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Chapter XXVI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7


The Royal Speech - Lord Morpeth moves an Amendment to the Address - Carried by a Majority of Seven - The King's Answer - Motion of Lord Chandos on the Malt Duties - The Appointment of Lord Londonderry as Ambassador to St. Petersburg cancelled in Deference to Public Opinion - Dissenters' Marriages - Ministerial Bill on Irish Tithes- Lord John Russell's Motion on Irish Church Temporalities - The Right of the State to Dispose of Church Property - Defeat of the Ministry on this Question - Second Defeat on their Irish Tithe Bill - Sir Robert Peel's Resignation - His Parting Statement - The Irish Church Question.
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Sir Robert Peel hoped that by earnestly promoting practical reforms, and improving the institutions of the country in the spirit of his manifesto, he would gradually conciliate a number of members of independent position and moderate views, so that he might be able to secure a working majority. He therefore did not resign when defeated in the first trial of strength on the election of a speaker; and the same consideration induced him to hold his ground when he was defeated on the amendment to the address. The house of commons met for the dispatch of business on the 24th of February. The speech from the throne, after lamenting the destruction of the houses of parliament, congratulated the country on the prevalent commercial prosperity, which, however, was accompanied by a general depression of the agricultural interest. The king, therefore, recommended to the consideration of parliament whether it might not be in their power, after providing for the exigencies of the public service, and consistently with the steadfast maintenance of the public credit, to devise a method for mitigating the pressure of those local charges which bore heavily on the owners and occupiers of land, and for distributing the burden of them more equally over other descriptions of property. When the address was moved, an amendment was proposed by lord Morpeth, which was designed to strike at the very existence of the new ministry. It was not a direct censure upon their policy, or a formal declaration of want of confidence; but it affirmed a policy materially differing from that which had been announced by Sir Robert Peel. It expressed a hope that municipal corporations would be placed under vigilant popular control; that the undoubted grievances of the dissenters would be considered; that abuses in the church of England and Ireland would be removed; and it lamented the dissolution of parliament as an unnecessary measure, by which the progress of these and other reforms had been interrupted and endangered. This hostile motion gave rise to a debate of intense earnestness, which lasted four nights. It was not easy to predict, during the course of the conflict, which side would be victorious. Even the whippers-in must have been doubtful of the issue; but the contest ended in the triumph of the liberals, who had a majority of seven, the numbers being 309 to 302. Of the English members, the government had a majority of 32; and of the English and Scotch together, of 16; but in Ireland, Sir Robert Peel's supporters were only 36, while the liberals mustered 59.

When the amended address was presented to the king, he wisely recollected his position as a constitutional sovereign, which had been, to some extent, compromised by the dismissal of an administration in which the country had shown no want of confidence, and by the uncalled-for dissolution of the reformed parliament after so brief an existence. His majesty, therefore, replied as follows: - " I learn with regret that you do not concur with me in the policy of the appeal which I have recently made to the sense of my people. I never have exercised, and will never exercise, any of the prerogatives which I hold, except for the single purpose of promoting the great end for which they are entrusted to me - the public good; and I confidently trust that no measure conducive to the general interests will be endangered or interrupted in its progress by the opportunity I have afforded to my faithful and loyal subjects of expressing their opinions through the choice of their representatives in parliament."

As ministers did not resign on being placed in a minority the second time, rumours were industriously circulated by their opponents that they meant to rule the country despotically; that they were about to dissolve parliament the second time, and had resolved to maintain the army on their own responsibility, without the Mutiny Act. On the 2nd of March lord John Russell, referring to these rumours, gave notice that he intended to bring forward the Irish appropriation question, and the question of municipal reform. It was for a test of this kind that Sir Robert Peel waited. In the meantime he denied that he had any such intentions as those ascribed to him. He promised that government would bring in a bill on the Irish church; but it would adhere strictly to the principle that ecclesiastical property should be reserved for ecclesiastical purposes. He declared they would be prepared to remedy all real abuses, when the report of the commissioners appointed for their investigation was received.

