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In the meanwhile, events in Southern Italy were leading to a fresh crisis and fresh embarrassment.
Opinion in the Cabinet had from the first been divided on the policy to be pursued towards Naples and Sicily. Lord Minto, on the one hand, had a strong desire to defend the Sicilians against the attack of their sovereign, and, in fact, told Lord John in August that he could not remain in the Cabinet if we did not interfere. The Grey party, on the contrary, disliked the notion of any British intervention. A compromise was adopted in November, and a well-intentioned though useless attempt was made to mediate between the two parties. On its failure war was resumed, and an agent of the Provisional Government of Sicily came to England for the purpose of procuring arms for the insurgents. The contractor to whom the agent applied said that he had recently supplied arms to the Ordnance Office, and had none others ready; but that, if the Ordnance Office would permit these arms to be transferred to the insurgents, he would undertake to replace them in due course with others. The Ordnance Office referred the application to Lord Palmerston, who, without consulting his colleagues, at once gave the requisite permission. This curious proceeding was communicated by the contractor to the editor of the Times, who made it the ground of a severe attack on the Administration; and Lord John's attention was thus drawn to the ‘provoking business.”
DownING STREET : January 20, 1849. MY DEAR PALMERSTON, -I have been revolving in my mind what course it may be best to take with regard to the guns delivered out of the Queen's stores, with a view to enable the contractor to furnish the materials of war required by the Sicilians. I think, considering that our position was and is one of neutrality ... we ought as a strong power to do voluntarily that which we should enforce upon a weaker State; we are bound to express to the Neapolitan Government our regret as to what has occurred, and to assure them that we shall be careful in future that no act of the Government shall favour one of the contending parties more than the other. I would like to know your view of this course, and at all events I propose to bring it before the Cabinet on Tuesday. As I feat you are not well enough to go out, we can, if you like it, have the Cabinet at your house.—I remain, yours faithfully,
- J. RUSSELL.
It is due to Lord Palmerston to insert his answer:—
C. G. : January 22, 1849.
MY DEAR JOHN RUSSELL-These are the papers on which in September last I stated to the Ordnance that there would be no objection to their letting the contractor have back the iron guns that he wanted for the Sicilians. Perhaps it would have been better if I had said no instead of yes; but there is a wide difference between what was then done and supplying the Sicilians with our own stores at our own expense.
With regard to the course to be pursued about the matter of the iron guns, I am not aware that the Neapolitan Government has ever made any complaint on the subject; and it seems to me that it would be odd for us to be making at the end of January an apology to the King of Naples for a thing that happened last September and of which he has never complained, and which moreover was not nearly so unfriendly an act as the encouraging the Silicians to choose another king; the saluting of their independent flag; and the forcible stopping of the military operations in Sicily. If we are to begin to confess our sins to the King of Naples we ought at least to make a clean breast of it. He would no doubt be as much delighted as surprised at our penitence, but I am afraid it would not tend to bring to a speedy and satisfactory issue the negotiations now carrying on at Naples.
I should be against making any communication on this matter to the Neapolitan Government; and in answer to questions in Parliament I should say that one step in a long course of proceedings cannot be fairly judged of unconnected with the whole, and that we will lay all the papers before Parliament the moment we can do so without prejudice to the negotiations now going on, and which by my brother's despatches seem to be brought within a range of difference which might easily admit of reconcilement. —Yours sincerely, PALMERSTON.
Lord John of course communicated the whole circumstances to the Queen, suggesting the possibility of removing Lord Palmerston to Ireland. He probably imagined that Lord, Palmerston would refuse to sign the apology to Naples, and that his continuance at the Foreign Office would be thus impracticable. But, when the Cabinet met on the following morning, Lord Palmerston gave way, and consented to sign a public despatch to his brother, Mr. Temple, saying that ‘the authority [to supply the arms] was given inadvertently, and that “her Majesty's Government regret what occurred.’ With Lord Palmerston's submission the crisis ended, and the project of removing him to Dublin was abandoned. But the solution of the difficulty was not accepted by all parties. Lady John wrote on her husband's return from Windsor—
24 [January].—Queen disappointed with the result of the Cabinet. Discontented letter from Lord Grey to John.
Both the Queen and Lord Grey probably concluded that the same difficulty, which had so constantly occurred, was certain to recur, and if such were their anticipations they were not unfounded. During the next few weeks the Piedmontese unwisely renewed the death struggle with Austria; and the Queen was alarmed at observing that Lord Palmerston was laying upon Austria the responsibility which she thought ought to have been thrown on Piedmont. Shortly afterwards the French, in consequence of Austrian success, formally occupied Roman territory; and the Queen had perhaps a not ungrounded apprehension that her Foreign Minister was anxious to interfere in the internal affairs of Rome; while throughout the summer Lord Palmerston was constantly addressing sharp and bitter reproaches to Austria; and the tension between Lord Ponsonby, the British Ambassador at Vienna, and the Foreign Secretary became so sharp that it is difficult to understand how the two men managed to maintain their relative positions."
