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The conditions which were thus made were full of danger. It is never wise either for a Minister or for an individual to commit himself to a particular course six months afterwards. The actions of wise men are determined by concrete circumstances, not by abstract considerations. It was still more doubtful whether it was expedient to give any member of the Cabinet who was not Prime Minister a general superintendence. Such a duty necessarily falls to the head of the Government, and the same function cannot, without confusion, be concurrently discharged by two different persons. Be this, however, as it may, a few days' deliberation had removed the initial difficulty, and Lord Aberdeen was able to address himself to the task of filling up the places in the Administration. But here at once fresh embarrassments arose. The Whigs not unnaturally supposed that, as they contributed the bulk of the support on which the new Ministry relied, they should be adequately represented in the Cabinet. The Peelites, brushing away mere numerical considerations, pointed to the ability of their own leaders. The Whigs declared that Lord John did not fight their battles adequately ; Lord Aberdeen, on the contrary, complained that the Whigs were insatiable. And this unfortunate source of difference between two great men continued throughout the duration of the Ministry. A year after its formation, when the relations between the two Ministers were strained, Lord John wrote to Lord Aberdeen—
were at the head of the Government, that it was your wish to retire in favour of my brother when circumstances should permit. Something has lately occurred which makes me desire to know when you first informed him of this wish, whether before or after your Administration was formed. I have asked John, but he refers me to you for accuracy, with some very friendly and affectionate expressions towards yourself, which he did not of course intend me to repeat to you.” Lord Aberdeen replied that he had formed a resolution in his own mind to retire in Lord John's favour “whenever circumstances should permit, and as soon as I could do so without breaking up the Government ; for that I did not think it would be fair to the Queen or to my colleagues to do. I cannot recollect having specifically declared this intention to Lord John himself before the formation of the Government, but I think that I must have done so to others; and I can little doubt that from the first he must have looked to such a contingency. At all events I kept it constantly in view myself, and, in the summer of 1853, when, by the acceptance of the Vienna note, it appeared that the difference between Russia and Turkey was entirely settled, I thought the time had come when something might be attempted. At that time I had a conversation with Lord John, at which I very clearly explained to hin my views and intentions.” He added in a second letter: “They [my wishes] were not the result of any engagement or obligation on my part, but the whole procedure was perfectly spontaneous and free. It must also be recollected that I always explicitly declared that any step to be taken by me, having in view the substitution of Lord John as the head of the Government, must have the assent of the Cabinet, and that I would not agree to break up the Administration on this point.” With regard to the second point, Lady John, writing to Lady Mary Abercromby on the 24th of December (the day after the arrangement was made), said, “He has only consented to be so [Foreign Minister] till Parliament meets, when he will keep his place in the Cabinet and the leadership, and have no office, but a general superintendence of all. This is an excellent arrangement, dignified and useful, for they will require superintendence.’ I have put the promise in the text in more hesitating language, because I have reason to believe that Lord Aberdeen's friends think that Lady John, in this respect, misunderstood what had passed between Lord John and Lord Aberdeen. o * I have excepted from the computation Sir W. Molesworth, who represented the Radicals.
The Whigs write to me imagining that I have some influence in politics and ecclesiastical appointments. It is a mistake.
And Lord Aberdeen replied—
To say the truth I thought that I had done little else than comply with your wishes either at the formation of the Government or ever Since.
Such differences showed that there was no real cohesion between the two men ; and that misunderstandings between them were in consequence certain to arise. It may, however, fairly be assumed that Lord John did not deserve Lord Aberdeen's reproach. For, if the Prime Minister thought him unreasonable, his own friends complained that he did not fight their battles for them ; and it is a tolerably fair presumption that, when two parties to a question both blame the man who stands between them, the latter is not acting unfairly to either of them. If, indeed, injustice was done on either side, it certainly was not done to the Peelites. The Whigs stood to the Peelites in the House of Commons as nine stands to one ; the Peelites stood to the Whigs in the Cabinet as six stands to six. Even this proportion could only be reckoned by counting among the Whigs Lord Cranworth, who had practically withdrawn from politics, and Lord Palmerston, who could no longer be considered a supporter of Lord John." In Ireland, the new Lord Lieutenant, Lord St. Germans, and the new Chief Secretary, were both members of the party which was identified with the name of Sir Robert Peel; while Whig statesmen of great experience and proved ability, like Lord Carlisle, Mr. Labouchere, and Sir George Grey, had no place or part either in the Cabinet or in the Government. The arrangement which was thus made between Lord Aberdeen and Lord John was publicly disclosed three weeks afterwards by a paragraph in the ‘Globe' on the 15th of January. Under the influence of this article, and probably stimulated by the inquiries of the Queen, Lord Aberdeen spoke to Lord John on the subject. Lord John thereupon wrote to the Prime Minister—
Pembroke Lodge : January 19, 1853.
My dear Lord Aberdeen, I am sorry you have raised again the question of my position.