On the 26th of March the marquis of Chandos made an attempt to obtain some relief for the agricultural interest, which was then in a very depressed state, and the measure he proposed was the abolition of the malt tax, which brought in the sum of 4,812,000. Sir Robert Peel prophesied that if this tax were abolished they would be in for a property tax. He said: " My prophecy is, that if you repeal this tax you will make an income tax necessary; to that, be assured, you must come at last, if you repeal the malt tax. You will lay your taxes on articles of general consumption - on tobacco, on spirits, on wine - and you will meet with such a storm that will make you hastily recede from your first advances towards a substitute. To a property tax, then, you must come; and i congratulate you, gentlemen of the landed interest, on finding yourselves relieved from the pressure of the malt tax, and falling on a good, comfortable property tax, with a proposal, probably, for a graduated scale. And you who represent the heavy land of this country, the clay soils - the soils unfit for barley - I felicitate you on the prospect that lies before you. If you think that the substitute will be advantageous to your interests, be it so; but do not - when hereafter you discover your mistake - do not lay the blame upon those who offered you a timely warning, and cautioned you against exchanging the light pressure of a malt duty for the scourge of a property tax." The motion was rejected by a majority of 350 to 192. In this debate Sir Robert Peel gave some interesting information with regard to the change in the social habits of the people during the past century. In the year 1722 the population of England amounted to only 6,000,000, and the beer consumed was 6,000,000 barrels, giving one barrel to every man, woman, and child. In 1833 the population was 14,000,000, and yet the annual consumption for the last three years preceding the repeal of the Beer Act was only 8,200,000 barrels, being little more than half a barrel for each person. So large a consumption of beer in the olden times might strike us as indicating intemperate habits; but it should be remembered that beer was then the ordinary beverage taken at meals for which tea and coffee have since been substituted. If the number of cups of tea each person drinks in the year could be ascertained, the quantity would be found more than a barrel. But if the number of cups cannot be ascertained, the number of ounces may. Sir Robert Peel stated that in 1834 the consumption of tea had increased, since 1?22, from 370,000 lbs., or an ounce to each person, to 31,829,000 lbs., or 2 J lbs. to each person. The consumption of coffee was only three-fourths of an ounce for each person, and it increased in nearly the same proportion. The consumption of spirits also increased greatly, having nearly doubled in the period mentioned.

The premier was at this time subjected to a great mortification, in being compelled by the house of commons, and public opinion out of doors, to cancel the appointment of the marquis of Londonderry as ambassador to St. Petersburgh. A deep sympathy pervaded the public mind in the United Kingdom with the oppressed Poles, and an abhorrence of the unrelenting despotism of Russia. The marquis of Londonderry had distinguished himself by sympathies of an opposite kind - by manifesting distrust of the people, and by favouring a policy at home and abroad which aimed at keeping down the democracy. It was generally felt that England could not be fairly represented at the court of St. Petersburgh by a man of such well-known sentiments. The press was loud in its condemnation of the appointment, and Mr. Sheil brought the subject before the house of commons by moving that an address be presented to his majesty for a copy of the appointment. As lord Stanley declared emphatically against the selection of the noble marquis for such a mission, it was evident that if government had gone to a division they would have been defeated. Sir Robert Peel therefore gave way with a good grace, stating that the appointment had not been formally made out; and though the house seemed to be interfering unduly with the royal prerogative, he would not advise his majesty to persist in it. The motion was then withdrawn, and when lord Londonderry read the report of the debate in the papers next day, he immediately sent in his resignation.

In announcing this in the house of peers, he said: "Having but one object, and that to serve the king honestly, and to the best of my ability, were I to depart from this country, after what has passed in the house of commons, I should feel myself, as a representative of his majesty, placed in a new, false, and improper position. My efficiency would be impaired, and it would be impossible for me to fill the office to which I have been called with proper dignity or effect. Upon these grounds, I have now to announce that no consideration will induce me to accept the office which his majesty has been graciously pleased to confer on me."

The spirit in which the liberal organs of public opinion regarded the appointment may be inferred from a sentence in the Times: "We notice, merely to discountenance an absurd report, that lord Londonderry has been, or is to be, named ambassador to St. Petersburgh. The rumour is a sorry joke." Some of the noble lord's antecedents were now remembered against him. It appeared that he had been soliciting a pension from lord Liverpool as a reward for diplomatic services already too liberally paid for, and that his lordship had written on the back of the application, "This is too bad." It was now felt to be too bad that a nobleman who had derided the claims of the Poles as rebellious subjects, and who had evinced a warm sympathy with such brutal despots as Don Carlos and Don Miguel, should have received one of the most important diplomatic appointments at the disposal of the sovereign. There is no doubt that the transaction had a damaging effect upon the government.

