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But he went on to argue that as it would take five years before the whole force was enrolled, and six or seven years before it was adequately trained, the constitution of an effective defence would be postponed to ‘an awfully distant period.’
If you took your number in three years, and by thirds, instead of by fifths, perhaps your measure might be sufficient.
Thus, while the Cabinet was agreed that steps were urgently necessary to place the country in an efficient state of defence, its members had arrived at no exact conclusion on the measures to be adopted for this purpose. It was ultimately decided to strengthen all the regular services, increasing the army, navy, and ordnance estimates by 358,000/ for that purpose, and to take an additional vote of 150,000/ for “laying the foundation of a militia force.’ These figures would have been serious enough if they had stood alone. Unfortunately, the commercial crisis of the previous year had made its mark on the revenue, while the condition of Ireland and the exigencies of a war at the Cape were simultaneously throwing heavy charges on the Government. The Cabinet concluded that the revenue on which it could safely rely would be exceeded by the estimated expenditure by more than 3,OOOOOO!. To cover this great deficiency, it proposed not merely to continue the income tax, which naturally expired in 1848, but to raise the rate of the tax from sevenpence to twelvepence in the pound.
So grave a decision had rarely been formed by any Government in time of peace. The Cabinet rightly concluded that the grounds of it must be authoritatively explained by the Prime Minister himself; and accordingly on the 18th of February Lord John rose to bring forward the Budget of the year. Lord John, who had been suffering for some weeks from influenza, was so unwell when Parliament met that he was hardly fit to attend the House. His illness probably accounted for the circumstance that his speech on this occasion was one of the least successful speeches he ever made. But, even if he had spoken with his customary force, he would probably have found it impossible to have carried the scheme which he had brought forward. For, while it was based on the panic which prevailed, it incidentally administered the best specific to fear. The chances of invasion seemed preferable to the certain addition of fivepence to the income tax. Three days afterwards the Government, alarmed at the aspect of the House, referred the estimates to secret and select committees; while, on the last day of the month, the Chancellor of the Exchequer offered to abandon the additional income tax if the duty were continued for another year at its ordinary rate. Never perhaps before had a single fortnight effected so radical an alteration in the financial policy of a Ministry. But then it must also be remembered that never before had a single fortnight produced a more radical alteration in the political situation. When Lord John brought forward his Budget, on the 18th of February, the throne of Louis Philippe scemed secure : when Sir Charles Wood abandoned the income tax on the 28th of February, Louis Philippe and his family had fled from Paris, and were seeking—no one knew how—to escape from France. The great steam fleet, which was to serve his purpose as an invader, could not afford him one little vessel in his flight; and the monarch was about to seek refuge in a country whose liberties the alarmists had thought he was about to destroy. Verily, if an additional fivepence in the pound had overcome panic, the fall of the Man of July had deprived the alarmists of excuse. The convulsion which upset the throne of Louis Philippe was felt in every corner of Europe. The Emperor of Austria was forced to abdicate; Lombardy was temporarily lost to the Austrian Empire; the throne of Prussia was shaken by the Revolution ; and even the Pope was forced to quit Rome; while Chartists in England, and Repealers in Ireland grasped at the opportunity which was suddenly presented to them. Thus internal, and not external, dangers became the theme for discussion ; and, instead of organising a militia to meet the French, the Government was soon enrolling special constables to meet the Chartists. Yet the Ministry was undoubtedly weakened by the failure which it had experienced. Lord John's evident
inability to shake off his long and depressing influenza confirmed the doubts, which sedate bystanders were forming, of the permanence of the Government; and the determination of Ministers to make no further concessions increased these feelings. Writing on the last Sunday in February, Lord Lansdowne said—
I assume that you will in no case, as things now stand, consent to any reduction of estimates, but will instantly resign if any such should be carried.