I understood you and Clarendon to have agreed that I should take the Foreign Office, and vacate it whenever I might choose. The time I have chosen is the commencement of the session, when fully to perform my duties in the Foreign Office and in the House of Commons would break down any man.
The performance of this agreement is simply a matter of good faith. Had I been inclined to take an office the duties of Home Secretary, which I have tried, are perfectly compatible with the lead in the House of Commons, and in some degree assisted it.
I have fulfilled all that the constitution requires by vacating my seat. I can without office advise the Crown, as I have sworn to do by my oath as a Privy Councillor.
So pray let things go on as they have been settled. They rest on public grounds originally, and now on compact.—I remain, yours very truly,
Lord Aberdeen, replying on the same day, admitted that it had been agreed that Lord Clarendon should relieve Lord John at the Foreign Office after a short time, and allowed that the time must depend on Lord John's own convenience. But he added—
* Sir George Grey, it is fair to add, had lost his seat; but his exclusion was the more marked because neither Lord Grey nor Sir F. Baring was included in the Cabinet.
A very grave question remains for consideration which assuredly has never been settled, and on which I have not been able to form any decided opinion. This is the possibility of your representing the Government and acting as leader in the House of Commons without holding any office at all.
I have always felt that there were serious constitutional objections to such a position ; but my great desire to agree to whatever may be most agreeable to yourself, and my belief that you must be a better judge of this matter than myself, would induce me, if possible, to get over these scruples. I know, however, that some of our colleagues entertain a very strong opinion on the subject, and I have reason to believe that the Queen would also regard any such arrangement with feelings of great repugnance.
Lord John, after some conversation with Lord Aberdeen,
wrote again :Pembroke Lodge : January 21, 1853.
My dear Lord Aberdeen,-Without further discussing at present the period at which I should leave the Foreign Office, I must refer to a paragraph in your letter which, I own, surprised me a good deal. You say, “A very grave question remains for consideration, which assuredly has never been settled, and on which I have not been able to form any decided opinion. This is the possibility of your representing the Government, and acting as leader in the House of Commons, without holding any office at all.” Certainly this is a very grave question ; but, unless I had thought it had been settled, I never should have joined your Government. I did so in the belief that it had been finally decided. To suppose that I should have taken the Foreign Office to descend at Easter to the Duchy of Lancaster, to vacate my seat again in new circumstances, seems to me strange. I think your recollection must have failed you. Clarendon and Lady John are the only two persons who, at the last, were witnesses to the arrangement. You heard Clarendon's account yesterday. Lady John took a note at the time, which I here copy : “23rd December : Lords Aberdeen and Clarendon gave me their words of honour as gentlemen that, on the meeting of Parliament, John should leave the Foreign Office, and not be asked to take any other office.” Now, although I believe this is a perfectly accurate account, and one that was repeated at the time to several of my friends, I admit that, if objections fatal to such a plan on constitutional grounds could be started, I should be bound to take an office or leave the Government. But, as I have weighed all such objections and find them frivolous and superficial, I must expect you to perform your part of the agreement. A vote of the House of Commons would, of course, alter the position. It would compel my retirement. But then I should have nothing to say against your conduct, and you might re-form your Government as you thought best. It is not my fault that all this was not stated to the Queen at the
time.—I remain, ever yours truly, J. RUSSELL.
It is only fair to Lord Aberdeen to give his answer:Argyll House : January 21, 1853. My dear Lord John, I rather wish that you had adhered to Clarendon's advice not to send your answer to my letter ; for I hoped that the whole affair was finally settled at our meeting yesterday : any continued discussion can now have no good effect, and I think that I perceive some indications in your last letter which make me doubly anxious to bring it to a close. You will permit me, however, to say that much of this misunderstanding must after all be attributed to your own uncertainty of purpose. Before being sent for by the Queen, it was my intention not to accept the commission without the certainty of your accepting the Foreign Office and the lead in the House of Commons. When, therefore, you voluntarily expressed such an intention the day before I went to Osborne, you relieved me from all doubt. When I returned from Osborne on Sunday night I found you precisely in the same frame of mind. But on Monday morning a change took place in your intentions. This change greatly affected my position. But, after much discussion with you at that time, I certainly imagined that you had agreed to take the Duchy if the objection to your being in the Government without any office should have been valid. I may have been mistaken ; but, although I made no minute of our conversation, I wrote to the Queen immediately after it had taken place, and reported it as I have now stated. Indeed, I understood this intention to have been changed in consequence of the opinion expressed by Sir G. Grey. The question of being in the Government without any office was never decided or further discussed, because your acceptance of the Foreign Office fortunately put an end to all difficulty. I confess I am surprised to find you speak of descending to the Duchy of Lancaster. Surely you take a wrong estimate of your own position and character. For you there can be no ascending or de scending in the Government: and you know perfectly well it is not my fault that you do not now occupy the position in which I am placed.