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


The Second Melbourne Ministry - State of Public Feeling - Effects of the Peel Administration-O'Connell and the Government - Proposed Expulsion of O'Connell from Brookes's - O'Connell Challenged by Lora Alvanley - Duel between his Lordship and Mr. Morgan O'Connell - Quarrel between O'Connell and Disraeli - Efforts to Damage the Melbourne Government through O'Connell - Polemical Crusade in Ireland - Peter Dens - City Banquet to Sir Robert Peel - Difficulties of the Melbourne Cabinet - Sydney Smith's Sketch of the Premier - Corporation Reform - Commission of Inquiry on the State of the Municipal Bodies; their Report - The Evils and Anomalies of the System - The English Municipal Reform Bill - Objections of the Conservatives - The Freemen - Principles and Provisions of the Municipal Act - The Reformed Corporations - The Irish Corporations worse than the English- Report of the Commissioners - The Irish Municipal Reform Bill - Determined Opposition of the Lords - Its agitating Effect on the Public Mind - The Struggle ended in 1840 - The Irish Reform Act - Municipal Reform in Scotland.
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When Sir Robert Peel delivered up the seals of office, the first thing the king did was to send for earl Grey, who declined the task of forming an administration. It was understood that he advised hi:: majesty to entrust it to viscount Melbourne. The business, therefore, devolved upon him, and he hastened to complete it out of such materials as he had at his command. These were substantially the same as those which composed his former administration. Lord Brougham, however, was now left out; also lord Althorp, who, being in the upper house as earl Spencer, did not seem to have any ambition for the toils and honours of office. Lord Howick, the eldest son of earl Grey, became a member of the cabinet. There was no lord chancellor appointed for the present. The great seal was put in commission, the three commissioners being the master of the rolls, the vice-chancellor, and Mr. Justice Beausanquet. The offices were distributed as follows: - Lord Melbourne, premier; the marquis of Lansdowne, president of the council; lord Palmerston, foreign secretary; lord John Russell, home secretary; Mr. Charles Grant, colonial secretary; Mr. Spring Rice, chancellor of the exchequer; viscount Duncannon, lord privy seal and chief commissioner of woods and forests; lord Auckland, first lord of the admiralty; Sir John Hobhouse, president of the Indian board; Mr. Paulet Thompson, president of the board of trade; lord Howick, secretary-at-war; lord Holland, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. The appointments not in the cabinet were - Sir Henry Parnell, paymaster of the forces; the marquis of Conyngham, postmaster- general; Mr. Charles Wood, secretary to the admiralty; Sir George Grey, under secretary of the colonies; the honourable Fox Maule, under secretary for the home department; Mr. Labouchere, vice-president of the board of trade and master of the Mint; attorney-general, Sir John Campbell; solicitor-general, Mr. Rolfe. The Irish appointments were - The earl of Mulgrave, lord lieutenant; lord Morpeth, chief secretary; lord Plunket, chancellor; serjeant Perrin, attorney-general; Mr. Michael O'Loughlin, solicitor-general. In Scotland, Mr. Cutlar Fergusson became judge advocate, Mr. J. A. Murray lord advocate, and Mr. Cunningham solicitor- general.

The changes of ministers and some additions to the peerage caused several elections. Mr. Littleton was raised to the upper house with the title of lord Hatherton, and Mr. Charles Grant as lord Glenelg. Lord John Russell having lost his election for South Devon, colonel Fox made way for him at Stroud, which the noble lord continued to represent for many years. Lord Palmerston had been defeated in Hampshire at the general election; but Mr. Kennedy retired to make way for him at Tiverton, which had the honour of being represented by the noble lord for many years. Lord Morpeth had to stand a severe contest in Yorkshire, but he was returned by a large majority. The tide of popular opinion had turned in favour of the whigs, if tide it might be called, where there was so little excitement with regard to politics. The nation, however, felt that it would be safer for all the interests obtained by parliamentary reform to be governed by the liberals than the tories. It is true that in Sir Robert Peel's administration toryism was not reduced to practice; there was no defence of proved abuses, no screening of what needed to be reformed. The public wants and feelings were consulted, and economy in the public expenditure was cultivated. In fact, there was every reason to expect that the Peel administration, had it been permitted to live, would have been distinguished by a series of practical reforms which the nation would remember with gratitude. But there was a feeling of distrust in the majority of the commons - a conviction that these efforts to conciliate public favour were made only to obtain a firm hold of power, and that when that was accomplished the innate and incurable propensities of the party would break forth. Hence, there was a determination from the first to turn them out as soon as possible, and it was for this purpose the appropriation clause was brought forward.

