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Chapter XVIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 2


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Mr. Brougham regretted the appearance of Sir Robert Peel's letter. "I regret it," he said, "on account of the mischief which it is certain to cause in the mercantile world, and still more from the connection which it has with the fatal speech from the throne, and the still more fatal speech of the duke of Wellington against every species of reform - a declaration to which, I conscientiously believe, he owes nine-tenths of his present unpopularity. I wish that I had not lived feo see the day when a forgetfulness of the invaluable services in the field, which have won for the duke of Wellington as a soldier, a general, and a conqueror, a great, brilliant, and imperishable renown, coupled with the deviation by the noble duke from his proper sphere into the labyrinth of politics, - I wish to heaven I had not lived to see the day when the forgetfulness of the people of the merits of the soldier, and the forgetfulness of the soldier of his own proper sphere of greatness, displayed to England, to Europe, and to the world, that he cannot accompany his majesty on his journey into the heart of an attached and loyal population."

It was quite evident that a ministry assailed in this manner, and left almost without defenders in parliament, while the public out of doors were so excited against them, that no act of theirs could give satisfaction or inspire confidence, could not long remain in office. Accordingly, they made up their minds to retire on the first opportunity. Three important questions stood for discussion, on any one of which they were sure to be defeated. The duke selected the question of the civil list. In the royal speech his majesty surrendered the hereditary revenues of the crown to the disposal of parliament. The opposition could see no merit in that, and lord Grey contended that those revenues were not private but public property, assigned by the state for the purpose of maintaining the dignity of the sovereign, and that from this purpose they could not be alienated. The debate came on upon the 12th of November, when the chancellor of the exchequer moved that the house do resolve itself into committee on the civil list, the scheme which he brought forward fixing the amount to be settled at 970,000. Several of the details in this scheme were objected to, and on the following day Sir H. Parnell moved, as an amendment to the resolutions of the chancellor of the exchequer, that a select committee be appointed to take into consideration the estimates and accounts printed by command of his majesty regarding the civil list. After a short debate the house divided, when the numbers were - for the amendment, 233; and against it, 204, giving a majority of twenty-nine against the government. Mr. Hobhouse immediately asked Sir Robert Peel whether ministers intended to retain office, after this expression of the sentiments of the house. To which he gave no answer at the time; but the next day the duke in the upper house, and Sir Robert in the lower, announced that they held their offices only till their successors were appointed. The defeat was brought about, in a great measure, by the former supporters of the ministry. " The blow was struck, and none recoiled from it more immediately than the section of angry tories who were mainly instrumental in delivering it. They had achieved their purpose, and stood aghast, for no time was lost with the duke in placing his resignation in the hands of the king."

The duke of Wellington endeavoured to persuade himself, and to make the public believe, that parliamentary reform had nothing to do with his retirement. " I was defeated," he said, a on the civil list; in short, the government was placed in a minority. Upon that occasion, parliamentary reform had no more to do, as far as I was concerned, with the resignation than anything else in the world. I admit I resigned next morning, because I did not wish to expose his majesty and the country to the consequences that might result from the government going out on the success of the question of parliamentary reform. " Sir Robert Peel, however, admitted in the house of commons, on July 20th, 1831, that though they retired on the civil list question, with regard to which they were in a minority, yet it was impossible to deny that the anticipation of the probable manifestation of opinion on the question of reform in the house entered into the consideration of the government. The truth is, Mr. Brougham had a notice of motion on the book on the subject of parliamentary reform for the very day on which the ministers resigned. When he went to the house he was aware that lord Grey had been sent for, and he hastened to let them know that the change of ministry would make no difference with regard to his motion. If the house thought it more convenient to have the discussion postponed, he was satisfied. He threw himself " fully, freely, and respectfully upon the house," though if the motion was put off, it would be contrary to his opinion and feelings. " I beg it, therefore," said the learned gentleman, " to be understood, that if I yield, I do so in deference to the wishes of the house. And further, as no change that may take place in the administration can by any possibility affect me, I beg it to be understood that in putting off the motion, I will put it off till the 25th of this month, and no longer. I will then, and at no more distant day, bring forward the question of parliamentary reform, whatever may be the condition of circumstances, and whosoever may be his majesty's ministers."

Mr. Roebuck, in commenting upon this speech, expresses his opinion that if Mr. Brougham really desired to obtain office, that desire was, in his position, natural and praiseworthy. By the indefatigable exercise of his great powers, he had materially strengthened the whigs, and by the same powers he had placed himself at the head of the great popular party out of doors. He had been triumphantly returned for one of the greatest constituencies in England. He was the foremost debater in the house of commons, and the recognised leader of the opposition. The question with him was, whether he could retain his proud position as the great popular chief, and yet hold office in a whig administration. The expressions employed by him seemed to Mr. Roebuck to say that he had decided the question in the negative, and that he resolved to forego all expectation of place. When, again, on the succeeding evening, the learned gentleman reiterated the assertion that he had no connection with the new administration, many persons believed more firmly than before that his resolution was fixed to be the great popular chief, and to separate himself from all mere party ties. As everything connected with the principal actors in this great revolution is full of interest for the people of our own time, and will no doubt continue to be so for posterity, our readers will be glad to have the reflections of so sagacious an observer as Mr. Roebuck upon the position and motives of a statesman so eminent, and whom he so greatly admired, as lord Brougham. " But there were others," he says, " who put a very different interpretation upon these eager professions of a disregard of office. They said that these voluntary denials were the offspring of a vehement desire for place, and a fear lest he should be passed over - that his motion was insisted on in order to make the in-coming party feel his great power, and their own utter inability to conduct the government without his friendly aid, which aid would not be given unless he was himself accepted as one of the great chiefs of the coming administration. The result seemed, in some degree, to justify this last description. The history, nevertheless, of the whole transaction, as related by those who were the chief actors in the scene which they described, accounts very differently for all that occurred. Lord Grey, up to the last hour of his life, remained in apparently friendly and cordial relations with Mr. (afterwards lord) Brougham; and their joint description of the circumstances under which Mr. Brougham consented to give up his great independent position, and become, in fact, one of the leaders of the whig government, places in a strong light the many difficulties of Mr. Brougham's position, and may probably induce posterity to judge of the course which he determined to pursue with more of favour and leniency than the violent prejudices of party permit his contemporaries to exhibit. Subsequent events, which severed the old party ties, have so mutually embittered the minds of all the chief actors in these memorable scenes, that an unprejudiced judgment from them respecting the conduct of those with whom they acted we may look for in vain; and passion so distorts the memory, as well as the judgment, that an accurate statement of facts seems as difficult of attainment as a just appreciation of the facts when related. At every step we are met with contradictions with respect to the events as they are said to have occurred. We need not wonder to find conclusions at variance with each other, when the premises on which they rest are thus unsettled."

