Lord John Russell
by Stuart J. Reid
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Lord John Russell's Irish policy has often been misunderstood, and not seldom misrepresented, but no one who looks all the facts calmly in the face, or takes into account the difficulties which the famine threw in his path, will be inclined to harsh criticism. Lady Russell's journal at this period reveals how great was her husband's anxiety in view of the evil tidings from Ireland, and one extract may be allowed to speak for itself. After stating that her husband has much to distress him in the state of the country, these words follow: 'God grant him success in his labours to amend it—famine, fever, trade failing, and discontent growing are evils which it requires all his resolution, sense of duty, and love for the public to face. I pray that he may, and believe that he will, one day be looked back to as the greatest benefactor of unhappy Ireland.' When once the nature of the calamity became apparent, Lord John never relaxed his efforts to grapple with the emergency, and, though not a demonstrative man, there is proof enough that he felt acutely for the people, and laboured, not always perhaps wisely, but at least well, for the amelioration of their lot. He was assailed with a good deal of personal abuse, and was credited with vacillation and apathy, especially in Ireland, where his opponents, acting in the capacity of jurymen at inquests on the victims of the famine, sometimes went so far as to bring in a verdict of wilful murder against the Prime Minister. It is easy enough after the event to point out better methods than those devised at the imperious call of the moment by the Russell Administration, but there are few fair-minded people in the present day who would venture to assert that justice and mercy were not in the ascendent during a crisis which taxed to the utmost the resources of practical statesmanship.


The new Parliament assembled in November, and a Committee of both Houses was appointed to take into consideration the depressed condition of trade, for symptoms of unmistakable distress were apparent in the great centres of industry. Ireland, moreover, still blocked the way, and Lord Clarendon, who had succeeded to the viceroyalty, alarmed at the condition of affairs, pressed for extraordinary powers. The famine by this time was only a memory, but it had left a large section of the peasantry in a sullen and defiant mood. As a consequence stormy restlessness and open revolt made themselves felt. Armed mobs, sometimes five hundred and even a thousand strong, wandered about in lawless fashion, pounced upon corn and made raids on cattle, and it seemed indeed at times as if life as well as property was imperilled. Lord Clarendon was determined to make the disaffected feel that the law could not be set aside with impunity. He declared that the majority of these disturbers of the peace were not in actual distress, and he made no secret of his opinion that their object was not merely intimidation but plunder. 'I feel,' were his words as the autumn advanced, 'as if I was at the head of a provisional government in a half-conquered country.'

It is easy to assert that Lord Clarendon took a panic-stricken view of the situation, and attempts have again and again been made to mitigate, if not to explain away, the dark annals of Irish crime. The facts, however, speak for themselves, and they seemed at the moment to point to such a sinister condition of affairs that Lord John Russell felt he had no option but to adopt repressive measures. Sir George Grey stated in Parliament that the number of cases of fatal bloodshed during the six summer months of 1846 was sixty-eight, whilst in the corresponding period in 1847 it had increased to ninety-six. Shooting with intent to slay, which in the six months of 1846 had numbered fifty-five, now stood at 126. Robbery under arms had also grown with ominous rapidity, for in the contrasted half-years of 1846 and 1847 deeds of violence of this kind were 207 and 530 respectively, whilst outrage in another of its most cruel and despicable forms—the firing of dwelling-houses—revealed, under the same conditions of time, 116 acts of incendiarism in 1847, as against fifty-one in the previous year. The disaffected districts of Clare, Limerick, and Tipperary made the heaviest contribution to this dismal catalogue of crime; but far beyond their borders though with diminished force, the lawless spirit prevailed.

Mr. Spencer Walpole, in his standard and authoritative 'Life of Lord John Russell,' has shown, by an appeal to his correspondence with Lord Clarendon, how reluctant the Prime Minister was to bring forward a new Arms Bill. He has also made it plain that it was only the logic of events which finally convinced the Prime Minister of the necessity in any shape for such a measure. Mr. Walpole has also vindicated, at considerable length, Lord John from the familiar charge of having adopted in power the proposals which led to the overthrow of the Peel Administration. He lays stress on the fact that the Arms Bill, which the Government carried at the close of 1847 by a sweeping majority, was, to a noteworthy extent, different from that which Sir Robert sought to impose on Ireland twelve months earlier, and which the Whigs met with strenuous and successful opposition. In Mr. Walpole's words, the new proposals 'did not contain any provision for compensating the victims of outrages at the expense of the ratepayers; they did not render persons congregated in public-houses or carrying arms liable to arrest; above all, they did not comprise the brutal clause which made persons out of doors at night liable to transportation.' The condition of Ireland was, indeed, so menacing that the majority of the English people of all shades of political opinion were of one mind as to the necessity for stern measures. Sir Robert Peel, with no less candour than chivalry, declared that the best reparation which could be made to the last Government would be to assist the present Government in passing such a law. Perhaps still more significant were the admissions of Mr. John Bright. At the General Election the young orator had been returned to Parliament, not for a Sleepy Hollow like Durham, which had first sent him, but for the commanding constituency of Manchester, and almost at once he found himself in opposition to the views of a vast number of the inhabitants. He was requested to present a petition against the bill signed by more than 20,000 persons in Manchester. In doing so he took the opportunity of explaining in the House of Commons the reasons which made it impossible for him—friend of peace and goodwill as he assuredly was—to support its prayer. He declared that the unanimous statements of all the newspapers, the evidence of men of all parties connected with Ireland, as well as the facts which were placed before them with official authority, made it plain beyond a doubt that the ordinary law was utterly powerless, and, therefore, he felt that the case of the Government, so far as the necessity for such a bill was concerned, was both clear and perfect.


Mr. Bright drew attention to the fact that assassinations in Ireland were not looked upon as murders, but rather as executions; and that some of them at least were not due to sudden outbursts of passion, but were planned with deliberation and carried out in cold blood. He saw no reason to doubt that in certain districts public sentiment was 'depraved and thoroughly vitiated;' and he added that, since the ordinary law had failed to meet the emergency the Government had a case for the demand they made for an extension of their present powers, and he thought that the bill before the House was the less to be opposed since, whilst it strengthened the hands of the Executive, it did not greatly exceed or infringe the ordinary law. Mr. Bright at the same time, it is only fair to add, made no secret of his own conviction that the Government had not grappled with sufficient courage with its difficulties, and he complained of the delay which had arisen over promised legislation of a remedial character.

Lord John himself was persuaded, some time before Mr. Bright made this speech, that it was useless to attempt to meet the captious and selfish objections on the question of agrarian reform of the landlord class; and, as a matter of fact, he had already drawn up, without consulting anyone, the outline of a measure which he described to Lord Clarendon as a 'plan for giving some security and some provision to the miserable cottiers, who are now treated as brute beasts.' Years before—to be exact, in the spring of 1844—he had declared in the House of Commons that, whilst the Government of England was, as it ought to be, a Government of opinion, the Government of Ireland was notoriously a Government of force. Gradually he was forced to the view that centuries of oppression and misunderstanding, of class hatred and opposite aims, had brought about a social condition which made it necessary that judicial authority should have a voice between landlord and tenant in every case of ejectment. Lord John's difficulties in dealing with Ireland were complicated by the distrust of three-fourths of the people of the good intentions of English statesmanship. Political agitators, great and small, of the Young Ireland school, did their best to deepen the suspicions of an impulsive and ignorant peasantry against the Whigs, and Lord John was personally assailed, until he became a sort of bogie-man to the lively and undisciplined imagination of a sensitive but resentful race.


Even educated Irishmen of a later generation have, with scarcely an exception, failed to do justice either to the dull weight of prejudice and opposition with which Lord John had to contend in his efforts to help their country, or to give him due credit for the constructive statesmanship which he brought to a complicated and disheartening task.[16] Lord John Russell was, in fact, in some directions not only in advance of his party but of his times; and, though it has long been the fashion to cavil at his Irish policy, it ought not to be forgotten, in common fairness, that he not only passed the Encumbered Estates Act of 1848, but sought to introduce the principle of compensation to tenants for the improvements which they had made on their holdings. Vested interests proved, however, too powerful, and Ireland stood in her own light by persistent sedition. The revolutionary spirit was abroad in 1848 not only in France, but in other parts of Europe, and the Irish, under Mr. Smith O'Brien, Mr. John Mitchel, and less responsible men, talked at random, with the result that treasonable conspiracy prevailed, and the country was brought to the verge of civil war. The Irish Government was forced by hostile and armed movements to proclaim certain districts in which rebellion was already rampant. The Treason Felony Act made it illegal, and punishable with penal servitude, to write or speak in a manner calculated to provoke rebellion against the Crown. This extreme stipulation was made at the instance of Lord Campbell. Such an invasion of freedom of speech was not allowed to pass unchallenged, and Lord John, who winced under the necessity of repression, admitted the force of the objection, so far as to declare that this form of irksome restraint should not be protracted beyond the necessity of the hour. He was not the man to shirk personal danger, and therefore, in spite of insurrection and panic, and the threats of agitators who were seeking to compass the repeal of the Union by violent measures, he went himself to Dublin to consult with Lord Clarendon, and to gather on the spot his own impressions of the situation. He found the country once more overshadowed by the prospects of famine, and he came to the conclusion that the population was too numerous for the soil, and subsequently passed a measure for promoting aided emigration. He proposed also to assist from the public funds the Roman Catholic clergy, whose livelihood had grown precarious through the national distress; but, in deference to strong Protestant opposition, this method of amelioration had to be abandoned. The leaders of the Young Ireland party set the authorities at defiance, and John Mitchel, a leader who advocated an appeal to physical force, and Smith O'Brien, who talked wildly about the establishment of an Irish Republic, were arrested, convicted, and transported. O'Connell himself declared that Smith O'Brien was an exceedingly weak man, proud and self-conceited and 'impenetrable to advice.' 'You cannot be sure of him for half an hour.' The force of the movement was broken by cliques and quarrels, until the spirit of disaffection was no longer formidable. In August, her Majesty displayed in a marked way her personal interest in her Irish subjects by a State visit to Dublin. The Queen was received with enthusiasm, and her presence did much to weaken still further the already diminishing power of sedition.


