HL Deb 04 May 1865 vol 178 cc1451-3

said, he de-sired to ask the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) a question relative to the expression which fell from the noble Earl on Monday night, when the House had under its consideration the Address to Her Majesty with reference to the assassination of President Lincoln—a most melancholy event which had thrown the whole world into consternation. The noble Earl was reported to have said—and, in fact, did say—that if the Confederates were in any way connected with or appeared to have justified directly or indirectly the commission of that dreadful act, they would have committed that which was worse than a crime—they would have committed a blunder. As that sentence had been misinterpreted, he wished to state his impression of its true meaning, and to ask the noble Earl whether or not he attributed to it its right meaning. The expression was first made use of, he believed, by M. de Talleyrand on the occasion of the fearful murder of the Due d' Enghien by the First Consul of France—thereby meaning that, not that a blunder was worse, in a moral sense, than a crime, but that a person occupying the position of the First Consul in committing a grave political blunder had done that which was fraught with graver eon-sequences than a crime. He attributed to the expression used by the noble Earl precisely the same interpretation he had put on the phrase used by Talleyrand. He understood his noble Friend to intend to convey that the sanctioning of such an Act by persons standing in the position of the Confederate Government, or the Confederate States, would be a grave political blunder, fraught with more serious consequences than even the commission of that crime by other hands. That was the construction he put upon the expression, and which he believed to be the true one; and therefore he took that opportunity of asking the noble Earl whether or not that was the correct one. The reason why he ventured to ask the question was that in his experience he had seen instances in which expressions had been attributed to political persons which they never used in the sense ascribed to them. It was imputed to the Duke of Wellington that he said county meetings were a farce, a phrase which he never used, although it had been frequently asserted against him. In the same way it was imputed to Lord Lyndhurst that he said the Irish people were "aliens in blood, aliens in religion, and aliens in race" to this country, but Lord Lyndhurst never said it in the sense in which it was imputed to him. He therefore thought it better that any expression exposed to misinterpretation should be made clear at once, rather than left to interpretation at a future day.


My Lords, I cannot think that any Member of your Lordships' House could have entertained the slightest doubt as to the sense in which I used the words referred to, and upon which the noble Lord has put the right construction. What I did say was that if the Confederate authorities—which I do not believe from their former conduct and character possible—had given their sanction or approval to the act, they would have been guilty not only of a crime, but using the well-known political aphorism of Talleyrand, they would have committed worse than a crime—a blunder. They would not only have sanctioned that which is highly immoral in itself, but it would also be sanctioning that which could do nothing but add most serious injury to their political position. It was only in that sense that I used the words referred to, and I cannot understand how any one could have put a different construction upon it.