1 The correspondence on this subject was sealed up by Lord John with his own seal, and was apparently unopened until it was opened by me. Lord Ponsonby went so far as to tell Lord John that “he had received from Palmerston letters which are not to be submitted to by any man.' Lord John told Lord Ponsonby, ‘I do not by any means identify myself with these [Lord Palmerston's] letters. But they were private letters, written in haste, written on the impulse given by reports unfriendly to you, and excited partly by the
Throughout 1849, therefore, the tension which had already been felt at the Foreign Office was not lessened; and in the summer of that year the Queen found it necessary to draw attention to the constitutional rule that the control of foreign policy rests with the Prime Minister, and to direct that all despatches submitted for her approval should pass through the hands of Lord John Russell." It is almost inconceivable how a man of Lord Palmerston's temperament submitted to this rule. As he himself said, writing to Lord John on June 18, ‘This will reduce my flint-gun to a match-lock. But at the same time he added, “If you and the Queen wish it I can alter the present arrangements and order all drafts to go first to you, and then to the Queen after you have returned them.’
There is no doubt, therefore, that Lord Palmerston assented to the rule which the Queen laid down, and waived the right, which he possessed as Secretary of State, of taking the Queen's pleasure directly on the affairs of his own department;” and there is no reason for supposing that, for the next four months at any rate, he did not loyally adhere to the arrangement which had thus been forced on him.
But the recess had hardly commenced when a fresh crisis occurred. The Hungarian rebellion was suppressed by the joint arms of Russia and Austria. Some of the Hungarian leaders fled to Turkey, and the two Emperors applied to the Porte for the extradition of the fugitives. Lord Palmerston drafted a despatch in which Sir Stratford Canning, the Ambassador at the Porte, was directed to urge the Sultan ‘not to give these people up, and if their surrender were insisted on, to say that the refusal was in consequence of our remonstrance.’ Prince Albert stated to Lord Grey, who was in attendance at Balmoral, his strong objections to this language; Lord Grey supported them in a letter to Lord John; and the despatch was ultimately modified, the Porte being simply advised to resist the demand. The Porte's adoption of this advice led to an ultimatum on the part of Russia; and Lord Palmerston at once wrote:— BRocKET, September 28, 1849.
very Austrian view you have taken of the politics of Europe. I come to the conclusion that your sentiments have been very natural in your position; but, being of the character of flint, they have struck fire on the steel to which they were opposed,’ &c. &c.
1 Life of Prince Consort, ii. 302.
* It will be new to most persons, but there is high authority for saying that, during the course of Sir R. Peel's Administration, the Queen, in a most courteous letter, expressed to Lord Aberdeen her wish that the rule that all drafts not mere matters of course should be sent to her before the despatches had left the office, should be observed ; and that Lord Aberdeen undertook that this should be done in all cases in which the exigencies of the situation did not require another course. It was one of the misfortunes of Lord Palmerston's tenure of the Foreign Office, that his conduct impelled, or perhaps forced, the sovereign to make the same demand without conceding the same reservation.
VOL. II. D
MY DEAR JOHN RUSSELL,— . . . It seems to me that, unless we mean to abandon all idea of maintaining Turkey, and are prepared to let her fall at once into the grasp of Russia, we ought to invite France to join with us in supporting the Sultan in the honourable decision which he has taken ; and I can have no doubt that if England and France take a firm attitude in this matter Austria and Russia will acquiesce and abstain from any violence, and in that case a great step will have been taken towards placing Turkey in that position of political independence which it is so much the interest of Western Europe, and especially of England, that she should occupy. If France enters into our views, the course which I should recommend would be that strong representations should be made by the two Governments, at Petersburg and at Vienna, with a view to urge upon the consideration of Russia and Austria the injustice of endeavouring tô force the Sultan to comply with a demand which as an independent sovereign he has a perfect right to decline to accede to ; and to guard against accidents and to give weight to our representations I would propose that the English and French squadrons in the Mediterranean should be ordered up to the Dardanelles with instructions to go up to Constantinople if they should be invited so to do by the Sultan—either to assistin defending Constantinople from actual or threatened attack, or for the purpose of giving him that moral support which their presence in the Bosphorus would afford.
It might also be expedient that our admirals should offer to rid the Turkish Government of the cause of dispute, by bringing away the Hungarian and Polish refugees.—Yours sincerely,