According to one account of these transactions, lord Grey, when he received the king's commands to form an administration, acted on the conviction that he could not proceed with any hope of success without the co-operation of Mr. Brougham. The king had no objection to accept him as one of the ministers, and he was named in the list as master of the rolls, it being assumed that Sir John Leech was to become lord chancellor of Ireland, with a peerage, and that Mr. Plunket was to be lord chancellor of England. To this arrangement, however, it is said, the king peremptorily objected. It was stated that then Mr. Brougham was offered the attorney-generalship, which he " calmly " refused, upon which lord Grey declared that his hopes of being able to form an administration were at an end, and he waited on his majesty for the purpose of communicating to him the failure of his negotiations. u Why so?" inquired the king. u Why not make him chancellor? Have you thought of that? " The answer was "No; your majesty's objection to the one appointment seemed to preclude the other." " Not at all, not at all," replied the king; and the reasons for one appointment and against the other are said to have been very clearly stated by his majesty. Mr. Brougham seems to have been left in the dark for some time about the intentions of lord Grey, for on the 17th of November he said he had nothing to do with the administration, except in the respect he bore them, and as a member of the house. On the 19th he presented petitions, and spoke on them in the commons, without intimating any change of position. Hence it may be easily supposed that he surprised the world, as well as his friends, by suddenly appearing on November the 22nd in the house of lords as lord chancellor of England. This was certainly a great office to which he was elevated, and for which the exigencies of party made him necessary; but, in accepting it, he sacrificed a great position which seemed to gratify all the desires of intellectual ambition; and, in order to induce his compliance, lord Grey was obliged to appeal to his generous sympathies, his public spirit, and his devotion to his party. Two noble friends reasoned with him on the 19th in the following manner: - "If you refuse, lord Grey will finally declare to the king that he is unable to form a cabinet. The whole whig party will ascribe this evil as the result of your selfishness. That very circumstance upon which you insist as your chief pride, and which gives you your present power and importance - viz., the representation of Yorkshire - will only belong to you for the present parliament. A contest at the next election will be inevitable, and your whig friends will be either hostile or lukewarm. The enormous expense of a Yorkshire election is beyond the power of your, purse, and you will have, therefore, to return, if you can find one, to some presentation borough or populous town. Your proposed measure, too, of reform will never be so likely to succeed as by the endeavours and under the auspices of a government pledged to bring forward and support some large scheme of parliamentary reform. As the chancellor of such a ministry, you will be called upon to render a service to the cause of reform which no other man can render, and which you cannot render in any other character. We see, and we acknowledge, the personal sacrifice we ask you to make. We know that if you simply look to personal considerations, if you think only of your own influence apart from all considerations of the public good, you will remain in the house of commons, and wield the great power which your singular abilities confer Upon you as a member of that house. But we appeal to higher motives, asking you to think less of yourself and more of your country, and to adopt that course which will give effect to the principles which during your whole political life you have endeavoured to advance.' This argument, thus skilfully employed, produced the effect desired, and Mr. Brougham passed almost directly from the bar of the house, at which he had as counsel been engaged when this argument was used, to the woolsack, and took his seat as lord chancellor before the patent which created him a peer was made out."

The celebrated reform ministry consisted of the following members: - In the cabinet: first lord of the treasury, earl Grey; lord chancellor, lord Brougham; chancellor of the exchequer and leader of the commons, lord Althorp; president of the council, marquis of Lansdowne; lord privy seal, earl of Durham; home secretary, lord Melbourne; foreign affairs, lord Palmerston; secretary of the colonies, lord Goderich; first lord of the admiralty, Si* James Graham; president of the board of control, Mr. Charles Grant; postmaster-general, duke of Richmond; chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, lord Holland; without office, lord Carlisle. Not in the cabinet: president of the board of trade, lord Auckland; secretary at war, Mr. C. W. Wynn; master general of ordnance, Sir James Kempt; paymaster-general of the forces, lord John Russell; lord chamberlain, duke of Devonshire; lord steward, marquis Wellesley; master of the horse, lord Albemarle; groom of the stole, marquis of Winchester; first commissioner of land revenue, Mr. Agar Ellis; treasurer of the navy, Mr. Poulett Thompson; attorney- general, Sir T. Denman; solicitor-general, Sir W. Horne. In Ireland: lord lieutenant, marquis of Anglesey; lord chancellor, lord Plunket; commander of the forces, Sir John Byng; chief secretary, Mr. Stanley; attorney- general, Mr. Blackburne; solicitor-general, Mr. Crampton. In Scotland: lord advocate, Mr. Jeffrey; solicitor-general, Mr. Cockburn.

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