The question of education lay always close to the heart of Lord John Russell, who found time even amid the stress of 1847 to advance it. The Melbourne Administration had vested the management of Parliamentary grants in aid of education in a committee of the Privy Council. In spite of suspicion and hostility, which found expression both in Parliament and in ecclesiastical circles, the movement extended year by year and slowly pervaded with the first beginnings of culture the social life of the people. Lord John had taken an active part in establishing the authority of the Privy Council in education; he had watched the rapid growth of its influence, and had not forgotten to mark the defects which had come to light during the six years' working of the system. He therefore proposed to remodel it, and took steps in doing so to better the position of the teacher, as well as to render primary education more efficient. Paid pupil teachers accordingly took the place of unpaid monitors, and the opportunity of gaining admittance after this practical apprenticeship to training colleges, where they might be equipped for the full discharge of the duties of their calling, was thrown open to them. As a further inducement, teachers who had gone through this collegiate training received a Government grant in addition to the usual salary. Grants were also for the first time given to schools which passed with success through the ordeal of official inspection.

The passing of the Factory Bill was another effort in the practical redress of wrongs to which Lord John Russell lent his powerful aid. The measure, which will always be honourably associated with the names of Lord Shaftesbury and Mr. Fielden, was a victory for labour which was hailed with enthusiasm by artisans and operatives throughout the land. It came as a measure of practical relief, not merely to men, but to upwards of three hundred and sixty-three thousand women and children, employed in monotonous tasks in mill and manufactory. Another change which Lord John Russell was directly instrumental in bringing about was the creation of the Poor Law Commission into a Ministerial Department, responsible to Parliament, and able to explain its work and to defend its policy at Westminster, through the lips of the President of the Poor Law Board. Regulations were at the same time made for workhouse control, meetings of guardians, and the like. The great and ever-growing needs of Manchester were recognised in 1847 by the creation of the Bishopric. Parliament was dissolved on July 23, and as the adoption of Free Trade had left the country for the moment without any great question directly before it, no marked political excitement followed the appeal to the people. The Conservative party was in truth demoralised by the downfall of Peel, and the new forces which were soon to shape its course had as yet scarcely revealed themselves, though Lord Stanley, Lord George Bentinck, and Mr. Disraeli were manifestly the coming men in Opposition. If the general election was distinguished by little enthusiasm either on one side or the other, it yet brought with it a personal triumph to Lord John, for he was returned for the City at the head of the poll. The Government itself not only renewed its strength, but increased it as a result of the contest throughout the country. At the same time the hostility of the opponents of Free Trade was seen in the return of two hundred and twenty-six Protectionists, in addition to one hundred and five Conservatives of the new school of Bentinck and Disraeli.


In other directions, meanwhile, difficulties had beset the Government. The proposed appointment of a Broad Churchman of advanced views, in the person of Dr. Hampden, Regius Professor at Oxford, to the vacant see of Hereford filled the High Church party with indignant dismay. Dr. Newman, with the courage and self-sacrifice which were characteristic of the man, had refused by this time to hold any longer an untenable position, and, in spite of his brilliant prospects in the English Church, had yielded to conscience and submitted to Rome. Dr. Pusey, however, remained, and under his skilful leadership the Oxford Movement grew strong, and threw its spell in particular over devout women, whose aesthetic instincts it satisfied, and whose aspirations after a semi-conventual life it met.[17] Lord John had many of the characteristics of the plain Englishman. He understood zealous Protestants, and, as his rejected scheme for aiding the priests in Ireland itself shows, he was also able to apprehend the position of earnest Roman Catholics. He had, however, not so learnt his Catechism or his Prayer Book as to understand that the Reformation, if not a crime, was at least a blunder, and therefore, like other plain Englishmen, he was not prepared to admit the pretensions and assumptions of a new race of nondescript priests. Thirteen prelates took the unusual course of requesting the Prime Minister to reconsider his decision, but Lord John's reply was at once courteous and emphatic. 'I cannot sacrifice the reputation of Dr. Hampden, the rights of the Crown, and what I believe to be the true interests of the Church, to a feeling which I believe to have been founded on misapprehension and fomented by prejudice.' Although Dr. Pusey did not hesitate to declare that the affair was 'a matter of life and death,'[18] ecclesiastical protest availed nothing, and Dr. Hampden was in due time consecrated.

Neither agrarian outrages in Ireland nor clerical agitation in England hindered, in the session of 1848, the passing of measures of social improvement. The Public Health Act, which was based on the representations of Sir Edwin Chadwick and Dr. Southwood Smith, grappled with the sanitary question in cities and towns, and thus improved in a variety of directions the social life of the people. It had hitherto been the fashion of Whigs and Tories alike to neglect practical measures of this kind, even though they were so closely linked to the health and welfare of the community.


[15] The Croker Papers, vol. iii. ch. xxiv. p. 53.

[16] Judge O'Connor Morris, in his interesting retrospect, Memories and Thoughts of a Life, just published, whilst severely criticising the Whig attitude towards Ireland, admits that Russell's Irish policy was not only 'well-meant,' but in the main successful.

[17] The first Anglican Sisterhood was founded by Dr. Pusey in London in the spring of 1845.

[18] Life of E. B. Pusey, D.D., by H. P. Liddon, D.D., vol. iii. p. 160.




The People's Charter—Feargus O'Connor and the crowd—Lord Palmerston strikes from his own bat—Lord John's view of the political situation—Death of Peel—Palmerston and the Court—'No Popery'—The Durham Letter—The invasion scare—Lord John's remark about Palmerston—Fall of the Russell Administration.

ENGLAND in 1848 was not destined to escape an outbreak of the revolutionary spirit, though the Chartist movement, in spite of the panic which it awakened, was never really formidable. The overthrow and flight of Louis Philippe, the proclamation in March of the French Republic on the basis of universal suffrage and national workshops, and the revolutionary movements and insurrections in Austria and Italy, filled the artisans and operatives of this country with wild dreams, and led them to rally their scattered and hitherto dispirited forces. Within six years of the passing of the Reform Bill, in fact, in the autumn after the Queen's accession, the working classes had come to the conclusion that their interests had been largely overlooked, and that the expectations they had cherished in the struggle of 1831-32 had been falsified by the apathy and even the reaction which followed the victory. Not in one, but in all the great civil and religious struggles of the century, they had borne the brunt of the battle; and yet they had been thrust aside when it came to the dividing of the spoil.

The middle classes were in a different position: their aspirations were satisfied, and they were quite prepared, for the moment at least, to rest and be thankful. The sleek complacency of the shopkeeper, moreover, and his hostility to further agitation, threw into somewhat dramatic relief the restless and sullen attitude of less fortunate conscripts of toil. Food was dear, wages were low, work was slack, and in the great centres of industry the mills were running half-time, and so keen was the struggle for existence that the operatives were at the mercy of their taskmasters, and too often found it cruel. Small wonder if social discontent was widespread, especially when it is remembered that the people were not only hopeless and ill-fed, but housed under conditions which set at defiance even the most elementary laws of health. More than to any other man in the ranks of higher statesmanship the people looked to Lord Durham, the idol of the pitmen of the North, for the redress of their wrongs, and no statesman of that period possessed more courage or more real acquaintance with the actual needs of the people. Lord Durham, though a man of splendid ability, swift vision, and generous sympathy, had, unhappily, the knack of making enemies, and the fiery impetuosity of his spirit brought him more than once into conflict with leaders whose temperament was cold and whose caution was great. The rebellion in Canada withdrew Lord Durham from the arena of English politics at the beginning of 1838. Then it was that the people recognised to the full the temper of the statesmen that were left, and the fact that, if deliverance was to come from political and social thraldom, they must look to themselves and organise their strength.

The representatives of the working classes in 1838 formulated their demand for radical political reform in the famous six points of the People's Charter. This declaration claimed manhood suffrage; the division of the country into equal electoral districts; vote by ballot; annual Parliaments; the abolition of property qualification for a seat in the House of Commons; and payment of members of Parliament for their services. The People's Charter took the working classes by storm: it fired their imagination, inspired their hopes, and drew them in every manufacturing town and district into organised association.


The leader of the movement was Feargus O'Connor, an Irish barrister and journalist, who had entered Parliament in 1832 as a follower of O'Connell and as member for Cork. He quarrelled, however, with the Irish leader, a circumstance which was fatal to success as an agitator in his own country. Restless and reckless, he henceforth carried his energy and devoted his eloquence to the Chartist movement in England, and in 1847 the popular vote carried him once more to the House of Commons as member for Nottingham. He copied the tactics of O'Connell, but had neither the judgment nor the strength of the Irish dictator. He seems, indeed, to have been rather a poor creature of the vainglorious, bombastic type. A year or two later he became hopelessly insane, and in the vaporing heroics and parade of gasconade which marked him as the champion of the Chartists in the spring of 1848 it is charitable now to discover the first seeds of his disorder. However that may be, he was a nine-days' wonder, for from All Fools' Day to the morning of April 10 society in London was in a state of abject panic. The troubles in Ireland, the insurrections and rumours of insurrection on the Continent, the revolution in France, the menacing discontent in the provinces, and the threatening attitude of the working men in the metropolis, were enough to cause alarm among the privileged classes, and conscience made cowards, not certainly of them all, but of the majority.