This cannot surprise any one who knows the intensity of the feeling which the perfidy and barbarity of Russia towards the Poles had produced in the public mind throughout the United Kingdom. Indeed, the condition of Poland has always been a subject of deep interest and sympathy, especially since its partition between Russia, Austria, and Prussia - the foulest crime ever perpetrated against freedom by a combination of despotic powers. Feeling this, we recall to our readers' recollection some points in her sad history which have already been recorded. The interest was kept up during the period of the French war by the bravery with which the Polish legions fought in other lands, and the ingratitude with which they were treated by France. To them "the tent was their home, the battle-field their country," until the hour should come when they would be enabled to re-conquer their freedom, and strike down the oppressors of their country - a hope which never died in Polish hearts, whether groaning under their heavy chains at home or following the fortunes of Napoleon abroad. Freely and recklessly did they shed their blood in the cause of freedom in other countries, in the hope that some day they should receive foreign aid, to realise their patriotic aspirations. But their blood flowed in vain. In every treaty which their valour had been instrumental in winning, their services were overlooked, and their country was forgotten. In the year 1806, however, the advance of the French army into Poland excited their hopes to the utmost, and promised a restoration of their country to the position of an independent kingdom. The enthusiasm of the Poles was excited to the utmost. Polish regiments were organised with marvellous rapidity, and the army of Napoleon was increased by thousands. But Napoleon cruelly disappointed their too sanguine hopes, and dissipated their illusions. Instead of restoring the kingdom of Poland, he merely formed a small portion of his conquests into the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, which he united with Saxony. Still, though deluded and disappointed by the emperor, they were ever ready to fight against their oppressors, and credulously accepted the promises which had so often deceived them, though the more reflecting portion of the people said, "We are flattered when our services are required. Is Poland always to be fed on hope alone?" Yet, when the French invaded Russia, in 1812, the more ardent of the Poles were fascinated by the arts of Napoleon. They flocked to his standard, and were full of enthusiasm, until they learned at Wilna that he had guaranteed to the emperor Francis the integrity of the Austrian possessions in Poland. In connection with the treaty of 1814, however, the restoration of Poland became a subject of anxious consideration. The justice, policy, and humanity of this measure were powerfully advocated by France and England, and a satisfactory adjustment would probably have been effected, but for the escape of Napoleon from Elba, which produced a general feeling of alarm throughout Europe, in presence of common danger, and led the other powers to acquiesce in a hasty concession by Russia, with the object of preventing the Poles from swelling the ranks of the invader. It was decided that the Grand Duchy of Warsaw should be attached to the empire under the name of the "kingdom of Poland," and that it should be governed by separate institutions. In the words of the treaty of Vienna - "The Duchy of Warsaw, with the exception of those provinces and districts which are other wise disposed of, is united to Russia. It shall be irrevocably bound to the Russian empire by its constitution, to be enjoyed by his majesty the emperor of all the Russian, his heirs, and successors, for ever." By the same treaty Gallicia was restored to Austria; the Duchy of Posen was surrendered to Prussia; and the district of Cracow was formed into a republic; while the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, with a population of about four millions, reverted to Russia, was constituted into a kingdom under the sovereignty of the czar. "The kingdom of Poland," said the emperor Alexander, " shall be united to the empire of Russia by the title of its own constitution, on which I am desirous of founding the happiness of the country." The new kingdom of Poland was therefore proclaimed on the 20th of June, 1815; and on the 24th of December following a constitutional charter of the most liberal character was granted. The Roman catholic religion was established, with perfect equality of civil rights for all dissenters. The liberty of the press was recognised to the fullest extent; the inviolability of personal property was secured; all public business was to be transacted in the Polish language; and all offices, civil and military, were to be held by Poles alone. Two chambers, one of deputies and one of senators, were to constitute the national legislature. The power of the crown was subjected to proper constitutional limits. Ministers were declared responsible to the legislature, whose deliberations were to be public. The senators were appointed by the king, and to hold their offices for life. The franchise was extensive and adequate, comprising all landowners, however small, all manufacturers and shop-keepers possessing a small capital, all rectors and vicars, and all artists or mechanics distinguished for talent. The independence of the judges was guaranteed, and the king must always be crowned in Warsaw. The affairs of Poland were conducted, on the whole, according to the constitution till 1820, though from the first there had been some encroachments and breaches. But from 1820, when the Holy Alliance was established, and began to exert its malign influence, there was no disguise about the design to suppress the national independence of Poland. The grand duke Constantine, an untamed tiger, was commander-in-chief of the army in that country, and he not only trampled upon the constitution, but perpetrated outrages which betrayed a mixture of ferocity, cruelty, and cowardice altogether unparalleled. Women were insulted, reviled, and kicked, their heads were shaved, they were tarred and feathered, and thus exhibited for the amusement of their savage tormentors. A legion of spies overspread the country, and a reign of terror was established. The liberty of the press and trial by jury were abolished, giving place to arbitrary arrests, hidden condemnations and banishment to Siberia, or incarceration in foul dungeons. No diet was convoked from 1820 to 1825; and only one from that year until after the accession of Nicholas, in 1829.

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