And, on the following Friday, Lord John successfully resisted
* Lord and Lady John had usually a book on hand which they read together. For instance, in the recess of 1847 they read Sir J. Mackintosh's Astory of the A'evolution, Prescott's Conguest of Peru, The Zife of Zord AErskine, and some of the writings of an old friend, Dugald Stewart, and of a new friend, Professor Hinds, whom Lord John was already thinking of for the bishopric to which he soon afterwards promoted him.
wrote that he was ‘going on delightfully.” On the Friday he ventured to return to London to take part in a possible division on a motion of Mr. Hume's on the income tax. But the debate was adjourned till the following Monday, and Lord John again rejoined his wife and children at St. Leonards. On the Monday he returned for one more night to London, to speak and vote on Mr. Hume's motion, and gave proof to his friends of his improving health by making one of the best speeches he ever delivered. Much of this speech was essentially one for debate, and possesses only a temporary interest. It was an amusing and effective description of the motley minority which he assumed would follow Mr. Hume into the lobby. But part of the speech touched a much higher chord.
I hope we are about to see the nations of Europe . . . bind themselves in more friendly terms with one another. Still . . . no man can venture to say what the time may bring forth ; and for one, I will not consent to disarm England . . . in the present state of Europe . . . It is but the part of wise and prudent men, while everything is uncertain, not to affect security; and, while there is darkness around, not to pretend that we are walking in broad daylight. For these reasons, I can neither agree to the proposition of the noble Lord opposite [Lord G. Bentinck], and consent to take the income tax for one year in order to resort to a permanent tax upon corn and raw cotton ; nor agree to the proposition of the hon, member for Montrose [Mr. Hume), and consent to take the income tax for one year in order to prepare the way for a great reduction in the present amount of our naval and military force . . . If it be the choice of England to descend lower in the scale of nations . . . then it is for this country to say so . . . Only let me not be the instrument to carry into effect that which I should think the degradation of the country, the fall of her pride, and the loss of her glory.
In his published diary Mr. Greville said of this speech—
Lord John Russell had a great success the other night, and his speech got many votes. It was one of the best he ever made, and in all respects judicious and becoming his position,
In a private note to the Duke of Bedford he said—
Last night was a great night for John and the Government. He spoke remarkably well, and he gave the concern an immense lift, He seems to have done it in his best style, and to have carried the House with him—exhibiting vigour both physical and political. The division was capital. I really think he has raised the Government stock prodigiously; and, if they are now dexterous and tolerably lucky, and John's health does not give way, they will do.
Thus, once more, Lord John had risen to the occasion, and retrieved by a considerable effort the fortunes of his Administration. During the next few months, the fall of thrones and the crash of armies on the Continent diverted attention from the causes which had produced panic in January. The select committees appointed in February denounced expenditure; the House of Commons loudly called for economy; and the Administration, which had begun the year by proposing increased armaments, at the end of the session found it necessary to retrace its steps. The expenditure on the navy and ordnance was reduced, and the reorganisation of the militia was abandoned. But neither public nor Parliament was satisfied with this reduction ; and at the end of August, Lord John found it necessary to write
to Lord Auckland— August 26, 1848. My dear Auckland,-Now that Parliament is nearly ended, I wish to impress seriously on you the disposition of the House of Commons in respect to the estimates. I think it absolutely necessary to propose a reduction of three at least, and probably five, thousand men in the number of seamen and marines for next year. The first step to be taken, however, is to reduce the number of men within the vote for the present year. This I trust you are doing as fast as circumstances will permit. The next thing is to consider in what way the prospective reductions can be effected with the least injury to the efficacy of the service. The committee say that, when an increase is required on a particular station from temporary necessity, the increase is made permanent without necessity. A fleet in the Mediterranean is useful, almost essential, to guard Malta, Corfu, and Gibraltar ; protect our interests in Italy, Turkey, and Greece ; and save us from the new colony of Algiers. But a fleet or squadron of large ships in the Channel is only useful occasionally. There are two sources, i.e. foreign stations—such as the Pacific and