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Now, with respect to the time of resigning the Foreign Office, I have no doubt that Lady John's minute is correct. I had hoped, and believed, that you intended to hold it during a portion of the session : but essentially you were yourself to be the judge. I hope you may be right in thinking that the objections to your position in the House of Commons without office are ‘frivolous and superficial.’ You are a much better judge than I am of such matters; and, at all events, I am ready if you think fit to make the experiment. But, if it should not prove successful, and any serious consequences should ensue, I cannot say that I should be disposed to accept the office, which you assign to me, of remodelling the Government. I trust this matter is now finally settled, so far at least as I am concerned. We shall shortly see what is the opinion of the House of Commons and of the public, and I hope you may have reason to be satisfied with your decision. I will only add that where there is the most sincere desire to act without the slightest reserve, and with the utmost cordiality, I am quite sure the sooner this kind of correspondence is brought to an
end the better.—Ever most truly yours, ABERDEEN
No one who has read this correspondence is likely to doubt the wisdom of Lord Aberdeen's concluding paragraph. At the same time no one will doubt that Lord Aberdeen would have been wise if he had taken more pains in December to appreciate, to understand, and to explain Lord John's intentions. Whatever suggestions may have been made as to Lord John's accepting the Duchy instead of the Foreign Office, it is difficult to imagine how any experienced statesman could have supposed that he would have accepted the Foreign Office as a stepping-stone to the Duchy. The fact that such a course would have exposed the member of the House of Commons who took it to two successive elections, ought alone to have shown the Prime Minister that it could not have been seriously contemplated.
Thus the correspondence terminated ; and though Lord John, when Parliament met on the 10th of February still retained the seals of the Foreign Office, he resigned that office before twelve days were over; and from that time till the end of the session led the House of Commons without taking charge of any department. The session proved in many respects a memorable one. It witnessed the introduction of Mr. Gladstone's first and greatest Budget;" it threw open the civil service of India to public competition ; it gave a final deathblow to transportation. In the course of it Lord John himself introduced a measure enabling municipalities to rate themselves, under specified conditions, for the support of voluntary schools; and, though the measure failed, and is chiefly interesting from what it promised for the future Lord John succeeded in introducing a new principle by providing for the payment of a capitation grant on account of children attending schools in rural districts. These and other achievements in the session of 1853, however, have a greater reference to history than to biography. It is perhaps sufficient to say that Lord John throughout the session displayed tact and ability which enabled him to retrieve his position and to increase the reputation which he had long before won. Writing on the 5th of August his brother said, ‘I do not think you personally ever stood so high in public estimation as you do now.' While seven weeks afterwards, on the 27th of September, Lord Clarendon wrote—
I know at the end of the session I said to the Duke of Bedford that the whole country did justice to your self-sacrifice, which had made a fusion of parties practicable at a moment of crisis; that you had rendered the leadership of the House of Commons consensu omnium an office by itself; and that the event showed you had been right, and all who opposed the course you mapped out for yourself, the Queen and Prince inclusive, had been wrong. If you could poll the country, I believe it would be found nearly unanimous in these opinions. While early in the following session Mr. Cayley, in asking for a committee to consider the duties of the leader of the House of Commons, and the expediency of attaching office and salary thereto, used this language:—
If he were to say the noble Lord the member for London possessed, as qualities fitting him for the office, that he had a greater
People often misunderstood Lord John ; and it was hinted in 1853 that he was jealous of Mr. Gladstone's success. Here is his true opinion written to Lady John : ‘Gladstone's speech was magnificent. . . . It rejoices me to be a party to a large plan, and to do with a man who seeks to benefit the country rather than to carry a majority by concessions to fear.’
constitutional knowledge, perhaps, than any other member of the House; that he exhibited more tact and readiness and temper in debate than any other member ; that his courage under all circumstances was proverbially undaunted ; that his services had been such as to add lustre to the name he bore; and were he to add as a crown to those qualifications that he possessed that mild simplicity of demeanour without which real dignity can scarcely exist, he should but affirm that which every member of the House would re-echo, only in terms more appropriate than he could pretend to do."