Literature enough and to spare, explanatory, declamatory and the like, has grown around a movement which ran like an unfed river, until it lost itself in the sand. Three men of genius took up their parable about what one of them called the 'Condition of England Question,' and in the pages of Carlyle's 'Chartism' and 'Past and Present,' Disraeli's 'Sybil,' and last, but not least, in Kingsley's 'Alton Locke,' the reader of to-day is in possession of sidelights, vivid, picturesque, and dramatic, on English society in the years when the Chartists were coming to their power, and in the year when they lost it. Lord John was at first in favour of allowing the Chartists to demonstrate to their hearts' content. He therefore proposed to permit them to cross Westminster Bridge, so that they might deliver their petition at the doors of Parliament. He thought that the police might then prevent the re-forming of the procession, and scatter the crowd in the direction of Charing Cross. Lord John had done too much for the people to be afraid of them, and he refused to accept the alarmist view of the situation. But the consternation was so widespread, and the panic so general, that the Government felt compelled on April 6 to declare the proposed meeting criminal and illegal, to call upon all peaceably disposed citizens not to attend, and to take extraordinary precautions. It was, however, announced that the right of assembly would be respected; but, on the advice of Wellington, only three of the leaders were to be allowed to cross the bridge. The Bank, the Tower, and the neighbourhood of Kennington Common meanwhile were protected by troops of cavalry and infantry, whilst the approaches to the Houses of Parliament and the Government offices were held by artillery.


The morning of the fateful 10th dawned brightly, but no one dared forecast how the evening would close, and for a few hours of suspense there was a reign of terror. Many houses were barricaded, and in the West End the streets were deserted except by the valiant special constables, who stood at every corner in defence of law and order. The shopkeepers, who were not prepared to take joyfully the spoiling of their goods, formed the great mass of this citizen army—one hundred and fifty thousand strong. There were, nevertheless, recruits from all classes, and in the excitement and peril of the hour odd men rubbed shoulders. Lord Shaftesbury, for instance, was on duty in Mount Street, Grosvenor Square, with a sallow young foreigner for companion, who was afterwards to create a more serious disturbance on his own account, and to spring to power as Napoleon III. Thomas Carlyle preferred to play the part of the untrammelled man in the street, and sallied forth in search of food for reflection. He wanted to see the 'revolution' for himself, and strode towards Hyde Park, determined, he tells us, to walk himself into a glow of heat in spite of the 'venomous cold wind' which called forth his anathemas. The Chelsea moralist found London, westward at least, safe and quiet, in spite of 'empty rumours and a hundred and fifty thousand oaths of special constables.' He noticed as he passed Apsley House that even the Duke had taken the affair seriously, in his private as well as his public capacity, for all the iron blinds were down. The Green Park was closed. Mounted Guardsmen stood ready on Constitution Hill. The fashionable carriage had vanished from Piccadilly. Business everywhere was at a standstill, for London knew not what that day might bring forth. Presently the rain began to fall, and then came down in drenching showers. In spite of their patriotic fervour, the special constables grew both damp and depressed. Suddenly a rumour ran along the streets that the great demonstration at Kennington Common had ended in smoke, and by noon the crowd was streaming over Westminster Bridge and along Whitehall, bearing the tidings that the march to the House of Commons had been abandoned. Feargus O'Connor had, in fact, taken fright, and presently the petition rattled ingloriously to Westminster in the safe but modest keeping of a hackney cab. The shower swept the angry and noisy rabble homewards, or into neighbouring public-houses, and ridicule—as the evening filled the town with complacent special constables and their admiring wives and sweethearts—did even more than the rain to quench the Chartist agitation. It had been boldly announced that one hundred and fifty thousand people would meet at Kennington. Less than a third of that number assembled, and a considerable part of the crowd had evidently been attracted by curiosity. Afterwards, when the monster petition with its signatures was examined, it was found to fall short of the boasted 'five million' names by upwards of three millions. Many of those which did appear were palpably fictitious; indeed the rude wit of the London apprentice was responsible for scores of silly signatures. Lord John's comment on the affair was characteristic. After stating that no great numbers followed the cab which contained the petition, and that there was no mob at the door of the House of Commons, he adds: 'London escaped the fate of Paris, Berlin, and Vienna. For my own part, I saw in these proceedings a fresh proof that the people of England were satisfied with the Government under which they had the happiness to live, did not wish to be instructed by their neighbours in the principles of freedom, and did not envy them either the liberty they had enjoyed under Robespierre, or the order which had been established among them by Napoleon the Great.'


Lord John's allusion to Paris, Berlin, and Vienna suggests foreign politics, and also the growing lack of harmony between Lord Palmerston on the one hand and the Court and Cabinet on the other. Although he long held the highest office under the Crown, Lord Palmerston's chief claim to distinction was won as Foreign Minister. He began his official career as a Tory in the Portland Administration of 1807, and two years later—at the age of five-and-twenty—was appointed Secretary at War in the Perceval Government. He held this post for the long term of eighteen years, and when Canning succeeded to power still retained it, with a seat in the Cabinet. Palmerston was a liberal Tory of the school of Canning, and, when Lord Grey became Premier in 1830, was a man of sufficient mark to be entrusted with the seals of the Foreign Office, though, until his retirement in 1834, Grey exercised a controlling voice in the foreign policy of the nation. It was not until Grey was succeeded by Melbourne that Palmerston began to display both his strength and his weakness in independent action.

He saw his opportunity and took it. He knew his own mind and disliked interference, and this made him more and more inclined to be heedless of the aid, and almost of the approval, of his colleagues. Under a provokingly pleasant manner lurked, increasingly, the temper of an autocrat. Melbourne sat lightly to most things, and not least to questions of foreign policy. He was easily bored, and believed in laissez-faire to an extent which has never been matched by any other Prime Minister in the Queen's reign. The consequence was that for seven critical years Palmerston did what was right in his own eyes, until he came to regard himself not merely as the custodian of English interests abroad, but almost as the one man in the Cabinet who was entitled to speak with authority concerning them. If the responsibility of the first Afghan war must rest chiefly on his shoulders, it is only fair to remember that he took the risk of a war with France in order to drive Ibrahim Pacha out of Syria. From first to last, his tenure at the Foreign Office covered a period of nearly twenty years. Though he made serious mistakes, he also made despots in every part of the world afraid of him; whilst struggling nationalities felt that the great English Minister was not oblivious of the claims of justice, or deaf to the appeal for mercy. Early in the Russell Administration Lord Palmerston's high-handed treatment of other members of the Cabinet provoked angry comment, and Sir Robert Peel did not conceal his opinion that Lord John gave his impetuous colleague too much of his own way. The truth was, the Premier's hands, and heart also, were in 1846 and 1847 full of the Irish famine, and Lord Palmerston took advantage of the fact. Moreover, Lord John Russell was, broadly speaking, in substantial agreement with his Foreign Minister, though he cordially disliked his habit of taking swift and almost independent action.


At the beginning of 1848 Palmerston seemed determined to pick a quarrel with France, and in February drew up a threatening despatch on the difficulty which had arisen between our Ambassador (Lord Normanby) and Louis Philippe, which brought matters to a crisis. Louis Philippe had acted a dishonourable part over the Spanish marriages, and Palmerston was prepared to go out of his way to humiliate France. At the last moment, the affair came to Lord John's knowledge through Lord Clarendon, with the result that the communication was countermanded. Lord Palmerston appears to have taken the rebuff, humiliating as it was, with characteristic nonchalance, and it produced little more than a momentary effect. The ignominious flight of Louis Philippe quickly followed, and the revolution in France was the signal in Vienna for a revolt of the students and artisans, which drove Metternich to find refuge in England and the Emperor Ferdinand to seek asylum in the Tyrol. Austrians, Hungarians, and Slavs only needed an opportunity, such as the 'year of revolutions' afforded, to display their hostility to one another, and the racial jealousy brought Austria and Hungary to open war. In Milan, in Naples, and Berlin the revolutionary spirit displayed itself, and in these centres, as well as in Switzerland, changes in the direction of liberty took place.

Lord John Russell, in an important document, which Mr. Walpole has printed, and which bears date May 1, 1848, has explained his own view of the political situation in Europe at that moment. After a lucid and impressive survey of the changes that had taken place in the map of Europe since the Congress of Vienna, Lord John lays down the principle that it is neither becoming nor expedient for England to proclaim that the Treaties of 1815 were invalid. On the contrary, England ought rather to promote, in the interests of peace and order, the maintenance of the territorial divisions then made. At the same time, England, amid the storm, ought not to persist in clinging to a wreck if a safe spar is within her reach. He recognised that Austria could hardly restore her sway in Italy, and was not in a position to confront the cost of a protracted war, in which France was certain to take sides against her. He, therefore, thought it advisable that English diplomacy should be brought to bear at Vienna, so as to 'produce a frank abandonment of Lombardy and Venice on the part of Austria.' He declared that it was not to the advantage of England to meddle with the internal affairs of Spain; but he thought there was a favourable chance of coming to an understanding with Germany, where the Schleswig-Holstein question already threatened disturbance. 'It is our interest,' are the final words of this significant State paper, 'to use our influence as speedily and as generally as possible to settle the pending questions and to fix the boundaries of States. Otherwise, if war once becomes general, it will spread over Germany, reach Belgium, and finally sweep England into its vortex. Should our efforts for peace succeed, Europe may begin a new career with more or less of hope and of concord; should they fail, we must keep our sword in the scabbard as long as we can, but we cannot hope to be neutral in a great European war. England cannot be indifferent to the supremacy of France over Germany and Italy, or to the advance of Russian armies to Constantinople; still less to the incorporation of Belgium with a new French Empire.'


