Page images

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 entitledI 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 I 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 I do not blame the course they pursued. Nearly a 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 com mand 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 sueh a 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 scale 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 représent principles. A natural division would include a very considerable number of those who 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 members 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 necessary 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 more 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 distin. guished 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, 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 difficulty 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 first 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 bis 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 preservation of the peace of this country and of the world. There are two modes of contributing to the preservation of peace, both of which are essential to that object. The one is the mode in which you deal with the affairs and policy of foreign countries. The other is the amount of preparation to resist attack, from whatever quarter it may come. Now, with regard to the first question, my principle is this that it is the duty of the Government of this country, placed as it is geographically, to keep itself on terms of good-will with all surrounding nations, but not to entangle itself with any single or monopolising alliance with any one of them; not to interfere needlessly and vexatiously with the internal affairs of any foreign country; not to volunteer advice on their affairs taken from our own point of view, and not considering how different are the views and feelings of others, above all, it is the duty of the Government to abstain from menace if they do not intend to follow up that menace by action. I am told that we found fault with the noble earl opposite with regard to Denmark for not having taken a more active part in its favour. That was not the ground of our complaint. The ground of our complaint was that the noble earl held language which was not justified, except upon the supposition that he was going to act upon it; and when those with regard to whom he held that language relied upon his performance of the implied engagement, he felt himself compelled to withdraw from it. My lords, it would be the height of impertinence and impolicy if I were to attempt to say a single word upon the state of affairs on the continent of Europe. A bloody, short-I hope a short, but a bloody-war has prevailed for the last few weeks—a war in which the honour of this country is in no way involved, and in which the interests of this country are onlŷ remotely concerned ; and I consider it the duty of this country, whatever the sympathies of individuals with all or any of the powers may be, to maintain a strict and impartial neutrality between them. But when the slightest gleam of hope prevails that the neutral powers may be able to bring about a termination of the bloody struggle, then we ought to be prepared with our good offices and gladly co-operate with them, and use our influence for the purpose of staying the horrors of war; and I believe that our influence will not be the less effectual because it was not accompanied with menace, because it was not asked for, and because we sought no advantage for ourselves but the advantage of stopping the flow of blood and restoring the inestimable blessings of peace. Passing from Europe, I cannot but turn for a single instant to the United States, to congratulate the world that the struggle which had for so many years desolated that country is over, and to express my earnest hope, whatever irritation our neutrality may have created there, that the restoration of peace, and the wise course which the President is taking for bringing back to the Union the vanquished members that had seceded from it, will have the effect of allaying any feelings of irritation which may have existed, and that nothing may occur to interrupt the maintenance of a friendly understanding between the two countries. It is also with no little gratification that I have observeď the action of the Government of the United States with regard to the mischievous conspiracy called Fenianism. Although for a time considerable latitude of expression was allowed to that organization, yet no sooner was the law about to be violated than-I acknowledge it with the utmost gratitude-the most vigorous and decided measures were taken by the Government of the United States to preserve a friendly territory from being invaded by a band of marauders. In the Fenian organization there was a number of dupes held together by a few arrant impostors, who succeeded in drawing from them large sums of money for the furtherance of visionary schemes; and the movement was further supported by loose characters who had belonged to the United States army, and who were ready to join any undertaking. I would not have mentioned them at all but for the purpose of doing jis!le iu tie course taken by the United States, and pointing out the gratification which we must all feel that an inroad upon Canadian territory has evoked one ananimous feeling of loyalty and enthusiasm throughout the whole of the provinces of North America towards the country with which they are allied, and one unwavering expression of allegiance to the Crown, and this too on the part of all the races that inhabit those provinces, and of all the peoples, of all shades of politics and religion. I think it is gratifying to find that an organization, however contemptible, has produced so unanimous a feeling, and I cannot but hope that it may have an important bearing upon the scheme which is calculated to promote the prosperity and well-being of Canada—I mean the confederation of the several provinces under a local government, and maintaining unbroken allegiance with the Crown; and I cannot but think that the raid which has been attempted may have the effect of giving an impetus to the scheme of confederation, and of leading it to a successful issue. Passing for a moment to the policy which the Government intend to pursue with regard to domestic affairs, I may say that I hold myself and colleagues unpledged upon Parliamentary Reform. Although not a stranger to danger, still I think I may be excused if I show an unwillingness to court it, and the more so if I consider the wise advice laid down by the noble earl opposite, who said that no Government was justified in bringing forward a Reform Bill without a fair prospect of carrying it; and the opinion expressed by the noble earl on the cross bench, that a Reform Bill could not be carried and the Constitution amended without a mutual understanding between the two great parties in the country. I have never been adverse to the principle of Parliamentary Reform. I joined, thirty-four years ago, the noble earl in carrying the first Reform Bill; and although, in 1858, I did not think it was a pressing question, yet I did not suppose there were not anomalies in our Constitution, and that there were not persons who had a fair claim on the score of fitness to exercise the duty of electors, and certainly nothing could give greater security and strength than the admission of such persons. But, on the other hand, I am afraid that that portion of the community which was most clamorous for the passing of a Reform Bill would not be satisfied with any measure that could be concurred in by the two leading parties in the country; and I fear that any measure of a moderate character would not stop agitation, but be made the stepping-stone for further demands. I guard myself against any supposition whether the present Government will or will not in a future session bring forward a Reform Bill. But I must be permitted to say that, unless there is a fair prospect of passing a Reform Bill, it is the greatest disadvantage that session after session should be wasted by constant contests over a Reform Bill, which only lead to the same barren results. There are various measures which have received consideration in the present session—measures not of a brilliant or imposing character, but still measures on which the welfare and prosperity of the country mainly depend. Nothing can be more important to the entire community than a good Bankruptcy Bill. The bill introduced by the noble and learned lord opposite—whom I am glad to see in his place—has not been received with entire satisfaction. That question shall receive the early and impartial consideration of the House. I cannot say that I entertain the hope that we shall be able to pass a bill during the present session, but it is one of those questions to which the attention of the new Government shall be early and earnestly given. There is another question affecting a large and helpless portion of the community. I mean the administration of the law relating to the poor, especially to the treatment of the poor in workhouses. The stories we hear through reports in the public newspapers are so revolting and so disgusting—they show so much misery and hardship devolving upon those who have no power to help themselves, that a Government would be blamable indeed that did not try to put an end to scenes so unut

« PreviousContinue »