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After what passed yesterday in the Cabinet on the subject of the rating clause in the Irish Poor Law Bill, I think it right, as I ought to conceal nothing from you, and least of all to take you by surprise, [to state] that, having once defended and voted for it as it stood, opposed to a decisive majority of the House, and supported chiefly by the reluctant votes of friends who saw the objections to it as strongly as I did, I should feel it next to impossible to propose to the House of Lords to reconsider their decision on the subject.
Lord Lansdowne's letter practically forced Lord John to determine whether he would ask the Commons to waive their privileges or submit to the break-up of his Administration. He chose what probably seemed to him at the time the lesser evil. A precedent was fortunately found to justify his decision. In 1838 and in 1847 the Commons had admitted amendments of the Lords on this very subject of 'the Irish Poor Law. Lord John was able to induce the House to follow these precedents, and thus secure the passage of the Bill.
The more extreme members of the Whig party, however, neither approved this concession nor relished the Irish policy of the Whig Administration. Mr. Roebuck, making himself their exponent, complained that the Ministry had adopted neither order nor system in the relief of distress; and that, under a well-considered scheme, the money which had been voted by Parliament might at least have been made available for purposes of improvement. In reply, Lord John availed himself of the opportunity thus afforded to him to trace the successive difficulties which the Government had been compelled to encounter, and to justify the policy of the three preceding years. Even now his speech furnishes the best concise account of the struggle which the Administration maintained, and of the victory which it ultimately gained over famine. At the time one good critic was delighted with it. Lord Clarendon wrote on May 15–
I am sorry that citizen Roebuck should have inflicted on you an Irish debate; but it was really worth while, as it drew from you a speech the most feeling, eloquent, judicious, and above all true, that I ever had the satisfaction of reading.
VOL. II. F.
It is not necessary to trace further the Parliamentary treatment of Ireland during the session of 1849. But, before Parliament separated, an event occurred in Ulster which in its ultimate consequences threw some light on Lord John's character. The Orangemen of Down decided on paying a visit to their Grand Master Lord Roden on the anniversary of the battle of the Boyne. On their homeward march they were attacked by a band of Ribandmen at a place called Dolly's Brae; and in the battle which ensued four Ribandmen were killed and forty others were wounded. Lord Clarendon ‘directed a lawyer of experience to inquire into the causes of the affray; and, on his report, instituted proceedings against several of the Orangemen concerned in it. The magistrates, however, refused to take the information:’" and Lord Roden, though directly implicated, sanctioned their decision by his presence on the bench. No one could defend Lord Roden's conduct. Lord Clarendon thought that he had no alternative but to strike his name out of the commission of the peace; Lord John, to whom he referred the question, considered that a milder measure would have been preferable, but left the decision with the Viceroy and promised to defend him in any event. Lord Clarendon replied—
Your letter of the 27th embarrassed and gratified me very much. You differ from me in opinion, and state most forcibly the grounds of that difference; but, at the same time, you leave the decision to me, and assure me of your support in whatever course I adopt. That is what I call acting most honourably; and such a master makes, or ought to make, good servants.
The battle of Dolly's Brae was specially unfortunate, because when it occurred Irishmen were looking forward to a visit from the Queen. Her visit, paid in August, was not only the first occasion on which she had been to Ireland; it was the first occasion for twenty-eight years on which any British sovereign had set foot in that country. It was, moreover,
* I am again using language which I have used before-History of England, iv. 364.
accepted as a proof that sovereign and Ministry hoped that the famine which had desolated Ireland was disappearing, and that discontent was also passing away. The expectations which were everywhere formed were not disappointed. Sir George Grey, the Minister in attendance upon the Queen, Wrote—
MY DEAR LORD JOHN,-The newspapers will have given you a full account of our proceedings, but I send you a line, as it will gratify you to know that from all quarters I hear but one expression of satisfaction and delight at the Queen's visit, and of hope of lasting benefit from it. She has done everything admirably, and has elicited universal praise. The levée yesterday was an immense one, and lasted nearly five hours; but the Queen did not appear fatigued, and was in high spirits afterwards at dinner and a large evening party. She was enthusiastically cheered by crowds of people all the way going and coming back. The only thing I felt might be objected to on her first entry into Dublin was the great number of troops escorting her, but it added to the show, which was thought a great deal of I hear, however, that the best possible effect has been produced by her driving the next day twice into Dublin without a single soldier, and they take it as a proof which has gratified the people extremely that she had full confidence in them.
