« EdellinenJatka »
circumstance due to any lack of vigour on his part. At the end of November he went down to Devonshire, and on December 2 addressed a great meeting of his constituents at Totness. His speech was generally accepted as an excellent exposition of the views of the Whigs at the time: it was thought so successful that it was reprinted from the local papers and placarded throughout the county. It was Lord john’s object to show that the position which the Conservatives were assuming as Reformers could not be reconciled with their past conduct. To do so he cast'a retrospective glance at the policy of parties since 1828. ‘He showed how his own action had compelled the Wellington Administration to consent to the repeal of the Test Acts.
But, gentlemen, I think you will agree with me that it was not the Duke of Wellington that repealed the Corporation and Test Acts. To mistake him for the person who repealed them was as if one were to mistake the governor who surrenders a town by capitulation for the general who takes it. In the next year the Duke of Wellington proposed another large measure in favour of religious liberty. . . . Although entirely approving his concession, I shall always lament that that concession had not been made sooner to justice rather than later to fear.
Lord John went on to show how the Duke had opposed the little measure of Reform he had himself introduced in 1830; and how his Grace had actually proposed himself to introduce a larger measure of Reform as the price of office in 1832. He showed how the Lords, under his guidance, had either amended or rejected many of the measures which the Ministry had been anxious to carry; and that any professions of Reform which the Tories might now make were wrung from them by the necessities of their position, and were not due to the sincerity of their convictions. The newspapers, indeed, reported that the Duke had seen a great bank director and a member for the City, and assured them that he was favourable to Reform. ‘ '
I confess the interview puts me in mind of thatscene in ‘Richard III.’ when Richard, anxious to put the crown on his own head, is discovered standing between two clergymen, and when the Duke of Buckingham . . . pointing him out to the Lord Mayor, in the pious attitude in which he stands, exclaims— ‘ There stands his Grace between two clergymen.’ Now it would not answer the purpose for any great encouragement of Reform if we were to see the Duke of Wellington so placed. But for the present purpose two bank directors will answer that end. His Grace is favourable to Reform : he must be favourable to Reform. ‘ There stands his Grace between two bank directors,’
The speech made a great impression. Lord Holland wrote to him, ‘Your admirable speech will do infinite good.’ Lord John’s father said: ‘ I have read your speech at Totness with much pleasure; it is a straightforward, manly speech, and your hit at his Grace between two bank directors was very. happy.’ And Mr. Greville, who calls it in his diary :1 ‘very masterly performance,’ wrote to Lord Tavistock, ‘ John’s speech at Totness appears to me to have been one of the cleverest and most appropriate I ever read. . . . Nothing could be more able than John’s argument, or on the whole more forcible.’
The election resulted in Lord John’s unopposed return, but it could not be described as a Whig victory. Some leading Tories in the county made a private suggestion that a contest might be avoided by each party returning one member for the division. One of Lord John’s leading supporters strongly recommended that this compromise should be accepted, and that the Whigs should thus avoid a contest, which would in any case be serious, and might possibly prove disastrous. This arrangement was consequently concluded. Mr. Bulteel, Lord Grey’s son-in-law, retired, and L0rd John was returned with a Tory colleague, the late Sir John Buller.1 The compromise enabled Lord John to return from Devonshire a little earlier than would otherwise have been possible. On January 21 he was at Bowood, ‘ highly pleased with the result of the election and with all that he had seen ’ in Devonshire.
Lord John’s presence, however, was necessary, not at
! Afterwards first Lord Chnrston.
Bowoodlbut in London. Up to that time he had held an important but subordinate position in the Cabinet. Thereafter he was to be entrusted with the lead of the Whig party. The King, indeed, had declared that, in such a capacity, he would ‘cut a wretched figure.’ The history of the next seventeen years was to supply the answer to the King’s prediction.
Yet the King was not the only person who questioned the expediency of the arrangement. Lord John’s father wrote—
MY DEAR JOHN,-—From some passages in a letter, which you read to me yesterday, I conclude that your decision is made to take what is called the lead of the Opposition in the House of Commons. I most sincerely regret it, for I am quite convinced that neither your health nor strength of constitution is equal to this irksome a'id laborious task. You will have to conduct and keep in order a noisy and turbulent pack of hounds, which I think you will find it quite impossible to restrain. Reflect, that these are of all descriptions of parties, and shades of parties—Whigs, Moderates, Ultra-Whigs, Radicals, Ultra-Radicals, &c., &c., &c. How are all these to be minaged? If you do (rashly as I think) undertake this difficult task, I trust they will at least give you a good second huntsman as whipper-in, to do all the dirty work, and undertake the laborious parts of the ofi‘ice. As ydur decision is now made, I imagine, all I can do is to enter my solemn protest against it. . . . —-Ever your affectionate father, 8
The anticipations of his father were in one sense fulfilled. Writing in his old age, Lord John said—
I never had greater difficulty than in leading the party which overthrew the Government of Sir Robert Peel.1
And the difficulty which was thus experienced was inherent in the position. For, while Sir Robert Peel could not command a majority of the House of Commons, Lord John could not bring a majority into line against him without combining moderate Liberals, Radicals, and Irish in one common movement.
' If, moreover, it were no easy task to combine the Opposition, it was a difficult matter to select the ground on which they
1 Memorandum dictated to Lady Russell. Cf. Kaolin/ion: and Suggestions, 9- 134'
could most easily combine. It seemed to Lord John, ‘as commander-in-chief of an army so variously composed, that they could not be too 500n brought into action.’ The earliest issue on which a battle can be fought in a new Parliament is the choice of a Speaker. Sir C. Manners Sutton had occupied the Chair of the House of Commons from 1817 to 1834. He 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 Chair] 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 18 35 at a meeting at Brocket, where Lord Melbourne invited Lord John on his way from Devbnshire 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.1
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 pre-liminary 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
1 Hanrard, xxvi. 43. VOL I. P