Page images

The Eloquence of the Month.


POLITICS. [The Right Hon. Edward Geoffrey Smith Stanley, fourteenth Earl of Derby, K.G., was born 29th March, 1799, at Knowsley Park, Lancashire. He was educated at Eton, and at Christ Church, Oxford. In 1819 he gained the Latin poem prize, the subject being “Syracuse.” He entered the House of Commons (as Lord Stanley) in 1820, having been elected member for Stockbridge, in Hampshire, a borough disfranchised by the Reform Bill of 1832. His maiden speech was not ventured upon, however, till the 30th March, 1824, when he supported the Manchester Gas Bill so well as to draw forth the laudations of Sir James Mackintosh. On the 6th May he defended the Irish Church Establishment against an attack made on it by the late Mr. Joseph Hume. After a short voyage to the United States he married, in 1825, the Hon. Emma Caroline Wilbraham, daughter of Lord Skelmersdale. In 1826 he became member for Preston, but he was ousted thence by Henry Hunt. He was then brought in for Windsor, and was appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland, having served his routine apprenticeship to statesmanship as Under Secretary for the Colonies. In 1832 he was chosen for North Lancashire, and in 1833 became Chief Colonial Secretary; but in 1834 he seceded from the Whig Government of Earl Grey, in opposition to the secularization of the revenues of a large portion of the Irish Church. In the same year he was elected to the Lord Rectorship of Glasgow University. In 1841 he resumed his Colonial Secretaryship under Sir Robert Peel, and was raised, in 1845, to the Upper House as Baron Stanley of Bickerstaffe. He resigned office in 1846, when Sir R. Peel determined to repeal the Corn Laws. When his father died in 1851 he became Lord Derby. In Feb., 1852, on the resignation of Lord John Russell, the Protectionist Conservatives, of whom he was the chief, were called to power, which they retained ten months. In 1855 he was asked to form a ministry, but declined. When Lord Palmerston was defeated on the Conspiracy Bill in Feb., 1858, he was again advanced to the Premiership, which he held till Aug., 1859. He has been now called, for the third time, to the loftiest position a subject can occupy. The professed political principle on which he has recently acted has been not needlessly to thwart any existing Government, but to control its measures to constitutional ends. He succeeded the Duke of Wellington as Chancellor of the University of Oxford. The earl is reputed the author of “ Conversations on the Parables of Christ;" and it is well known that his translation of Homer's “Iliad” is a brilliant, able, and praiseworthy version-though more oratorical than poetical. Lord Derby is a master in controversy,-is, in fact, rhetorically described as “the Rupert of debate.” His phraseology is vivid, his style polished, the form of his argument trenchant, and his declamatory powers are finely aided by the handsome figure, commanding statare, attractive gestures, and exquisite as well as exquisitely managed voice of the noble Premier. He is in general perfectly self-possessed, his thoughts take the oratorial form spontaneously, and his capacity for invective (acquired in opposing O'Connell) is unequalled for power, polish, and sarcastic causticity,—though Bright's is more forcible and home-hitting. The speech we quote will probably become historical as the manifesto of the Conservative party in 1866. Impartiality claims its admission to our pages. It is more laboured and less fluent, however, than most of the earl's great orations. ]

THE EARL OF DERBY said :-My Lords, in rising again to address you from this bench as First Minister of the Crown, I assure you, in all sincerity, that I do so with no feelings of personal satisfaction or gratified ambition. I have not sought for the high honours of the post which the Queen has conferred upon me. I know the difficulties by which I am surrounded, and the almost insuperable obstacles I shall have to encounter in performing my duties. I should have been most desirous to shrink from undertaking duties which must involve, to me, personal sacrifices of ease, comfort, and perhaps of health, if I had not felt myself compelled by an imperative sense of public duty not to shrink from the task. I should have been well content to retain that position which I have held for some time-honoured with the confidence of a great and powerful party,—of a party powerful enough to exercise no inconsiderable control over the public affairs of this country, to give a wise and prudent Minister of the Liberal party a useful support, and to enable him to check, curb, and restrain the more impatient and extreme of his supporters. Such a position I have had the honour to occupy from 1859 to the death of Lord Palmerston. Nor can I help saying that it reflects the highest credit upon that great party which has honoured me with its confidence, that. during that long period, they should have consented to hold that position-of great utility to the country, and one most honourable to themselves, but at the same time most dispiriting and most disheartening to individual ambition.--that of supporting a Minister to whom they were by party ties opposed; and that during the whole of that long period their ranks should not have been thinned by defections arising out of the natural impatience of persons in political life, at their continual exclusion from the offices, honours, and emoluments which are naturally sought for by public men. I am informed that Lord Palmerston told his colleagues that it would be most imprudent to propose a Reform Bill in the first session of a Dew Parliament, because it is impossible for a Minister to feel the pulse of Parliament and of his own party so as to enable him to judge how far he might expect support in bringing forward a large measure of reform. The noble earl, I think, admitted the other day that he had miscalculated the strength of public opinion on this subject. I understood him to lay down the principle that it was not right for a Minister to propose a measure of reform unless he felt that he had support in Parliament which would enable him to carry it. The noble earl was deceived by the aspect of the general elections, and he fell into the mistake of pot considering how large a measure of support was given to Lord Palmerston personally, and how much of that support might be withdrawn on the introduction of an extensive Reform Bill. I think that there was nothing more natural, if he believed that he had the requisite strength, than that the noble earl should wish to bring on a measure of parliamentary reform, with which his fame is so closely connected. Still, I cannot but think that the question was taken up hastily, considering the extreme gravity of the measure introduced. It would have satisfied all the reasonable supporters of the Government if the noble earl had announced his intention to deal, and to deal effectually, with reform in the next session of Parliament, and that would have been a far more judicious course than the one which was pursued. A bill was brought forward very imperfect in itself, and founded on very imperfect information. There was a great mistake in this, and a great miscalculation of public feeling. The House of Commons was not prepared to have forced on it a measure first introduced in a fragmentary shape, and afterwards in a more complete state, still even bearing marks of haste. Still less was it prepared to be told that unless it passed that Bill in all its most important particulars they would be considered as