The review and drawing-room to-day will give plenty of occu
pation. . . . Clarendon has done his part very handsomely, and all his arrangements have been as good as possible. – Yours truly, G. GREY.
The success which attended the Queen's visit, and the gradual improvement which was happily visible in the material condition of the Irish people, suggested fresh legislation for Ireland. Up to that time the Government had almost solely devoted itself to the remedies which famine had necessitated and the precautions which it had involved. The time had now come, Lord John thought, for other measures; and he decided in the session of 1850 on introducing three Bills— one to increase the time allowed to Ireland for repaying the loans which England had advanced, and thus reduce the
pressure on the Irish people; another to extend the Irish franchise, in accordance with the views which he had advocated years before as a member of the Melbourne Administration; the third to remove a symbol of separation by the abolition of the Viceroyalty and the appointment of a fourth Secretary of State for Ireland. The first of these measures was passed. The second—after a compromise had been arrived at on the amount of the franchise—also became law. The third requires a little longer notice, It had been Lord John's constant wish for many years to abolish an office which he regarded as an anachronism; and it has already been shown that, on Lord Bessborough's death, he had opened his mind on the subject to Lord Lansdowne. Lord Clarendon went to Ireland with the knowledge of Lord John's intention, and concurring in his opinion. During his stay there he modified, to some extent, his original judgment, but he acknowledged that the Lord Lieutenancy could not be permanently retained, and that its abolition was only a question of time. He cordially agreed with the proposal which Lord John himself brought forward on May 17 for substituting a fourth Secretary of State for the Lord Lieutenant.
MY DEAR LORD JOHN,—Your speech was quite excellent. There was nothing which I, here on the spot, and knowing the requirements of the public, could have wished to be different; and the few people whom I have yet seen agree that it was in all respects judicious and satisfactory. . . . This division, I hope, shows that you will have no serious opposition to apprehend. It is an enviable power to make such a speech at a moment when graver matters must have been weighing upon your mind. . . . .
But, though the excellence of Lord John's own arguments and the inherent strength of his case promised a successful issue for his proposal, it soon became evident that its passage was impracticable. In the lobbies Ministers found themselves supported by preponderating majorities; in the House they were exposed to interminable discussion. Irish members, reflecting the views of Dublin tradesmen, talked against time; English members of the highest authority doubted the expediency of creating a fourth Secretary of State." The debates on Lord Palmerston's foreign policy, and the apprehensions which they created of a Ministerial crisis, were unfavourable
1 In later years Lord John himself came round to this conclusion.
WOBURN ABBEY, August 25, 1864.
MY DEAR PALMERSTON,-With regard to the important question you have put to me, I have no doubt at all as to the abstract expediency of abolishing the office of Lord Lieutenant. I consider the office as not merely useless but mischievous, and with this view I introduced a Bill some time ago into the House of Commons to abolish it—a Bill which was carried on its second reading by a large majority. But, with regard to the manner of supplying the vacancy, I have somewhat changed my opinion. I rather think the measure would work better, and certainly would be more complete, if the Home Secretary were to take Ireland, as well as Scotland, under his care, than if a separate Secretary of State for Ireland were created. This plan would also agree better with Lord Somers' wise notions about the Scotch Union of which you will find an account in the Hardwicke papers. But in that case the Home Secretary must have ample assistance. Perhaps a Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Ireland, and certainly an Under-Secretary (Larcom) resident in Ireland, would be required. The Attorney-General for Ireland should take charge of the Bills on Irish business, and have somewhat of the functions and authority of the Lord Advocate of Scotland. The Lord Chancellor of Ireland should be confined, except as regards the choice and dismissal of magistrates, to his judicial functions. The Cabinet has often met—e.g., on the Chinese and Afghan wars—in the beginning of October, to consider measures of importance. If it were then decided to abolish the office, I think the Home Secretary should be appointed Lord Lieutenant or Lord Deputy pro tem., till Parliament has had time to consider and digest the new system. There are so many Acts of Parliament that give authority to the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Deputy, or Lords Justices only, that it is very desirable to have an authority clothed with one of these titles. The Lords Justices are too weak to remain long charged with executive powers, unless under the direction of a Secretary of State or actual Lord Lieutenant. These are my ideas on the subject. I have but one doubt, and that is as to the physical strength of George Grey. I trust, however, that with ample assistance he would be equal to the task.—I remain, &c., RUSSELL.
Writing on the 28th of August, Lord Palmerston expressed his entire concurrence with these views, though he thought the moment inopportune fo making the change. -