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THE FALL OF LORD ABERDEEN.
The sympathetic cheers which sustained Lord John on the withdrawal of the Reform Bill of 1854 only partially allayed the mortification which he felt at the loss of the measure. He was disappointed to find that both his colleagues and his party were ready to sacrifice a project, which he thought just and necessary, for the purpose of concentrating attention on a war which he disliked. Nor was there anything either in the causes of the war or in the conduct of the negotiations which reconciled him to the sacrifice. He had thought, throughout 1853, that war might have been avoided if the Cabinet had resolved on a more definite policy or spoken with a firmer voice. He thought, throughout 1854, that the best chances of a speedy peace consisted in more vigorous measures than those which his colleagues undertook. He wished the war to be short and sharp ; and the summer wore away in inaction.1
These circumstances oppressed Lord John with grave public anxiety. It so happened that, throughout 1854, he was also worn with private trouble which came very near to him. Lady Russell wrote years afterwards
When I look back to 1854 I wonder that his health and strength did not fail under the weight of public cares and the acute trials in four home.
Domestic trouble always produced a marked effect on Lord John's public course ; and those, who think that in 1854 he
1 Punch's cartoon of Lord Aberdeen and Lord John as two washerwomen, in which Lord John (Johanna) asks his colleague · When's the fighting goin' to begin, George-ena ?' not incorrectly expresses Lord John's desire. He wished the fighting to begin in order that it might quickly end.
was occasionally betrayed into an irritation which was unusual with him, should recollect that throughout the year he was racked with public and private anxiety.
It was the misfortune of the Aberdeen Cabinet th: the two men who from their position and character exerted the chief influence, and who were bent on the same end, were intent on attaining it by contrary routes. Lord Aberdeen and Lord John both desired peace; and, if either of them had held his own course throughout, peace might probably have been secured. If Lord Aberdeen's will had prevailed, the Sultan would have been forced to make terms with his opponent, or would have been left to fight his battle alone. In that case the campaign of 1877 might possibly have been fought out in 1854.
If, on the contrary, Lord John's advice had been strictly followed, Russia would from the first have been told the consequences of her action. She would in that case have in all probability discovered some means for withdrawing her claims. But, while Lord John was strong enough to shape the policy of the Cabinet, he was never able to regulate its words. He could secure the presence of the fleet in the Bosphorus or the Euxine, but he could not compel Lord Aberdeen to say to Russia, “Thus far shalt thou go and no farther.' And so it happened that while the Czar was irritated by the action, he was encouraged by the language, of the Cabinet; for the acts were the acts of Lord John, and the voice was the voice of Lord Aberdeen.
As war became visibly nearer, the Prime Minister reproached himself for not having struggled more stoutly for his own policy. Lord John frankly replied that if peace were the sole object the fleet should never have left Malta. Lord Aberdeen thought differently. He replied
Argyll HOUSE: March 3, 1854. I have not the least wish to continue a correspondence upon a subject which in my view of the case could only lead to my own condemnation : but I cannot help expressing my dissent from your opinion that war could only have been prevented by detaining the fleet at Malta. On the co: trary, I believe that there were, in the
course of the negotiations, two or three occasions when, if I had been supported, peace might have been honourably and advantageously secured. I will especially refer to the opportunity afforded by the transactions which took place at the meeting of the two Emperors at Olmütz. But I repeat that the want of support, although it may palliate, cannot altogether justify to my own conscience the course which I pursued. However, there is no use in further discussions upon that which is past; we must now look to the future,
Most people acquainted with history will differ from the conclusion which Lord Aberdeen thus expressed. War became inevitable from the moment when the Vienna Note was modified by Lord Stratford and the British Cabinet adopted its envoy's modifications. It so happened, however, that even on February 22, 1854, a chance was presented, not, perhaps, of preserving peace, but of strengthening the alliance against Russia. The Austrian Minister told the French Ambassador at Vienna that, if the Western powers would fix a delay for the evacuation of the Principalities the expiration of which should be the signal for hostilities, Austria would support the summons. The British Cabinet, informed by telegraph of this conversation, despatched a message to Vienna to ascertain whether, if war consequently arose, Austria would side with the allies. But, though the Cabinet thought it prudent to ask the question, for some reason Ministers did not think it necessary to await the answer. They actually despatched their ultimatum to St. Petersburg on the day preceding that on which the Austrian reply to their inquiry was received.