[ocr errors]

passing a vote of want of confidence in the Government. I do not question the policy of the resignation of the late Government. But I do say that if, during the debates of the House of Commons, there had been a readiness to deal fairly and candidly with the different parts of the measure, and to treat the House of Commons with the consideration to which they are entitled—I do not think, I say, that under those circumstances the particular question on which the amendment was carried against the Government was one on which the Government would have been justified in resigning. But admit that, after they had declared that the point was one on which they would accept no adverse vote except as one of want of contidence, they had no alternative but to take the consequences of that declaration. Much as I regret their resignation do not blame the course they pursued. Nearly & week elapsed before the final signification of her Majesty's acceptance of their resignation. Immediately on her Majesty's return from Scotland she did me the honour to send for me, and in the most gracious terms she informed me that her Ministers had sent in their resignation, which had been accepted ; and then she was pleased to say that she turned to me as the only person who could form a Government which was likely to command the confidence of her Majesty and of the people. She was pleased to say that she would not fix any time for seeing me, but that she wished I would consult with my friends and see what chance there was of forming speh

Government as she desired. On the following morning (Wednesday) I met & considerable number of those with whom I am accustomed to act. I communicated to them her Majesty's wish that I should form a Government composed in the main of the Conservative party, but also a Government formed on an enlarged basis, and capable of including in it some of those who had ever been members and supporters of the late Government. From one and all of those whom I consulted I received the assurance that they felt it my duty not to refuse the task which her Majesty had imposed on me ; and, at the same time, an assurance of their individual desire to sacrifice all personal considerations and to waive all private interests, if by making any such sacrifices they could enable me to form a Government on the basis laid before them. I use the expression “ enlarged basis," because it expresses precisely what I mean. I do not think that a Government on an enlarged basis is identical with a Government by coalition. Government by coalition implies on the part of those who coalesce a greater or less sacrifice of personal opinions and feelings to obtain united political strength, and there is always something repugnant to Englishmen in a sacrifice of principle to obtain power. A Government on an enlarged basis is a different thing. I proposed that the basis of the Government should not be enlarged as to the principles of the party, but that it should go beyond the ordinary limits of existing parties, and comprise a certain number of those who, although party had hitherto placed them in different ranks, yet differed little in principle from those with whom I have been in the habit of acting. In this country in the social seale the distinction between “high and low" is broadly marked ; but it is difficult to assign a man his place in that great middle class which forms the majority of the population. So it is in politics. You talk familiarly of Conservatives and Liberals, of advanced Liberals, and Radicals. But it would be difficult to say what is the difference between a Conservative-Liberal and a Liberal-Conservative ; between a Whig and a Liberal ; between a Whig and a Liberal-Conservative. There is, I hope, a very wide distinction between a Whig and a Radical ; but it is between the extreme men of both parties that the great difference exists. Between the moderate Whigs of the Liberal party and the Radical members of the same party there is a greater diversity of opinion than there is between moderate Conservatives and moderate Whigs. I say, therefore, that the division of parties which at present exists is

not the natural division, nor does it represent principles. A natural division would include a very considerable number of those wbo are now members of the Liberal party. That is what I mean by a broad basis. In endeavouring to act upon it I took the opportunity, in the first instance, of negotiating with some of the members of the late Government, desiring more especially at the present crisis to avert, for the public interest, the danger of our foreign negotiations being abruptly broken off

