might put them in safety. We know that that is not the case, and that we cannot prevent conspiracies, but this cannot be understood by men who are profoundly ignorant of our laws and customs, and who reason respecting England by analogy with other States, where police regulations and measures of public safety are always passively submitted to. Such men think only of their own perils, and of the unfriendly obstinacy of England in doing nothing for their protection. I have therefore been perfectly frank with M. de Persigny, and have spoken to him in the sense of what I have written above. He brought me to-day a despatch from 66 Walewski, which had been seen and approved by the Emperor. It was, I think, very moderate in tone, much more so, I am sure, than ours, mutatis mutandis, would have been. It is impossible for any one to behave more loyalcment and like a gentleman than M. de Persigny does upon this painful matter; for while he is in a state of extreme agitation, and fully shares the feelings of his countrymen respecting the attentat, he makes as much allowance for our difficulties as you or I could do.On the 23rd of January I thus wrote: —The refugee question has been discussed in every possible form, and I may with truth say that there has been an earnest desire to do something which will both clear this country from unjust imputations, and, at the same time, give some satisfaction to public opinion in France, but the difficulties, when one comes to the practical point of what that something shall be, are beyond imagination great, and everybody agrees that to ask for authority to send away every or any foreigner whom a foreign Government may suspect, or say they suspect, without even adducing any proof of guilty purpose, is utterly out of the question. We might just as well ask Parliament to annex England to France.On the 2nd of February I wrote:—A Bill is to be introduced when Parliament meets, which will make conspiracy to murder felony, and you may rely upon it that if the Bill passes it will be amply sufficient for the purpose, and immeasurably bettor than if we possessed a power to send away people on suspicion; for what is to constitute suspicion or to make a man suspected?—a denunciation from the French police? If so, it is clear that we should be perpetually asked to send away people on mere rumour, or perhaps the personal vengeance of spies, and that the only result would be ill-feeling between the two Governments. Parliament, however, would never grant such a permission, because, setting aside all other reasons, it would be inverting the fundamental principles of jurisprudence in this country, where a man is always considered innocent until he is proved to be guilty, and we should have to propose that he be considered guilty until he could prove himself to be innocent.And on the 4th of February I added; —What I foresaw has occurred, and the excitement, or rather, I should say, the indignation caused by the publication in the Moniteur of the regimental addresses, is universal throughout the country. People here care nothing about abuse; we are much too free ourselves with our pens and our tongues to think of resenting hard words; but that which no man here can or will stand is a threat, and there is no risk or danger to which Englishmen would not expose themselves rather than submit to menace.I could, of course, have multiplied these extracts, as I was in daily communication with Lord Cowley, but my wish is not to weary the House, and merely to show the nature of the communications which were made to the French Government.
Lord Cowley has, I know, been condemned for writing that despatch; by some it has been regarded, most erroneously I 67 am sure, as a censure upon the Resolution of the House of Commons; by others Lord Cowley has been thought to have acted irregularly in giving an opinion upon the conduct of his official superior; and, my Lords, there are one or two expressions in the despatch, dictated perhaps by Lord Cowley's feelings of regard towards myself, which I did think of omitting, but then I should have been obliged to lay it upon the table as an extract, and I preferred presenting the despatch exactly as I received it. This, however, is a very minor question. The real question is, whether the facts contained in that despatch are or are not correct? and I need not say that Lord Cowley would not, to please me or any man living, write a word that was not strictly true, or make a statement which could be contradicted the following day by the witnesses to whom he appeals, and who are no less personages than the Emperor and Count Walewski; and to that despatch, and to that statement of facts I in my turn appeal in vindication of the course we have pursued; and I will defy any rational man, any man not overflowing with the bitterness of party spirit, to say that that course has been derogatory to the honour of England.
My Lords, it is exactly five years since I had the honour of receiving from Her Majesty the Seals of Office which I have just resigned, and although I am not now going to enter into the subject of our foreign policy, yet I think we may with confidence affirm that during those five years—anxiously eventful and important as they have been—that the alliances of England have not been weakened, that the respect in which she is held by the nations of the world has not diminished, that her honour has not been tarnished in our hands, and that disgrace will not attach to those who supported the last measure which the late Government thought it their duty to introduce.
My Lords, that Bill has been studiously and purposely misrepresented; it has been called an Alien Bill, and it is no more an Alien Bill than it is a Bill for Parliamentary Reform; it has been called a French Bill, whereas it was in the laboratory of the law officers before Count Walewski's despatch was received, and before the vapouring military addresses were published and apologized for; it has been stated that Count Walewski's despatch was the basis of the Bill, and for that purpose was laid on the table, but the despatch had 68 nothing to do with the Bill, and there was no intention of laying it on the table at all; but an hon. Member having asked whether there had been any communication from the French Government, and if so, whether it would be produced, it was of course presented. When the Bill was first introduced, some right hon. Gentlemen, who are now leading Members in the new Administration, pronounced a strong opinion in its favour; but this morning the Attorney General, in his address to his constituents, denounces the Bill as an evasion of the principle of independent action which has hitherto been held sacred alike by the Parliament and the people, and my noble Friend opposite has been so little mindful of facts as to say that, although the first reading of the Bill was carried by a large majority, yet that it was subsequently damaged by the production of Count Walewski's despatch to which no answer had been returned, whereas Count Walewski's despatch was laid upon the table before the Bill was road the first time, and the fact of its being unanswered was commented upon in the debate, which ended in a majority of 200 in favour of the first reading; so that, from the moment when the Bill was introduced down to this very evening, there has been a series of errors and misconceptions with regard to it. I rejoiced the other night to hear from my noble Friend the Lord Chief Justice that the Bill did not create any new offence, and that it only altered the punishment, and that if it came up to this House he felt certain that your Lordships would support it. It is said, however, that the time for bringing it in was inopportune; but we never disguised that our object in introducing it was, to put a stop to conspiracies in this country to murder the Emperor of the French, and when it comes to be rightly understood, that the sole effect of this Bill is to render a horrible crime felony instead of misdemeanour, and that it will place foreigners on the same footing as British subjects before the law of England, I am greatly mistaken if the just-minded and generous people of this country would have seen any humiliation in affording some additional security to the life of a faithful Ally.
§ LORD ST. LEONARDS
I rise to request the attention of the House for a few moments on a matter personal to myself. Considering the position in which I stand, 69 I think I should not be justified in refusing office without a sufficient excuse. My noble Friend near me (the Earl of Derby) with all celerity and in the most handsome manner again offered the Great Seal to me; but I unhesitatingly declined the offer. I have the same confidence in the noble Earl which I have always had, and I am not aware of any difference of opinion between me and my noble Friend. No political or personal feeling therefore operated upon my mind; but the reason, and the only reason, why I declined to take office was, that I had attained the age of seventy and seven. As to my mental faculties, the Archbishop's case warned me, that at my time of life I was not a competent judge of them. My physical powers I could perfectly form a judgment upon, and it was my conviction that I had not bodily strength to enable me to undergo the fatigues which office would impose upon me, with satisfaction to myself, with credit to my party, or with justice to the country. I cannot sit down without expressing to my noble Friends on this side of the House my obligation for the consideration and support which they have always afforded to me, nor must I omit to express to noble Lords on the other side my gratitude for the courtesy and kindness which they showed me whilst I was in office, and indeed ever since I left it. I beg to thank the House also, for the attention with which they have listened to this personal explanation.