As usual, Lord Palmerston had his own ideas and the courage of them. Within three weeks of the Russell Memorandum to the Cabinet he accordingly stood out in his true colours as a frank opportunist. The guiding rule of his foreign policy, he stated, was to promote and advance, as far as lay in his power, the interests of the country as opportunity served and as necessity arose. 'We have no everlasting union with this or that country—no identification of policy with another. We have no natural enemies—no perpetual friends. When we find a Power pursuing that course of policy which we wish also to promote, for the time that Power becomes our ally; and when we find a country whose interests are at variance with our own, we are involved for a time with the Government of that country. We find no fault with other nations for pursuing their interests; and they ought not to find fault with us, if, in pursuing our interests, our course may be different from theirs.'

Lord Palmerston held that the real policy of this country was to be the champion of justice and right, though professing no sympathy with the notion that England ought to become, to borrow his own expression, the Quixote of the world. 'I hold that England is a Power sufficiently strong to steer her own course, and not to tie herself as an unnecessary appendage to the policy of any other Government.' He declared that, if he might be allowed to gather into one sentence the principle which he thought ought to guide an English statesman, he would adopt the expression of Canning, and say that with every British Minister the interests of England ought to be the shibboleth of his policy. Unfortunately, Lord Palmerston, in spite of such statements, was too much inclined to throw the moral weight of England into this or that scale on his own responsibility, and, as it often seemed to dispassionate observers, on the mere caprice of the hour. He took up the position that the interests of England were safe in his hands, and magnified his office, sometimes to the annoyance of the Court and often to the chagrin of the Cabinet. No matter what storm raged, Palmerston always contrived to come to the surface again like a cork. He never lost his self-possession, and a profound sense of his own infallibility helped him, under difficulties and rebuffs which would have knocked the spirit out of other men, to adopt the attitude of the patriotic statesman struggling with adversity. When the session of 1849 closed he was in an extremely difficult position, in consequence of the growing dislike in high quarters to his policy, and the coolness which had sprung up between himself and the majority of his colleagues; yet we find him writing a jaunty note to his brother in the strain of a man who had not only deserved success but won it. 'After the trumpetings of attacks that were to demolish first one and then another of the Government—first me, then Grey, then Charles Wood—we have come triumphantly out of the debates and divisions, and end the session stronger than we began it.'[19]


Lord Palmerston's passion for personal ascendency was not to be repressed, and in the electric condition of Europe it proved perilous as well as embarrassing to the Russell Administration. Without the knowledge of the Queen or his colleagues, Lord Palmerston, for instance, sent a letter to Sir H. Bulwer advising an extension of the basis of the Spanish Government, an act of interference which caused so much irritation at Madrid that the Spanish Government requested the British Ambassador to leave the country. Happily, the breach with Madrid was repaired after a few months' anxiety on the part of Palmerston's colleagues. The Queen's sense of the indiscretion was apparent in the request to Lord Palmerston to submit in future all his despatches to the Prime Minister. Other occasions soon arose which increased distrust at Windsor, and further strained friendly relations between the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. The latter's removal to some less responsible post was contemplated, for her Majesty appeared to disapprove of everything Lord Palmerston did. Without detailing the various circumstances which awakened the Queen's displeasure, it is sufficient to draw attention to one event—known in the annals of diplomacy as the 'Don Pacifico' affair—which threatened the overthrow of the Ministry.

Two British subjects demanded in vain compensation from the Greek Government for damage to their property. Lord Palmerston came to their defence, and sent private instructions to the Admiral of the British fleet at the Dardanelles to seize Greek vessels by way of reprisal, which was promptly done. The tidings fell like a thunderbolt upon Downing Street. France and Russia made angry protests, and war was predicted. At length an offer of mediation from Paris was accepted, and the matter was arranged in London. Lord Palmerston, however, omitted to inform the English Minister at Athens of the settlement, and, whilst everyone in England rejoiced that the storm had blown over, the Admiral was laying an embargo on other ships, and at last forced the Greek Government to grant compensation. France, indignant at such cavalier treatment, recalled M. Drouyn de Lhuys from London, and again the war-cloud lowered. Lord Palmerston had the audacity to state in the House of Commons that the French Minister had returned to Paris in order 'presumably to be the medium of communication between the two Governments as to these matters.' The truth came out on the morrow, and Lord John, in the discreet absence of his colleague, was forced to explain as best he might the position of affairs. Although he screened Lord Palmerston as far as he was able, he determined to make a change at the Foreign Office.


In June 1850, Lord Stanley challenged the foreign policy of Lord Palmerston in the House of Lords, and carried, by a majority of thirty-seven, a resolution of censure. Mr. Roebuck, in the Commons, met the hostile vote by a resolution of confidence, and, after four nights' debate, secured a majority of forty-six. Lord Palmerston made an able defence of his conduct of affairs, and Lord John Russell, who differed from him not so much in the matter as in the manner of his decisions, not merely refused to leave his colleague in the lurch, but came vigorously to his support. The debate was rendered memorable on other grounds. Sir Robert Peel, in the course of it, delivered his last speech in Parliament. The division, which gave Palmerston a fresh tenure of power, was taken at four o'clock on the morning of Saturday, June 29. Peel left the House to snatch a few hours' sleep before going at noon to a meeting which was to settle the disputed question as to the site of the Great Exhibition. He kept his appointment; but later in the day he was thrown from his horse on Constitution Hill, and received injuries which proved fatal on the night of July 2. His death was a national calamity, for at sixty-two he was still in the fulness of his strength. There will always be a diversity of judgment concerning his career; there is but one opinion about his character. Few statesmen have gone to their grave amid more remarkable expressions of regret. Old and young colleagues, from the Duke of Wellington to Mr. Gladstone, betrayed by their emotion no less than by their words, their grief over the loss of a leader who followed his conscience even at the expense of the collapse of his power. Lord John Russell, the most distinguished, without doubt, of Sir Robert's opponents on the floor of the House, paid a generous tribute to his rival's memory. He declared that posterity would regard Sir Robert Peel as one of the greatest and most patriotic of statesman. He laid stress on that 'long and large experience of public affairs, that profound knowledge, that oratorical power, that copious yet exact memory, with which the House was wont to be enlightened, interested, and guided.' When the offer of a public funeral was declined, in deference to Sir Robert's known wishes, Lord John proposed and carried a resolution for the erection of a statue in Westminster Abbey. He also marked his sense of the loss which the nation had sustained, in the disappearance of an illustrious man, by giving his noble-minded and broken-hearted widow the refusal of a peerage.

Meanwhile, Lord Palmerston, on the strength of the vote of confidence in the Commons, was somewhat of a popular hero. People who believe that England can do no wrong, at least abroad, believed in him. His audacity delighted the man in the club. His pluck took the platform and much of the press by storm. The multitude relished his peremptory despatches, and were delighted when he either showed fight or encouraged it in others. In course of time 'Pam' became the typical fine old English gentleman of genial temper but domineering instincts. Prince Albert disliked him; he was too little of a courtier, too much of an off-handed man of affairs. Windsor, of course, received early tidings of the impression which was made at foreign Courts by the most independent and and cavalier Foreign Minister of the century. Occasionally he needlessly offended the susceptibilities of exalted personages abroad as well as at home. At length the Queen, determined no longer to be put in a false position, drew up a sharply-worded memorandum, in which explicit directions were given for the transaction of business between the Crown and the Foreign Office. 'The Queen requires, first, that Lord Palmerston will distinctly state what he proposes in a given case, in order that the Queen may know as distinctly to what she is giving her royal sanction; secondly, having once given her sanction to a measure, that it be not arbitrarily altered or modified by the Minister. Such an act she must consider as failing in sincerity towards the Crown, and justly to be visited by the exercise of her constitutional right of dismissing that Minister. She expects to be kept informed of what passes between him and the Foreign Ministers before important decisions are taken, based upon that intercourse; to receive the foreign despatches in good time; and to have the drafts for her approval sent to her in sufficient time to make herself acquainted with their contents before they must be sent off.'

No responsible adviser of the Crown during the reign had received such emphatic censure, and in August 1850 people were talking as if Palmerston was bound to resign. He certainly would have done so if he had merely consulted his own feelings; but he declared that to resign just then would be to play into the hands of the political adversaries whom he had just defeated, and to throw over his supporters at the moment when they had fought a successful battle on his behalf. Lord Palmerston, therefore, accepted the Queen's instructions with unwonted meekness. He assured her Majesty that he would not fail to attend to the directions which the memorandum contained, and for a while harmony was restored. In the autumn of 1851 Louis Kossuth arrived in England, and met with an enthusiastic reception, of the kind which was afterwards accorded in London to another popular hero, in the person of Garibaldi. Lord Palmerston received Kossuth at the Foreign Office, and, contrary to the wishes of the Queen and Prime Minister, deputations were admitted, and addresses were presented, thanking Palmerston for his services in the cause of humanity, whilst in the same breath allusions to the Emperors of Austria and Russia as 'odious and detestable assassins' were made. Almost before the annoyance created by this fresh act of indiscretion had subsided, Lord Palmerston was guilty of a still more serious offence.

[Sidenote: THE COUP D'ETAT]

Louis Napoleon had been elected President of the French Republic by five and a half million votes. He was thought to be ambitious rather than able, and he had pledged himself to sustain the existing Constitution. He worked for his own hand, however, and accordingly conciliated first the clergy, then the peasants, and finally the army, by fair promises, popular acts, and a bold policy. On December 2, 1851, when his term of office was expiring, Napoleon suddenly overthrew the Assembly, which had refused a month or two previously to revise the Constitution in order to make the President eligible for re-election, and next morning all Europe was startled with tidings of the Coup d'Etat. Both the English Court and Cabinet felt that absolute neutrality must be observed during the tumult which followed in Paris, and instructions to that effect were accordingly transmitted to Lord Normanby. But when that diplomatist made known this official communication, he was met with the retort that Lord Palmerston, in a conversation with the French Ambassador in London, had already declared that the Coup d'Etat was an act of self-defence, and in fact was the best thing under the circumstances for France. Lord Palmerston, in a subsequent despatch to Lord Normanby, which was not submitted either to the Queen or the Prime Minister, reiterated his opinion.