Two other occurrences during the session deserve mention. In April Lord Aberdeen renewed the intimation which he had given at Christmas, that he intended to retire at the end of the session ; in May embarrassment arose from a debate on the old grievance of the Irish Church. Mr. Moore, who represented the Roman Catholic county of Mayo, moved for a committee to inquire how far the ecclesiastical revenues of Ireland were applicable to the benefit of the Irish people; and Mr. Lucas, the member for Meath, in supporting the motion, avowed that it was aimed directly at the abolition of the Church. It fell to Lord John to reply to Mr. Lucas. He commenced his reply by complaining that the concessions which Parliament had made to the Irish Roman Catholics had “been met by revilings and reproaches.’ He went on in very generous language to express a wish “that there was nothing in the oaths taken by members of Parliament which should preclude Roman Catholics from discussing subjects of this kind; from asking, if they thought proper, for the total abolition of the Church of Ireland, and voting for its subversal and suppression ; and to deny that there was anything in the Act of Union ‘which should prevent you making a change in favour of the people of Ireland in respect to an article which was intended for the benefit of Ireland.’ He naturally referred to the desire, which he had himself so frequently shown, to apply part of the revenues of the Church to the education of persons of all religious denominations. But he admitted that the compromise which he had himself favoured had been disliked both by the Protestants, who had resisted all spoliation, and the Roman Catholics, who so steadily required the disendowment of the Church. Mr. Lucas had himself demanded equality. But equality could only be obtained in two ways: by the disendowment of the Church—a course for which Lord John was not prepared—or by the redistribution of the ecclesiastical revenues among Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, and Protestants, according to their numbers. But such a course he was also unprepared to take.
* Hansard, cxxx. 377.
It has been but too evident of late years that the Roman Catholic Church, acting under the direction of its head, himself a foreign sovereign, has aimed at political power, and is at variance with a due attachment to the Crown of this country and to the general cause of liberty. I am convinced that, if the Roman Catholic clergy, as ecclesiastics, were to exercise greater political influence than they do now, that power would not be exercised in accordance with the general freedom that prevails in this country, and that neither in respect to political circumstances nor upon other subjects would they favour that general freedom of discussion, and that activity and energy of the human mind, that belong to the spirit of the constitution of this country. I am obliged, then, to conclude, most unwillingly but most decidedly, that the endowment of the Roman Catholic religion in Ireland in the place of the endowment of the Protestant Church of that country is not an object which the Parliament of this country ought to adopt or to sanction. These opinions of mine may lead to conclusions unpalatable to many who belong to the Roman Catholic Church. They may lead to a persistence in a state of things that I quite admit to be anomalous and unsatisfactory. But I am obliged as a member of Parliament to consider that which is best adapted to maintain the freedom and permanence of our institutions. I must look around me at what is passing elsewhere. I must regard the influence which, if not exercised, has been attempted to be exercised in the United Kingdom of late years. Seeing these things, I give my decided resistance to the proposal of the hon. gentleman.
Such sentiments were not new in Lord John. They can be traced in the “Life of Lord Russell ; they are directly expressed in one paragraph in the ‘Essay on the Constitution ; and though, in the interval between 1835 and 1849, their author had laboured in the cause, first of Appropriation, and second of part endowment of the Roman Catholic religion, they had flared up in their original force in the Durham letter. The strong religious feelings which formed so striking a feature in Lord John's character were again obtaining a mastery over the liberality of his political views; and he was repeating the opinions of that famous document. His language was, of course, enthusiastically cheered from the Opposition benches, but was at once condemned in strong terms both by Mr. Bright, and, on the part of the Roman Catholics, by Mr. Fitzgerald. But the evil did not stop at this point. The Roman Catholic members of the Government signified to Lord Aberdeen through Mr. Monsell, the Clerk of the Ordnance, that they could no longer remain in the Administration; and Lord John himself wrote to the Prime Minister—
I cannot but think that you ought not to be made to pay the penalty of my hasty speech. But I feel so much the inconvenience to you of the loss of Mr. Monsell and of the Roman Catholic members of your Government, that I think you had better, as an alternative, allow me to retire, and retain their services.
Lord Aberdeen at once replied—
My dear Lord John, Although I hope to see you to-morrow, I write a line to-night in answer to your letter. You will not be surprised that I should not listen for a moment to the alternative you propose ; but I entreat you calmly to consider the actual position of the Government and see what it may be possible for us to do. The Duke of Newcastle tells me you had spoken to him ; and, as he has some influence with the Catholic party, I have desired him to see Mr. Monsell and ascertain in what manner they might perhaps be satisfied. I have mentioned to the Duke your own impossible proposal; not for the purpose of being communicated to them, but only in order that he might speak with a full knowledge of the serious consequences that might ensue. In truth, however, the only alternative I can admit is the resignation of the Catholic members or their remaining in office. I shall know to-morrow what may be the result of the Duke's interference. . . I shall say nothing of the personal state of matters, except to Clarendon and Graham, and I trust that in the course of to-morrow we may devise some means for settling this untoward circumstance. Ever most sincerely yours, ABERDEEN.
The unfortunate circumstance was eventually settled,