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had been nominated in the Parliament of 1831 by the Whigs, and he had been specially asked to continue in the Chair in 1833, so that the Reformed House, in which there was a large number of new members, might have the benefit of his experience. The Radicals, indeed, had never acquiesced in this arrangement. They thought that a Liberal should have been placed in the Chair of a Reformed House of Commons, and their contention was much strengthened by Sir C. Manners Sutton's conduct. In the Ministerial crisis of 1831 it was stated and believed that Sir C. Manners Sutton had undertaken to accept high office and to lead the House of Commons. In the Ministerial crisis of 1834 there was no doubt that Sir C. Sutton had attended the meetings of the Privy Council. It was open, therefore, to Liberals to contend that the Speaker had taken a part in politics which was inconsistent with the neutrality attaching to his position. While Lord John was still in Devonshire, he had received a series of letters from Lord Melbourne, asking what was to be done; stating that Mr. Abercromby positively refused to be nominated for the Chair, and suggesting Mr. Spring Rice for the office. Lord John's only objection to Mr. Spring Rice was that he had relied on his assistance in debate. But the general feeling among the Liberals in the House was different; Sir J. Hobhouse told Lord Melbourne that there was a prevalent anxiety ‘to force Abercromby into it [the Chairl whether he will or not; ' and it consequently became plain that, if the question of the Speakership were to be fought at all, Mr. Abercromby must of necessity be the Liberal candidate. The question was practically settled at the end of January at a meeting at Brocket, where Lord Melbourne invited Lord John on his way from Devonshire to Woburn, and at which Sir J. Hobhouse and Mr. Poulett Thomson were also present; and the battle, which was thus arranged, took place at the meeting of Parliament on February 19. Lord John, in a speech of great moderation, vindicated the right of the majority to place a gentleman whose principles harmonised with their own in the Chair; and, while exculpating the late Speaker from the charge of intrigue, contended that his conduct during the crisis in the autumn justified the Liberal party in opposing him. Moreover, the circumstances of the dissolution necessitated exceptional action.
The late Parliament, which he did not hesitate to say was as loyal to the Crown as any Parliament that ever existed, was suddenly dissolved; and they were referred to the prerogative of the Crown as the cause of the dissolution. He admitted it was the prerogative of the Crown to dismiss and appoint Ministers, and to dissolve Parliaments. But the people also possessed their privileges which on fit occasions were to be exercised; and, if the sword of prerogative were drawn, it was time to be prepared with the shield and buckler of popular privileges. He knew of no right more sacred, no privilege less to be infringed, than of that House placing their representative in the Chair."
The attack on the Ministry was successful. Sir C. Manners Sutton was defeated, and Mr. Abercromby was placed in the Chair by a majority of ten votes. But the success was only one of the results which followed the motion. Lord John's own speech on the subject received universal praise. Commendations poured in on him from all sides. And Mr. Greville, writing for posterity, admitted that—
Lord John Russell is said to have spoken remarkably well, which is important to them as a party, being his first appearance as their leader.
The debate on the Speakership was, however, only a preliminary engagement. It was felt on all sides that the real trial of strength must take place on the Address. The issues at stake in 1835 were the prerogative of the Crown and the privilege of Parliament. The Crown had openly ventured on an act of autocracy in dismissing its advisers; and, though its conduct in doing so was consistent with the principles, it was opposed to the practice, of the English constitution. As Lord Dalling wrote years afterwards, it was impossible to justify the change of Ministry ‘on the ground that the late Earl Spencer was no more, and that it was necessary to replace Lord Althorp—an honest man of respectable talents—by Lord John Russell, an honest man of very eminent talents.” But there was great difficulty in condemning the conduct of the Crown by a resolution of the House of Commons. In theory every act of the Crown is performed on the advice of a responsible Minister; and it was the peculiar characteristic of the change of Administration in 1834 that, while it was impossible to suppose that it was effected on the advice of the Ministers who were removed, it was still more difficult to imagine that it was due to the counsel of the Minister who succeeded them, and who, at the time of the crisis, was a thousand miles from the royal palace. Technically, indeed, Sir Robert Peel, by accepting office, had made himself responsible for the policy of his sovereign ; but the doctrine of responsibility after the fact, however plain to lawyers and statesmen, was not likely to be equally clear to a popular assembly. Lord Spencer thought the difficulty should be faced. -- a-- *
* Hansard, xxvi. 43. * Dalling's Sir Aobert Peel, p. 109.