Under these circumstances, Lord John Russell had no alternative except to dismiss Lord Palmerston. He did so, as he explained when Parliament met in February, on the ground that the Foreign Secretary had practically put himself, for the moment, in the place of the Crown. He had given the moral approbation of England to the acts of the President of the Republic of France, though he knew, when he was doing so, that he was acting in direct opposition to the wishes of the sovereign and the policy of the Government. Lord John stated in the House of Commons that he took upon himself the sole and entire responsibility of advising her Majesty to require the resignation of Lord Palmerston. He added that, though the Foreign Secretary had neglected what was due to the Crown and his colleagues, he felt sure that he had not intended any personal disrespect. Greville declared that, in all his experience of scenes in Parliament, he could recall no such triumph as Lord Russell achieved on this occasion, nor had he ever witnessed a discomfiture more complete than that of Palmerston. Lord Dalling, another eye-witness of the episode, has described, from the point of view of a sympathiser with Palmerston, the manner in which he seemed completely taken by surprise by the 'tremendous assault' which Lord John, by a damaging appeal to facts, made against him. In his view, Russell's speech was one of the most powerful to which he had ever listened, and its effect was overwhelming. Disraeli, meeting Lord Dalling by chance next day on the staircase of the Russian Embassy, exclaimed as he passed, with significant emphasis, 'There was a Palmerston!' The common opinion at the clubs found expression in a phrase which passed from lip to lip, 'Palmerston is smashed;' but, though driven for the moment to bay, the dismissed Minister was himself of another mind.

Lord Palmerston was offered the Irish Viceroyalty, but he declined to take such an appointment. He accepted his dismissal with a characteristic affectation of indifference, and in the course of a laboured defence of his action in the House of Commons, excused his communication to the French Ambassador on the plea that it was only the expression of an opinion on passing events, common to that 'easy and familiar personal intercourse, which tends so usefully to the maintenance of friendly relations with foreign Governments.' Lady Russell wrote down at the time her own impressions of this crisis in her husband's Cabinet, and the following passage throws a valuable sidelight on a memorable incident in the Queen's reign: 'The breach between John and Lord Palmerston was a calamity to the country, to the Whig party, and to themselves; and, although it had for some months been a threatening danger on the horizon, I cannot but feel that there was accident in its actual occurrence. Had we been in London or at Pembroke Lodge, and not at Woburn Abbey, at the time, they would have met, and talked over the subject of their difference; words spoken might have been equally strong, but would have been less cutting than words written, and conciliatory expressions on John's part would have led the way to promises on Lord Palmerston's.... They two kept up the character of England, as the sturdy guardians of her rights against other nations, and the champions of freedom and independence abroad. They did so both before and after the breach of 1851, which was, happily, closed in the following year, when they were once more colleagues in office. On matters of home policy Lord Palmerston remained the Tory he had been in his earlier days, and this was the cause of many a trial to John.'

The Russell Administration, as the Premier himself frankly recognised, was seriously weakened by the dismissal of Lord Palmerston; and its position was not improved when Lord Clarendon, on somewhat paltry grounds, refused the Foreign Office. Lord John's sagacity was shown by the prompt offer of the vacant appointment to Lord Granville, who, at the age of thirty-six, entered the Cabinet, and began a career which was destined to prove a controlling force in the foreign policy of England in the Victorian era.


Meanwhile fresh difficulties had arisen. In the autumn of 1850—a year which had already been rendered memorable in ecclesiastical circles by the Gorham case—Pius IX. issued a Bull by which England became a province of the Roman Catholic Church. Dr. Wiseman was created Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, and England was divided into twelve sees with territorial titles. The assumption by Pius IX. of spiritual authority over England was a blunder; indeed, no better proof in recent times of the lack of infallibility at Rome could well be discovered. One swallow, proverbially, does not make a spring; and when Newman took refuge in flight, other leaders of the Oxford Movement refused to accept his logic and to follow his example. Englishmen have always resented anything in the shape of foreign dictation, and deep in the national heart there yet survives a rooted hostility to the claims of the Vatican. Napoleon's Coup d'Etat, which followed quickly on the heels of this dramatic act of Papal aggression, scarcely took the nation more completely by surprise. No Vatican decree could well have proved more unpopular, and even Canon Liddon is obliged to admit that the bishops, with one solitary exception, 'threw the weight of their authority on the side of popular and short-sighted passion.'[20]

Pius IX. knew nothing of the English character, but Cardinal Wiseman, at least, could not plead ignorance of the real issues at stake; and therefore his grandiloquent and, under all the circumstances, ridiculous pastoral letter, which he dated 'From out of the Flaminian Gate at Rome,' was justly regarded as an insult to the religious convictions of the vast majority of the English people. Anglicans and Nonconformists alike resented such an authoritative deliverance, and presently the old 'No Popery' cry rang like a clarion through the land. Dr. Newman, with the zeal of a pervert, preached a sermon on the revival of the Catholic Church, and in the course of it he stated that the 'people of England, who for so many years have been separated from the See of Rome, are about, of their own will, to be added to the Holy Church.' The words were, doubtless, spoken in good faith, for the great leader of the Oxford Movement naturally expected that those who had espoused his views, like honest men, would follow his example. Dr. Pusey, however, was a more astute ecclesiastical statesman than Cardinal Wiseman. He was in favour of a 'very moderate' declaration against Rome, for the resources of compromise were evidently in his eyes not exhausted. The truth was, Pusey and Keble, by a course of action which to this day remains a standing riddle to the Papacy on the one hand, and to Protestantism on the other, threw dust in the eyes of Pius IX., and were the real authors of Papal aggression. Lord John Russell saw this quite clearly, and in proof of such an assertion it is only necessary to appeal to his famous Durham Letter. He had watched the drift of ecclesiastical opinion, and had seen with concern that the tide was running swiftly in the direction of Rome.

England had renounced the Papal supremacy for the space of 300 years, and had grown strong in the liberty which had followed the downfall of such thraldom. Oxford had taught Rome to tempt England; the leaders of the so-called Anglican revival were responsible for the flourish of trumpets at the Vatican. Lord John's ecclesiastical appointments called forth sharp criticism. He was a Protestant of the old uncompromising type, with leanings towards advanced thought in Biblical criticism. He knew, moreover, what Puritanism had done for the English nation in the seventeenth century, and made no secret of his conviction that it was the Nonconformists, more than any other class, who had rendered civil and religious liberty possible. He moreover knew that in his own time they, more than any other part of the community, had carried the Reform Bill, brought about the abolition of slavery, and established Free Trade. He had been brought into contact with their leaders, and was beginning to perceive, with the nation at large, how paltry and inadequate were the claims of a rigid Churchmanship, since the true apostolical succession is a matter of altitude of spiritual devotion, and borrows none of its rights from the pretensions of clerical caste.


The Durham Letter was written from Downing Street, on November 4, 1850. It gained its name because it was addressed to the Premier's old friend Dr. Maltby, Bishop of Durham, and appeared in the newspapers on the day on which it was dated. Lord John declared that he had not only promoted to the utmost of his power the claims of Roman Catholics to all civil rights, but had deemed it not merely just, but desirable, that that Church should impart religious instruction to the 'numerous Irish immigrants in London and elsewhere, who, without such help, would have been left in heathen ignorance.' He believed that this might have been accomplished without any such innovation as that which the Papacy now contemplated. He laid stress on the assumption of power made in all the documents on the subject which had come from Rome, and he protested against such pretensions as inconsistent with the Queen's supremacy, with the rights of the bishops and clergy, and with the spiritual independence of the nation. He confessed that his alarm was not equal to his indignation, since Englishmen would never again allow any foreign prince or potentate to impose a yoke on their minds and consciences. He hinted at legislative action on the subject, and then proceeded to take up his parable against the Tractarians in the following unmistakeable terms: 'There is a danger, however, which alarms me much more than the aggression of a foreign sovereign. Clergymen of our Church who have subscribed the Thirty-nine Articles and have acknowledged in explicit terms the Queen's supremacy, have been the most forward in leading their flocks, step by step, to the verge of the precipice. The honour paid to saints, the claim of infallibility for the Church, the superstitious use of the sign of the Cross, the muttering of the Liturgy so as to disguise the language in which it was written, the recommendation of auricular confession, and the administration of penance and absolution—all these things are pointed out by clergymen as worthy of adoption, and are now openly reprehended by the Bishop of London in his Charge to the clergy of his diocese. What, then, is the danger to be apprehended from a foreign prince of no power, compared to the danger within the gates from the unworthy sons of the Church of England herself? I have but little hope that the propounders and framers of these innovations will desist from their insidious course; but I rely with confidence on the people of England, and I will not bate a jot of heart or life so long as the glorious principles and the immortal martyrs of the Reformation shall be held in reverence by the great mass of a nation, which look with contempt on the mummeries of superstition, and with scorn at the laborious endeavours which are now being made to confine the intellect and enslave the soul.'

[Sidenote: 'NO POPERY']

Lord John's manifesto was as fuel to the flames. All over the kingdom preparations were in progress at the moment for a national carnival—now fallen largely into disrepute. Guy Fawkes was hastily dethroned, and the Pope and Cardinal Wiseman were paraded in effigy through the streets of London, Exeter, and other cities, and burnt at nightfall amid the jeers of the crowd. Petitions began to pour in against Papal aggression, and the literature of the subject, in controversial tract, pamphlet, and volume, grew suddenly not less bewildering than formidable. The arrival in London of Father Gavazzi, an ex-priest of commanding presence and impassioned oratory, helped to arouse still further the Protestant spirit of the nation. The Press, the pulpit, the platform, formed a triple alliance against the Vatican, and the indignant rejection of the Pope's claims may be said to have been carried by acclamation. Clamour ran riot through the land, and spent its force in noisy demonstrations. The Catholics met the tumult, on the whole, with praiseworthy moderation, and presently signs of the inevitable reaction began to appear. Lord John's colleagues were not of one mind as to the wisdom of the Durham Letter, for if there is one taunt before which an ordinary Englishman quails, it is the accusation of religious bigotry.