, and desiring, moreover, that the hands which had so long held the seals of this department should continue to do so. The first person I made an offer to was my noble friend the late Secretary for Foreign Affairs (Lord Clarendon). I made that offer in all sincerity, believing that between him and myself there did not exist such differences of opinion as to prevent his acting with me, and believing also that it would be of importance to the country that bis services should be retained. My noble friend considered it to be consistent with fidelity to his party to decline the offer which I made, but his refusal was couched in terms which have left a deep impression of gratitude upon my mind. I subsequently applied to another member of the late Cabinet (the Duke of Somerset), froin whom I received the same answer. It was natural, although a matter of regret, that the inembers of Lord Russell's Cabinet to whom I applied should have acted as they did ; but I believed I had better hope of success with those gentlemen who, having belonged and still belonging to the Liberal party, yet found it Becessary to separate themselves from their party, and who in fact brought about the crisis which led to the resignation of the Ministry. My lords, I addressed myself in the first instance to one unhappily now no more, whose premature and sudden death we all of us feel with sorrow. The late Marquis of Lansdowne, whose name I felt would be a sufficient guarantee for his conduct in joining my Government, whose influence would have procured a large amount of support, and whose vote no one would dispute. The noble Marquis expressed the most cordial good wishes for the success of the Government I was about to form, but he declared-an opinion in which I could not coincide-that out of office he could give me a more effectual support than if connected with my Government. I differed froin him in this view, and requested him to reconsider it. He left the room for the purpose of consulting with those with whom he acted, and I never again saw him. The noble earl (Grosvenor), also connected with that party, called upon me mor than once,

and from him I endeavoured to ascertain whether those whom he represents were disposed to give me support. I was told that on this point there were differences of opinion among those gentlemen ; that some of them might take part in my Government, but that from one of the most distinguished members of the party I need not expect, he said, official co-operation, and that it would be quite unnecessary for me to make any personal applications. A consultation was held to consider the proposal, and at twelve o'clock on the night on which the meeting took place Earl Grosvener called upon me, and stated that those who had attended it had come to the unanimous opinion that, although they were prepared to give me independent support, not one of them would undertake to accept office. The meeting to which I refer was held on the 29th of June. I had then to consider more seriously whether it was my duty to attempt the formation of a Government independent of aid from the other parties. My deliberations led me to the conclusion that it was. I felt that my refusal to undertake the task would have been the signal for the entire dissolution of the Conservative party ; that it would have been an indication that we were incapable of forming a Government ; and that it would have seemed as if our opposition to the preceding Ministry had been of a purely factious character, leading to no advantageous results. Now I do not believe that any of those who value the constitution of this country desire that that Conservative party should be broken. The strength of that party is a material element in the strength of the empire, and if it were dissolved it would be difficult to carry on the Government with any regard to the existing constitution of the country. I was not at liberty to run such a serious risk. I was not at liberty to break up a great party who had followed me faithfully for more than twenty years, and who had adhered to my counsel in periods of great political discouragement. But if I could have seen any other leader who could keep the Conservative party together, and was more likely than myself to obtain the assistance I asked from the Liberal ranks, I should have been rejoiced to have handed over to him the accomplishment of my task. I could hear of no such leader. I accordingly communicated with her Majesty, and notified my intention of obeying her Majesty's command and attempting to form an Administration. I deeply regret the delay and interruption to the public business which have resulted from the resignation of the late Government, but I cannot hold myself responsible for any portion of that delay. Only eight days' delay actually occurred. In 1852, when Lord Aberdeen succeeded. me, he thought it necessary to make an adjournment of a fortnight. I venture to say that no one who has not tried it has the slightest conception of the difficalty required in forming an Administration. A very moderate time may suffice to form a Government made out of previous Ministries, because gentlemen can be got to fill offices for which time and experience have peculiarly fitted them. But the case is

very different when a Government is overthrown by accident, and when in the irst instance you have to deal with persons not belonging to your own immediate followers ; and even when your choice is reduced to them, no man can tell the difficulty which attends the placing of some forty or fifty gentlemen in situations according at once with their own wishes and the interests of the country. You may form the most ingenious combinations, but the unfortunate refusal of one individual to accept the office you have assigned him throws the whole machinery out of order. This causes fresh reconstruction and other combinations, and the more nearly you approach your goal, the greater is the difficulty experienced if one single person will not fit into his place. I will say nothing about the manifold disappointments which must be inflicted upon your most faithful friends. It is impossible to put three times the number of candidates into one-third the number of places. There are many candidates fitted for one position, and only one or two for another; and even after you have filled up every post it is absolutely necessary that you should disappoint two or three gentlemen, who perhaps may be equally fit to fill them. Among all the troubles'and annoyances caused by the formation of a ministry, nothing can be more painful to a man placed in the position I have been in, than that he must disappoint those whom he would willingly serve on personal as well as private grounds. I venture, however, in spite of all this, to hope that I have been able to place before ber Majesty and the public a list of names which will at all events be a guarantee that in their hands the interests of the country will not be neglected. With regard to myself, my principles and political views are sufficiently well known to you to render it unnecessary for me to enter upon them. But there are two points on which I would like to say a few words, as I am anxious that there should be no misconception on them. It has been industriously circulated that a Conservative Government is necessarily a warlike Government. Now I believe there never was a rumour which had so little foundation. The Conservative party consists, in a great measure, of men who have the greatest interest and the largest stake in the country. They are men upou whom the consequences of war will fall more heavily than upon other persons. They have the greatest interest in the peace and prosperity of the country, and they are, above all other parties, the least likely to be carried away by popular enthusiasm and impulse. My earnest desire is for the

« PreviousContinue »