I think in the House of Commons you have no option, The King having followed the change in the Administration by an appeal to the people, I think the people have a right to demand that the representatives elected in answer to that appeal should be called upon to say at once whether they approve of the dismissal of the late Government or not. . . . The continuance of the present Ministry would be a great evil. My belief is that they will be succeeded by a Radical Administration ; and I admit that, from the experience I had of the hostility of the two parties, I personally dislike the Radicals more than I do the Tories. But, if an Administration, be it what it may, is permitted to continue in existence who came into office in the manner this Administration did, an injury will be done to the constitution of the country : and therefore I hope that, whoever may be their successors, they at least will be turned Out.
Lord John was of the same opinion ; and it appears from a memorandum in his handwriting that he wished the amendment to the Address to conclude with a humble representation to His Majesty that the expectations of the country will not be satisfied with anything short of men who will fairly and frankly adopt the liberal and comprehensive principles on which the Reform Act was founded, or with anything less than the measures which the House of Commons recently dissolved was prepared to adopt.
But his friends thought otherwise; and the amendment
which was ultimately proposed concluded by merely lamenting that the progress of Reform
has been interrupted and endangered by the unnecessary dissolution of a Parliament earnestly intent upon the prosecution of measures to which the wishes of the people were most anxiously and justly directed.
The amendment which was then moved was entrusted to Lord Morpeth. The debate upon it commenced on the 24th of February, and was protracted over three sittings. Lord John spoke on the second day of the debate. He had the wisdom to rest his whole case on the assertion that he had no confidence in the Government of Sir Robert Peel. He had the generosity, at the same time, to pay his great rival the compliment of saying that, on the occasions “when he had supported the late Administration, his support was most
effective, and when he opposed them his opposition was fair and manly.' But
If I be asked to place my confidence in the righthon. baronet, . . I declare at once and without reserve that it is wholly out of my power to do so. I cannot confide in the right hon. baronet's
friends: I cannot put my trust in the party with which he has long associated.
This speech—like that which he had made in the previous week—raised Lord John's reputation as a debater and a leader. Mr. Newman, writing to him from Mamhead, congratulated the Whigs on having such a leader; the same diarist, whose opinion has already been quoted, recorded that—
Lord John Russell, by universal admission, even of his enemies, made an excellent speech. . . . John has surpassed all expectations hitherto as leader, which is matter of great exultation to his party.
But, though the success of Lord John's speech was undoubted, the results of the debate were not quite so satisfactory. The Whigs had relied on a majority of from thirty to forty votes; and the amendment was only carried by a majority of seven. On this occasion, as on the election of a Speaker, more than 300 members supported Sir Robert Peel; and it consequently became evident that, on all matters of essential importance, the Minister could command the support of more than five-elevenths of the House of Commons. Only one inference could be drawn from this state of things. The Whigs, it was plain, must either abandon all hope of disturbing the Ministry, or they must obtain the co-operation of all sections in the House who were opposed like themselves to a Conservative Administration. In fact, they could not command a majority without the assistance of the Radicals under Mr. Grote, and of the Irish under Mr. O'Connell. - - Concert even with the Radicals, however, was hardly tolerable to Whigs of the old school like Lord Grey. Concert with Mr. O'Connell was an unclean thing, not even so much as to be named among them ; and by a chain of circumstances, over which Lord John had almost accidentally lost control, he was already drifting into concert with both these parties. The circumstances were these. It is the custom of the leaders of great parties, on the eve of a new session, to ask their friends to meet them in order that they may have the opportunity of explaining their policy. But the circular invitations, which are thus sent out, are despatched by the ‘whips' of the party—if the expression be permissible—and not by its leaders. The ordinary course was followed in 1835. Lord John, who, after leaving the Pay Office, had moved into lodgings in Queen Street, Mayfair, and who consequently had no room of his own large enough to accommodate two or three hundred people, asked his friends to meet him on February 18 at Lord Lichfield's house in St. James's Square. Mr. Warburton, the member for Bridport, forwarded a bundle of these circulars to Mr. O'Connell, with a private note asking that gentleman to address and send them to his Irish supporters. On the receipt of these circulars Mr. O'Connell wrote— ' The Duke of Bedford wrote to Lord John at the end of February: ‘Grey at present seems to me to have too great a horror of the Radicals (so called). But there is a medium, and you may act in co-operation with these men for a great public good without trusting them or placing implicit confidence in them.