The Durham Letter was an instance in which Lord John's zeal outran his discretion.[21] Lord Shaftesbury, who was in the thick of the tumult, and has left a vivid description of it in his journal,[22] declared that Cardinal Wiseman's manifesto, in spite of its audacity, was likely to prove 'more hurtful to the shooter than to the target.' Looking back at the crisis, after an interval of more than forty years, the same criticism seems to apply with added force to the Durham Letter. Lord John overshot the mark, and his accusations wounded those whom he did not intend to attack, and in the recoil of public opinion his own reputation suffered. He resented, with pardonable warmth, the attitude of the Vatican, and was jealous of any infringement, from that or any other quarter, of the Queen's supremacy in her own realms. The most damaging sentences in the Durham Letter were not directed against the Catholics, either in Rome, England, or Ireland, but against the Tractarian clergymen—men whom he regarded as 'unworthy sons of the Church of England.' The Catholics, incensed at the denial of the Pope's supremacy, were, however, in no mood to make distinctions, and they have interpreted Lord John's strictures on Dr. Pusey and his followers as an attack on their own religious faith. The consequence was that the manifesto was regarded, especially in Ireland, not merely as a protest against the politics of the Vatican, but as a sweeping censure on the creed of Rome. Lord John's character and past services might have shielded him from such a construction being placed upon his words, for he had proved, on more than one historic occasion, his devotion to the cause of religious liberty. Disraeli, writing to his sister in November, said: 'I think John Russell is in a scrape. I understand that his party are furious with him. The Irish are frantic. If he goes on with the Protestant movement he will be thrown over by the Papists; if he shuffles with the Protestants, their blood is too high to be silent now, and they will come to us. I think Johnny is checkmated.'[23]


For the moment, however, passion and prejudice everywhere ran riot, and on both sides of the controversy common sense and common fairness were forgotten. A representative Irish politician of a later generation has not failed to observe the irony of the position. 'It was a curious incident in political history,' declares Mr. Justin McCarthy, 'that Lord John Russell, who had more than any Englishman then living been identified with the principles of religious liberty, who had sat at the feet of Fox, and had for his closest friend the Catholic poet Thomas Moore, came to be regarded by Roman Catholics as the bitterest enemy of their creed and their rights of worship.'[24] It is easy to cavil at Lord John Russell's interpretation of the Oxford Movement, and to assert that the accusations of the Durham Letter were due to bigotry and panic. He believed, in common with thousands of other distressed Churchmen, that the Tractarians were foes within the gates of the Establishment. He regarded them, moreover, as ministers of religion who were hostile to the work of the Reformation, and therefore he deemed that they were in a false position in the Anglican Church. Their priestly claims and sacerdotal rites, their obvious sympathies and avowed convictions, separated them sharply from ordinary clergymen, and were difficult to reconcile with adherence to the principles of Protestantism. Like many other men at the time, and still more of to-day, he was at a loss to discover how ecclesiastics of such a stamp could remain in the ministry of the Church of England, when they seemed to ordinary eyes to be in league with Rome. The prelates, almost to a man, were hotly opposed to the Tractarians when Lord John wrote the Durham Letter. They shared his convictions and applauded his action. Since then many things have happened. The Oxford Movement has triumphed, and has done so largely by the self-sacrificing devotion of its adherents. It has summoned to its aid art and music, learning and eloquence; it has appealed to the aesthetic and emotional elements in human nature; it has led captive the imagination of many by its dramatic revival of mediaeval ideas and methods; and it has stilled by its assumption of authority the restlessness of souls, too weary to argue, too troubled to rebel. The bishops of to-day have grown either quite friendly towards the Oxford Movement, or else discreetly tolerant. Yet, when all this is admitted, it does nothing towards proving that Lord John Russell was a mistaken alarmist. The Durham Letter and its impassioned protest have been justified by the logic of events. It is easy for men to be charitable who have slipped their convictions.

Possibly it was not judicious on Lord John's part to be so zealously affected in the matter. That is, perhaps, open to dispute, but the question remains: Was he mistaken in principle? He saw clergymen of the English Church, Protestant at least in name, 'leading their flocks step by step to the very verge of the precipice,' and he took up his parable against them, and pointed out the danger to the hitherto accepted faith and practice of the English Church. One of the most distinguished prelates of the Anglican Church in the Queen's reign has not hesitated to assert that the tenets against which Lord John Russell protested in the Durham Letter were, in his judgment, of a kind which are 'destructive of all reasonable faith, and reduce worship to a mere belief in spells and priestcraft.' Cardinal Vaughan, it is needless to say, does not sympathise with such a view. He, however, has opinions on the subject which are worthy of the attention of those who think that Lord John was a mere alarmist. His Eminence delivered a suggestive address at Preston on September 10, 1894, on the 'Re-Union of Christendom.' He thinks—and it is idle to deny that he has good ground for thinking—that, in spite of bishops, lawyers, and legislature, Delphic judgments at Lambeth, and spasmodic protests up and down the country, a change in doctrine and ritual is in progress in the Anglican Church which can only be described as a revolution. He asserts that the 'Real Presence, the sacrifice of the Mass, offered for the living and the dead, no infrequent reservation of the Sacrament, regular auricular confession, Extreme Unction, Purgatory, prayers for the dead, devotions to Our Lady, to her Immaculate Conception, the use of her Rosary, and the invocation of saints, are doctrines taught and accepted, with a growing desire and relish for them, in the Church of England.'

Cardinal Vaughan also declares that the present churches of the Establishment are 'often distinguishable only with extreme difficulty from those belonging to the Church of Rome.' Such statements are either true or false. If false, they are open to contradiction; if true, they justify in substance the position taken up in the Durham Letter. Towards the close of his life, Lord John told Mr. Lecky that he did not regret his action, and to the last he maintained that he was right in the protest which he made in the Durham Letter. Yet he acknowledged, as he looked back upon the affair, that he might have softened certain expressions in it with advantage. Parliament met on February 4, 1851, and the Queen's Speech contained the following passage: 'The recent assumption of certain ecclesiastical titles conferred by a foreign Power has excited strong feelings in this country; and large bodies of my subjects have presented addresses to me expressing attachment to the Throne, and praying that such assumptions should be resisted. I have assured them of my resolution to maintain the rights of my crown and the independence of the nation against all encroachments, from whatsoever quarter they may proceed.'


Three days later, Lord John introduced the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill. The measure prohibited the assumption of territorial titles by Roman Catholic bishops; but there is truth in the assertion that no enactment of the kind could prevent other persons from giving the dignitaries of the Catholic Church such titles, and, as a matter of fact, the attempt to deprive them of the distinction led to its ostentatious adoption. The proposal to render null and void gifts or religious endowments acquired by the new prelates was abandoned in the course of the acrimonious debates which followed. Other difficulties arose, and Ireland was declared to be exempt from the operation of the measure. The object of the bill, declared Lord John Russell, was merely to assert the supremacy of the Crown. Nothing was further from his thought than to play the part of a religious persecutor. He merely wished to draw a sharp and unmistakeable line of demarcation between the spiritual jurisdiction of the Pope over the adherents of the Roman Catholic Church in the Queen's realms, and such an act of Papal aggression as was involved in the claim of Pius IX. to grant ecclesiastical titles borrowed from places in the United Kingdom.

The bill satisfied neither the friends nor the foes of Roman Catholicism. It was persistently regarded by the one as an attack on religious liberty, and by the other as quite inadequate as a bulwark of Protestantism. Nevertheless it became law, but not before the summer of 1851, when the agitation had spent its force. It was regarded almost as a dead letter from the first, and, though it remained on the Statute-book for twenty years, its repeal was a foregone conclusion. When it was revoked in 1871 the temper of the nation had changed, and no one was inclined to make even a passing protest. John Leech, in a cartoon in Punch, caught the droll aspect of the situation with even more than his customary skill. Lord John relished the joke, even though he recognised that it was not likely to prove of service to him at the next General Election. In conversation with a friend he said: 'Do you remember a cartoon in Punch where I was represented as a little boy writing "No Popery" on a wall and running away?' The answer was a smile of assent. 'Well,' he added, 'that was very severe, and did my Government a great deal of harm, but I was so convinced that it was not maliciously meant that I sent for John Leech, and asked him what I could do for him. He said that he should like a nomination for his son to the Charterhouse, and I gave it to him. That is how I used my patronage.'


Meanwhile, when the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill was still under discussion, a Ministerial crisis had arisen. Finance was never the strong point of the first Russell Administration, and Sir Charles Wood's Budget gave widespread dissatisfaction. Mr. Locke King heightened the embarrassment of the moment by bringing forward a motion for placing the county and borough franchise on an equal basis; and before the discussion of the Budget could be renewed this motion was carried against the Government, though in a small House, by a majority of almost two to one. Lord John Russell met the hostile vote by immediate resignation; and Lord Stanley—who four months later became Earl of Derby—was summoned to Windsor and attempted to form a Ministry. His efforts were, however, unsuccessful, for Peel had left the Tory party not merely disorganised but full of warring elements. Lord John, therefore, returned to office in March, and Locke King's measure was promptly thrown out by a majority of more than two hundred. The London season of that year was rendered memorable by the opening of the Great Exhibition, amid universal plaudits and dreams of long-continued peace amongst the nations. As the year closed Lord Palmerston's ill-advised action over the Coup d'Etat in France brought about, as we have already seen, his dismissal, a circumstance which still further weakened the Russell Cabinet.