There is nothing in the Russell papers which explains the reasons that induced the Cabinet to take this course. Yet it is at least plain that Lord John thoroughly realised the importance of securing Austria as an active ally. In a paper, which he drew up for the Cabinet early in March, he declared that every one seemed to wish that the war should be short and sharp;' and he went on to ask
Will it not be advisable to direct Lord Westmorland and
Bourqueney 1 to ask Austria positively what she will do, and what would induce her to join us in the war?
Is it not advisable to go a long way to obtain the aid of Austria ? Will not her aid make the difference of a long or a short war ?
The views of two members of the Cabinet on this memo. randum are preserved. Lord Lansdowne thoroughly agreed with Lord John's proposal for ascertaining the intentions of Austria ; Lord Palmerston, on the contrary, declared that his
beau-ideal of the results of the war' were changes so vast as virtually to involve the reconstruction of the maps of Europe and of Asia. Well might Lord Aberdeen plaintively observe, “We have the plan sketched out for a thirty years' war.'
Three days after Lord Aberdeen thus complained of Lord Palmerston's policy, the Queen communicated to both Houses of Parliament the failure of the negotiations and the declaration of war; and on the following Friday, the last day of March, both Houses agreed on addresses to the Crown assuring it of their support. These addresses were drafted by Lord John, though the language of the concluding paragraph was slightly modified at Lord Aberdeen's suggestion. In moving the address in the Commons, Lord John again recapitulated the progress of the negotiations, and declared that he should not consider any terms of peace honourable or just which did not provide for the security of the Turkish Empire. Mr. Layard, who rose when he sat down, expressed his pleasure at this language.
I would say that on the three occasions on which he has addressed the House on this most momentous question he has made speeches worthy of the subject, worthy of his own great reputation, and worthy of a Minister who ought at such a moment to have the affairs of the country under his direction.
But he went on to draw 'a damaging contrast’ between the sentiments ‘so nobly expressed with the language which Lord Aberdeen had used on other occasions, and which, at that very moment, he was probably using in another place. He expressed, in short, unbounded confidence in Lord John, and
1 The representatives of Britain and France at Vienna.
no confidence whatever in his colleagues. In using such language Mr. Layard only gave expression to the prevalent feeling And his judgment was so far correct that wide differences of opinion existed in the Cabinet on the proper conduct of the war. Difference was first visible on the constitution of the department under which the war would be conducted.
The nominal control of the army rested with the Secretary of State for War. But in 1854 the Secretary of State for War was also Secretary for the Colonies. Much of his time was occupied with administrative work which had no connection with the campaign; while the control of the finances of the army was under a Secretary at War who received his orders, not from the Secretary of State, but from the Commander-inChief. Add to this that the ordnance was under a Board, the commissariat under the Treasury, the Militia under the Home Office, and that the Secretary of State for War exercised no direct authority over any of these departments.
More than twenty years before, during Lord Grey's administration, Lord John had served on a commission to devise some more rational scheme of military administration; and he had desired to constitute a Board, under the Secretary at War, responsible for all the military departments. But the plan aroused much antagonism. The commissioners were not unanimous in its favour; the Prime Minister disliked it; and nothing was done. The scheme, moreover, had one imperfection. The rapidity and concentration required are with difficulty obtained under a Board.' Efficiency is obtained by the concentration of responsibility, and not by its diffusion.
Writing on April 24, 1854, Lord John reverted to the scheme which he had 'thus proposed more than twenty years before, and said
I will assume, as a groundwork for the proposal I have to make, that the working of the present system is defective ; that' more rapidity and unity are required; that evils ought to be more speedily corrected, and control over the military depart