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Lord Aberdeen replied—
MY DEAR LORD JOHN,—I laid your resignation before the Queen to-day, who received it with expressions of much concern. I found, however, that her Majesty was already in possession of your intentions by a letter from yourself.
I thank you for the kind expressions contained in your note which accompanied your letter of resignation. I can only say that, whether in office or out of office, I trust that nothing can alter the warm regard with which I am ever truly yours,
In a narrative such as this, in which facts have been uniformly allowed to speak for themselves, it is not necessary to add much to these letters. It is, however, no secret that Lord John's colleagues thought his resignation ill-timed and illjudged; and it would no doubt have been better if Lord John had announced his intention to retire in the Cabinet. His wife, writing to her father, said exactly the same thing:—
I think it would have been much better if he had told the assembled Cabinet his intention. I begged him, as far as I durst, to tell at least some of his colleagues before he wrote to Lord Aberdeen.
But she added the reason which prevented his doing so:—
He felt it might induce him to forego his purpose against his conscience. You, who know him well, understand this, and will also understand what it has cost him to separate from those with whom he has acted so long.
Lord Wriothesley Russell, writing of the abuse which was showered on his brother, said with much truth—
It makes one sad, as well as indignant, to hear the world speaking as if straightforward honesty were a thing incredible, impossible. A man, and above all a man to whom truth is no new thing, says simply that he cannot assert what he knows to be false, and the whole world says, “What can he mean by it? Treachery, trickery, cowardice, ambition, what is it ’’
And it is difficult to see how Lord John, holding his opinions, could have remained in office. Deeply dissatisfied with the conduct of the war; impressed with the conviction that his colleagues were wrong in not grappling with the whole subject of military administration; and that sufficient energy and foresight had not been shown either in Downing Street or in the Crimea, it was hardly possible for him to answer Mr. Roebuck. But he was also firm in the belief that inquiry is the peculiar function of the House of Commons; and that, where cause for inquiry existed, it cannot properly be refused. He himself wrote in a retrospective memorandum—
As the moment approached, I felt more and more strongly the reasons in favour of inquiry. Let me refer to some of those realSOnS.
Inquiry is the proper duty and function of the House of Commons. When the British arms have suffered a reverse, this duty has always been performed. Thus when Minorca was lost in 1757 Mr. Fox consented to an inquiry. Thus when General Burgoyne capitulated in 1777 the House of Commons inquired into the causes of the disaster. Thus when the Walcheren expedition failed in attaining the chief objects of the enterprise the House of Commons inquired. Inquiry is, indeed, at the root of the powers of the House of Commons. Upon the result of the inquiry must depend the due exercise of these powers. If from vicious organisation the public affairs are ill administered, the remedy is better organisation. If from delay and confusion in the execution of orders injury has arisen, the subordinate officers should be removed. If from negligence, incompetency, or corruption, the Ministers are themselves to blame for the failure which has been incurred, those Ministers may, according to the nature and the degree of their fault, be censured, or removed, or punished.
Strong as these reasons were, it would have been difficult for Lord Aberdeen to have conceded the inquiry which Mr. Roebuck was proposing. Mr. Roebuck's attitude was one of hostility, and hostile motions must be met, and not evaded. Lord Aberdeen, moreover, had no desire to stave off a difficulty which was certain, sooner or later, to arise. Wearied with the constant differences in his own Cabinet," and the
I have not thought it necessary to refer to other causes of difference which distracted the Cabinet. One especially, relating to the removal of a high official by Mr. Gladstone, was the subject of a prolonged and warm correspondence,
frequent offers of Lord John to resign, he made on this occasion no attempt to extricate himself from embarrassment by concession. It is not unnatural that Lord Aberdeen should have been somewhat weary of receiving Lord John's constant offers to retire from the Cabinet. Administrations, in this country, are usually based on compromise; and a dozen or fourteen men can hardly hope to maintain uniformity of action unless they are prepared to surrender some of their own opinions to the judgment of their colleagues. A Minister who is always resigning becomes in consequence an inconvenient colleague, whose presence is only tolerated, because it is essential to the existence of the Administration. Yet it is not fair to judge Lord John's conduct in 1853 and 1854 by the rules which are applied ordinarily to statesmen. It should never be forgotten that he had not entered Lord Aberdeen's Cabinet of his own will. He had joined it, against his own wishes and against his own judgment, because his presence was thought indispensable by his sovereign, the Prime Minister, and his own friends. He was entitled, in such circumstances, to expect a deference to his own views which it would be impossible for every member of a Cabinet to claim; and he had a right to resume his own independence whenever he found that his presence in the Cabinet was ceasing to be useful. It was, no doubt, a subject of complaint at the time that Lord John did not do this. Instead of retiring, he constantly threatened to resign. But the men who, over and over again, persuaded him to withdraw his resignation, on the ground that it would be fatal to the fortunes of the Government and the interests of the country, are not entitled to use this argument. Lord John was constantly asking to resign because Lord Aberdeen would never accept his resignation. Throughout 1853 and 1854 the leader of the House of Commons was playing the part of Moses to the Prime Minister's Pharaoh. The King of Egypt probably thought the Israelite a very troublesome and unreasonable suitor for constantly asking leave to retire from the fleshpots of Goshen; he very likely omitted to remark that Moses only applied again and again for permission to march because again and again Pharaoh refused ‘to let the people go.” The verdict of history, at any rate, instead of blaming the Israelite as importunate, has condemned the monarch as obstinate; and experience has shown that, so long as the Pharaohs of modern life refuse to let their servants go, so long will the Israelites of to-day weary them with applications to be permitted to resign.
THE retirement of Lord John Russell virtually terminated the
/ Aberdeen Administration. Though the remaining members
of the Cabinet consented, at the request of the Queen, to withdraw the resignation which was at once determined on, and to face Mr. Roebuck, their decision only postponed the inevitable end for half a dozen days. Mr. Roebuck's motion was carried on the morning of January 30, 1855, by so large a majority that the members who composed it forgot to cheer, and began to laugh. The great Coalition Government was at an end. Upon Lord Aberdeen's resignation, the Queen in the first instance sent for Lord Derby, who professed himself unable to form a Government; she next applied to Lord Lansdowne, and, on his advice, saw Lord John. Lord John, however, was unable to obtain the support which would alone have justified him in attempting the task; and the Queen thereupon placed herself in Lord Palmerston’s hands, who succeeded in reconstructing the old Administration. On receiving the Queen's commission, Lord Palmerston at once asked for Lord John's assistance. Lord John did not feel himself justified in accepting office. But a new offer of a very different character was immediately afterwards made to him, and was at once accepted. While war was being carried on with all its horrors in the Crimea, some prospect was afforded of securing peace. Negotiations had for some time been in progress for holding a conference which was about to meet at Vienna; and Lord
John was invited to represent this country.