The year 1852 opened darkly for Lord John. Difficulties, small and great, seemed thickening around him. He had been called to power at a singularly trying moment, and no one who looks dispassionately at the policy which he pursued between the years 1846 and 1852 can fail to recognise that he had at least tried to do his duty. There is a touch of pathos in the harassed statesman's reply to a letter of congratulation which reached him on the threshold of the new year from a near relative, and it is worthy of quotation, since it reveals the attitude of the man on far greater questions than those with which he was beset at the moment: 'I cannot say that the new year is a happy one to me. Political troubles are too thick for my weak sight to penetrate them, but we all rest in the mercy of God, who will dispose of us as He thinks best.'[25] When Parliament met in February, Lord Palmerston's opportunity came. On the heels of the panic about Papal aggression came widespread alarm as to the policy which Napoleon III. might pursue towards this country. The fear of invasion grew strong in the land, and patriotic fervour restlessly clamoured for prompt legislative action. Forty years ago, in every town and village of England there were people who could speak from personal knowledge concerning the reign of terror which the first Napoleon, by his conquering march over Europe and his threatened descent on the English shores, had established, and, as a consequence, though with diminished force, the old consternation suddenly revived.


Lord John Russell had no more real fear of Napoleon than he had of the Pope, but he rose to the occasion and brought before Parliament a measure for the reorganisation of the local Militia. He believed that such a force, with national enthusiasm at its back, was sufficient to repel invasion—a contingency which, in common with other responsible statesmen, he did not regard as more than remote. Lord Palmerston, however, posing as the candid friend of the nation, and the exceptionally well-informed ex-Foreign Minister, professed to see rocks ahead, and there were—at all events for the Russell Administration. In England, any appeal to the Jingo instincts of the populace is certain to meet with a more or less hysterical welcome, and Palmerston more than once took advantage of the fact. He expressed his dissatisfaction with Lord John's Militia Bill, and by a majority of eleven carried an amendment to it. Lord John met the hostile demonstration by resignation, and, though Palmerston professed to be surprised at such a result, his real opinion leaps to light in the historic sentence which he wrote to his brother on February 24: 'I have had my tit-for-tat with John Russell, and I turned him out on Friday last.' One hitherto unpublished reminiscence of that crisis deserves to be recorded, especially as it throws into passing relief Lord John's generosity of temper: 'I remember,' states his brother-in-law and at one time private secretary, the Hon. George Elliot, 'being indignant with Lord Palmerston, after he had been dismissed by Lord John, bringing forward a verbal amendment on the Militia Bill in 1852—a mere pretext by which the Government was overthrown. But Lord John would not at all enter into my feelings, and said, "It's all fair. I dealt him a blow, and he has given me one in return."'

Lord John's interest in the question of Parliamentary Reform was life-long. It was one of the subjects on which his views were in complete divergence with those of Lord Palmerston. Just before the 'tit-for-tat' amendment, the Premier brought forward a new scheme on the subject which he had reluctantly waived in 1849 in deference to the wishes of the majority of his colleagues, who then regarded such a proposal as premature. At the beginning of 1852 Lord John had overcome such obstacles, and he accordingly introduced his new Reform Bill, as if anxious to wipe out before his retirement from office the reproach which the sobriquet of 'Finality Jack' had unjustly cast upon him. He proposed to extend the suffrage by reducing the county qualification to 20l., and the borough to 5l., and by granting the franchise to persons paying forty shillings yearly in direct taxation. He also proposed to abolish the property qualification of English and Irish members of Parliament, and to extend the boundaries of boroughs having less than 500 electors. Lord Palmerston's hostile action of course compelled the abandonment of this measure, and it is worthy of passing remark that, on the night before his defeat, Lord John made a chivalrous and splendid defence of Lord Clarendon, in answer to an attack, not merely on the policy, but on the personal character of the Viceroy of Ireland.


Sudden as the fall of the Russell Administration was, it can hardly be described as unexpected, and many causes, most of which have already been indicated in these pages, contributed to bring it about. Albany Fonblanque, one of the shrewdest contemporary observers of men and movements, gathered the political gossip of the moment together in a paragraph which sets forth in graphic fashion the tumult of opinion in the spring of 1852. 'Lord John Russell has fallen, and all are agreed that he is greatly to blame for falling; but hardly any two men agree about the immediate cause of his fall. "It was the Durham Letter," says one. "Not a jot," replies another; "the Durham Letter was quite right, and would have strengthened him prodigiously if it had been followed up by a vigorous anti-Papal measure: it was the paltry bill that destroyed him." "The Ecclesiastical Titles Bill," interposes a third, "did just enough in doing next to nothing: no, it was the house tax in the Budget that did the mischief." "The house tax might have been got over," puts in another, "but the proposal of the income tax, with all its injustices unmitigated, doomed Lord John." "Not a whit," rejoins a Radical reformer, "the income tax is popular, especially with people who don't pay it; Lord John's opposition to Locke King's motion sealed his fate." "Locke King's division was a flea-bite," cries a staunch Protestant, "the Pope has done it all."'

Stress has been laid in these pages on the attempts of the Russell Administration to deal with an acute and terrible phase of the eternal Irish problem, as well as to set forth in outline the difficulties which it encountered in regard to its foreign policy through the cavalier attitude and bid for personal ascendency of Lord Palmerston. The five or six years during which Lord John Russell was at the head of affairs were marked by a succession of panics which heightened immeasurably the difficulties of his position. One was purely commercial, but it threw gloom over the country, brought stagnation to trade, and political discontent followed in its train, which in turn reacted on the prospects of the Government. The Irish famine and the rebellion which followed in its wake taxed the resources of the Cabinet to the utmost, and the efforts which were made by the Ministry to grapple with the evil have scarcely received even yet due recognition. The Chartist movement, the agitation over the Papal claims and the fear of invasion, are landmarks in the turbulent and menacing annals of the time.

The repeal of the Navigation Act bore witness to Lord John's zealous determination to extend the principles of Free Trade, and the Jewish Disabilities Bill—which was rejected by the House of Lords—is itself a sufficient answer to those who, because of his resistance, not to the spiritual claims, but to the political arrogance of the Vatican, have ventured to charge him with a lack of religious toleration. He himself once declared that as a statesman he had received as much favour as he had deserved; he added that, where his measures had miscarried, he did not attribute the failure to animosity or misrepresentation, but rather to errors which he had himself committed from mistaken judgment or an erroneous interpretation of facts. No one who looks at Lord John Russell's career with simple justice, to say nothing of generosity, can doubt the truth of his words. 'I believe, I may say, that my ends have been honest. I have looked to the happiness of my country as the object to which my efforts ought to be directed.'


[19] Life of Lord Palmerston, by the Hon. Evelyn Ashley, vol. ii. p. 95.

[20] Life of E. B. Pusey, D.D., by H. P. Liddon, D.D., vol. iii. p. 292. Longmans & Co.

[21] Cobden described it as 'a Guy Fawkes outcry,' and predicted the fall of the Ministry.

[22] See Life and Work of the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, by Edwin Hodder, pp. 429-435.

[23] Lord Beaconsfield's Correspondence with his Sister (1832-1852), p. 249. London: John Murray.

[24] History of Our Own Times, by Justin McCarthy, M.P. vol. ii. pp. 85, 86.

[25] Life of Lord John Russell, by Spencer Walpole, vol. ii p. 143.




The Aberdeen Ministry—Warring elements—Mr. Gladstone's position—Lord John at the Foreign Office and Leader of the House—Lady Russell's criticism of Lord Macaulay's statement—A small cloud in the East—Lord Shaftesbury has his doubts

THERE is no need to linger over the history of the next few months, for in a political sense they were barren and unfruitful. The first Derby Administration possessed no elements of strength, and quickly proved a mere stop-gap Cabinet. Its tenure of power was not only brief but inglorious. The new Ministers took office in February, and they left it in December. Lord Palmerston may be said to have given them their chance, and Mr. Gladstone gave them their coup de grace. The Derby Administration was summoned into existence because Lord Palmerston carried his amendment on the Militia Bill, and it refused to lag superfluous on the stage after the crushing defeat which followed Mr. Gladstone's brilliant attack on the Budget of Mr. Disraeli. The chief legislative achievement of this short-lived Government was an extension of the Bribery Act, which Lord John Russell had introduced in 1841. A measure was now passed providing for a searching investigation of corrupt practices by commissioners appointed by the Crown. The affairs of New Zealand were also placed on a sound political basis. A General Election occurred in the summer, but before the new Parliament met in the autumn the nation was called to mourn the death of the Duke of Wellington. The old soldier had won the crowning victory of Waterloo four years before the Queen's birth, and yet he survived long enough to grace with his presence the opening ceremony of the Great Exhibition—that magnificent triumph of the arts of peace which was held in London in the summer of 1851. The remarkable personal ascendency which the Duke of Wellington achieved because of his splendid record as a soldier, though backed by high personal character, was not thrown on the side of either liberty or progress when the hero transferred his services from the camp to the cabinet. As a soldier, Wellington shone without a rival, but as a statesman he was an obstinate reactionary. Perhaps his solitary claim to political regard is that he, more than any other man, wrung from the weak hands of George IV. a reluctant consent to Catholic Emancipation—a concession which could no longer be refused with safety, and one which had been delayed for the lifetime of a generation through rigid adherence in high places to antiquated prejudices and unreasoning alarm.

The strength of parties in the new Parliament proved to be nearly evenly balanced. Indeed, the Liberals were only in a majority of sixteen, if the small but compact phalanx of forty Peelites be left for the moment out of the reckoning. The Conservatives had, in truth, gained ground in the country through the reverses of one kind and another which had overtaken their opponents. Lord Palmerston, always fond, to borrow his own phrase, of striking from his own bat, declared in airy fashion that Lord John had given him with dismissal independence, and, though Lord Derby offered him a seat in his Cabinet, he was too shrewd and far-seeing a statesman to accept it. The Liberal party was divided about Lord Palmerston, and that fact led to vacillation at the polling booths. Ardent Protestants were disappointed that the Durham Letter had been followed by what they regarded as weak and insufficient legislative action, whilst some of the phrases of that outspoken manifesto still rankled in the minds of ardent High Churchmen. The old Conservative party had been smashed by Peel's adoption of Free Trade, and the new Conservative party which was struggling into existence still looked askance at the pretensions of Mr. Disraeli, who, thanks to his own ability and to the persistent advocacy of his claims in earlier years by his now departed friend, Lord George Bentinck, was fairly seated in the saddle, and inclined to use both whip and spurs.


In the autobiography recently published of the late Sir William Gregory[26] a vivid description will be found of the way in which the aristocracy and the squires 'kicked at the supremacy of one whom they looked at as a mountebank;' and on the same page will be found the remarkable assertion that it was nothing but Mr. Disraeli's claim to lead the Conservative party which prevented Mr. Gladstone from joining it in 1852.[27] Disraeli's borrowed heroics in his pompous oration in the House of Commons on the occasion of the death of Wellington, and his errors in tactics and taste as leader of the House, heightened the prevailing impression that, even if the result of the General Election had been different, the Derby Administration was doomed to failure. All through the autumn the quidnuncs at the clubs were busy predicting the probable course of events, and more or less absurd rumours ran round the town concerning the statesmen who were likely to succeed to power in the event of Derby's resignation. The choice in reality lay between Russell, Palmerston, and Aberdeen, for Lansdowne was out of health, and therefore out of the question.

As in a mirror Lady Russell's journal reflects what she calls the alarm in the Whig camp at the rumour of the intended resignation of the Derby Cabinet if Disraeli's financial proposals were defeated, and the hurried consultations which followed between Lord Lansdowne, Lord Aberdeen, and Lord John, Sir James Graham, Mr. Cobden, and Mr. Bright. Two days before the division which overthrew the Government on December 17, Lord John was at Woburn, and his brother, the Duke of Bedford, asked him what course he thought the Queen should adopt in case the Ministry was beaten. He replied that her Majesty, under such circumstances, ought to send for Lord Lansdowne and Lord Aberdeen. This was the course which the Queen adopted, but Lord Lansdowne, old and ill, felt powerless to respond to the summons. Meanwhile, Lord John, who certainly possessed the strongest claims—a circumstance which was recognised at the time by Mr. Gladstone—had determined from a sense of public duty not to press them, for he recognised that neither Palmerston nor the Peelites, who, for the moment, in the nice balance of parties, commanded the situation, would serve under him. He had led the Liberal forces for a long term of years, both in power and in opposition, and neither his devotion nor his ability was open to question, in spite of the offence which he had given, on the one hand to a powerful colleague, and on the other to powerful interests.


Lord Aberdeen was regarded by the followers of Peel as their leader. He was a favourite at Court, and a statesman of established reputation of the doctrinaire type, but he was not a man who ever excited, or probably was capable of exciting, popular enthusiasm. On the day after Disraeli's defeat Lord Aberdeen met Lord John by chance in the Park, and the latter, waiving personal ambition, told him that, though he could say nothing decisive for the moment, he thought he should accept office under him. On the morrow Lord Aberdeen was summoned to Osborne, and accepted the task of forming an Administration. Next day her Majesty wrote to Lord John announcing the fact, and the letter ended with the following passage: 'The Queen thinks the moment to have arrived when a popular, efficient, and durable Government could be formed by the sincere and united efforts of all professing Conservative and Liberal opinions. The Queen, knowing that this can only be effected by the patriotic sacrifice of personal interests and feelings to the public, trusts that Lord John Russell will, as far as he is able, give his valuable and powerful assistance to the realisation of this object.' This communication found Lord John halting between two opinions. Palmerston had declined to serve under him, and he might, with even greater propriety, in his turn have refused to serve under Aberdeen. His own health, which was never strong, had suffered through the long strain of office in years which had been marked by famine and rebellion. He had just begun to revel, to quote his own words, in 'all the delights of freedom from red boxes, with the privilege of fresh air and mountain prospects.'


He had already found the recreation of a busy man, and was engrossed in the preparation of the 'Memoirs and Journal' of his friend, Thomas Moore. The poet had died in February of that year, and Lord John, with characteristic goodwill, had undertaken to edit his voluminous papers in order to help a widow without wounding her pride. In fact, on many grounds he might reasonably have stood aside, and he certainly would have done so if personal motives had counted most with him, or if he had been the self-seeker which some of his detractors have imagined. Here Lord Macaulay comes to our help with a vivid account of what he terms an eventful day—one of the dark days before Christmas—on which the possibility of a Coalition Government under Aberdeen was still doubtful. Macaulay states that he went to Lansdowne House, on December 20, on a hasty summons to find its master and Lord John in consultation over the Queen's letter. He was asked his opinion of the document and duly gave it. 'Then Lord John said that of course he should try to help Lord Aberdeen: but how? There were two ways. He might take the lead of the Commons with the Foreign Office, or he might refuse office, and give his support from the back benches. I adjured him not to think of this last course, and I argued it with him during a quarter of an hour with, I thought, a great flow of thoughts and words. I was encouraged by Lord Lansdowne, who nodded, smiled, and rubbed his hands at everything I said. I reminded him that the Duke of Wellington had taken the Foreign Office after having been at the Treasury, and I quoted his own pretty speech to the Duke. "You said, Lord John, that we could not all win battles of Waterloo, but that we might all imitate the old man's patriotism, sense of duty, and indifference to selfish interests; and vanities when the public welfare was concerned; and now is the time for you to make a sacrifice. Your past services and your name give us a right to expect it." He went away, evidently much impressed by what had been said, and promising to consult others. When he was gone, Lord Lansdowne told me that I had come just as opportunely as Bluecher did at Waterloo.'[28] It is only right to state that Lady Russell demurs to some parts of this account of her husband's attitude at the crisis. Nothing could be further from the truth than that Lord John's vacillation was due to personal motives, or that his hesitation arose from his reluctance to take any office short of the Premiership. Lady Russell adds 'this never for one moment weighed with him, so that he did not require Lord Macaulay or Lord Lansdowne to argue him out of the objection.' Lord John's difficulty was based upon the 'improbability of agreement in a Cabinet so composed, and therefore the probable evil to the country.' Letters written by Lady Russell at the moment to a relative, of too private a character to quote, give additional weight to this statement. One homely remark made at the time may, however, be cited. Lady Russell declared that her husband would not mind being 'shoeblack to Lord Aberdeen' if it would serve the country.

The Aberdeen Ministry came into existence just as the year 1852 was ending. It was, in truth, a strange bit of mosaic work, fashioned with curious art, as the result of negotiations between the Whigs and the Peelites which had extended over a period of nearly six months. It represented the triumph of expediency, but it awakened little enthusiasm in spite of the much-vaunted ability and experience of its members. Derby and Disraeli were left out on the one side and Cobden and Bright on the other, a circumstance, however, which did not prevent men comparing the Coalition Government to the short-lived but famous Ministry of all the Talents. The nation rubbed its eyes and wondered whether good or evil was in store when it saw Peel's lieutenants rowing in the same boat with Russell. The vanished leader, however, was responsible for such a strange turn of the wheel, for everyone recognised that Sir Robert had 'steered his fleet into the enemy's port.' His followers came to power through the dilemma of the moment and the temporary eclipse of politicians of more resolute convictions. The Whigs were divided, and with Ireland they were discredited, whilst the Radicals were still clamouring at the doors of Downing Street with small chance of admission, in spite of their growing power in the country. The little clique of Peelites played their cards adroitly, and though they were, to a large extent, a party without followers, they were masters of the situation, and Russell and Palmerston, in consequence, were the only men of commanding personality, outside their own ranks, who were admitted to the chief seats in the new Cabinet. Russell became Foreign Secretary, whilst Palmerston took control of the Home Office.


So great was the rush for place that Lord Derby with a smile informed the Queen that, as so many former Ministers expected a seat, he thought that less than thirty-two could hardly be the number of the new Cabinet. Tories of the old school looked on with amazement, and Radicals of the new with suspicion. All things seemed possible in the excitement of parties. 'Tom Baring said to me last night,' Greville remarks, '"Can't you make room for Disraeli in this Coalition Government?" I said: "Why, will you give him to us?" "Oh yes," he said, "you shall have him with pleasure."' Great expectations were, however, ruthlessly nipped in the bud, and the Cabinet, instead of being unwieldy, was uncommonly small, for it consisted only of thirteen members—an unlucky start, if old wives' fables are to be believed. Five of Sir Robert Peel's colleagues—the Premier, the Duke of Newcastle, Sir James Graham, Mr. Sidney Herbert, and Mr. Gladstone—represented the moderately progressive views of their old leader. Russell and Palmerston represented the Whigs, but, thanks to one of life's little ironies, the statesman who passed the Reform Bill was installed for the moment at the Foreign Office, and the Minister who was a Liberal abroad and a Conservative at home was intrusted with the internal affairs of the nation. The truth was, Lord Palmerston was impossible at the Foreign Office if Lord Aberdeen was at the Treasury, for the two men were diametrically opposed in regard to the policy which England ought to adopt in her relations with Europe in general, and Russia in particular. In fact, if Lord John Russell was for the moment out of the reckoning as Premier, Lord Palmerston ought unquestionably to have had the reversion of power. Unfortunately, though growingly popular in the country, he had rendered himself unwelcome at Court, where Lord Aberdeen, on the contrary, had long been a trusted adviser.

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