There is no doubt, however, that the Peel administration, short as it was, tended very materially to serve the tory party, by restoring much of the conservative element to the house of commons. The excitement of the reform agitation gave a great preponderance of liberalism at the general election which followed the passing of the bill. The ministry of lord Melbourne was regarded with comparative indifference, so that when it was dismissed by the king, although the liberal party resented the proceeding, there was not much national enthusiasm to resist the government influence and the influence of the tory gentry at the elections. The consequence was that Sir Robert Peel had a majority of the English and Scotch members, and it was only by the Irish that the scale was turned in favour of the whigs. It was, then, a great point for Sir Robert Peel to achieve when he made the house of commons so much more conservative than it had been, and did so much to redress the balance of power in parliament, that thenceforth parties became almost evenly divided. By this means the tories conceived that the country had avoided a great and tremendous risk. They said, "With the immense majority of liberals which the unexampled fervour of the public mind had introduced into the house of commons, and the proof recently afforded of the possibility of driving the house of lords to consent to anything by the threat of creating peers, new and interminable organic changes might be forced upon the government, and carried through by the influence of the heated urban electors upon their representatives in parliament, before the nation had time to recover from its transports, and thus the constitution be overturned, as it had been in France, at the gallop, no one knew how or by whom. There can be no doubt that it was entirely owing to the firmness of earl Grey and his ministry that this danger had been hitherto averted; and though he was overthrown in the attempt, he deserves the lasting thanks of the country for having made it; but now, when a majority of British members were returned on the conservative side, and only a majority, including Ireland, of ten on the liberal, this immediate danger was at an end. On any question involving any further organic changes in the constitution, it would be very doubtful whether they would have any majority in the house of commons; and quite certain that, if carried there, the lords would take courage to throw them out in the upper house. Thus, the popular branch of the legislature, from being so equally divided, was rendered in a great measure powerless either for good or evil; and this was the greatest possible advantage which could be gained, for it gave the passions time to cool, and let in the still, small voice of experience to discriminate between really beneficial reforms and those which were inexpedient from the hazard with which they were attended."

On the 8th of April the dissolution of the Peel administration took place, and on the 18th lord Melbourne announced the completion of his arrangements. On that occasion lord Alvanley asked the premier if he had secured the assistance of Mr. O'Connell and his friends, and if so, upon what terms. " A question like this, in ordinary times, might very well," said his lordship, " have been left without an answer. But these were not ordinary times. The same ministry, when in power only a few months ago, had experienced the most determined opposition from the learned gentleman, and they denounced him in the king's speech in everything but by name; therefore he (lord Alvanley) now wished to know in what way and on what terms they stood with the learned gentleman. It was impossible to suppose Mr. O'Connell would have withdrawn his opposition to that administration unless he was pacified in some way; and he considered that the noble viscount, under the circumstances, was bound to afford the house all the information in his power." Lord Melbourne answered " that he did not coincide in opinion with Mr. O'Connell; that he had taken no means to secure his support; that he gave the most decided negative to lord Alvanley's question; adding, " And if he has been told anything to the contrary, he has been told what is false, and without foundation." On this, lord Londonderry remarked that he was glad to hear from lord Melbourne " that he had given a veto to O'Connell and his radical crew, because he was sure that any ministerial connection with him or his tail would be the curse of the country."

In the house of commons, a few days after, colonel Sibthorpe spoke of O'Connell as the prompter and adviser of the new ministry, and said: " I do not like the countenances of the honourable gentlemen opposite, for I believe them to be the index of their minds, and I will oppose them on every point, from the conviction that they could not bring forward anything that would tend to benefit the country. I earnestly hope that we shall have a safe and speedy riddance from such a band." This escapade roused the ire of O'Connell, who instantly rose and said that he thought the gallant colonel's countenance was, at all events, as remarkable as any upon the ministerial benches. He would not abate him a single hair in point of good-humour. "Elsewhere," he said, "these things may be treated in a different style. Those considered by the resolutions of this house as unfit to hold office may presume to talk of the Irish representatives in a manner highly unbecoming any member - exceedingly indecent; an indecency that would be insufferable, if it were not ridiculous. There is no creature - not even a half-maniac or a half-idiot - that may not take upon himself to use that language there which he would know better than to make use of elsewhere; and the bloated buffoon ought to learn the distinction between in de-: pendent men and those whose votes are not worth purchasing, even if they were in the market."

It may be necessary to state that the opprobrious term, a " half-maniac," or a " half-idiot," was intended to apply: to the marquis of Londonderry, and the ' ' bloated buffoon " < to lord Alvanley. Immediately after this, O'Connell had i to return to Dublin, where he addressed a letter "To the people of Ireland," in which he stated that he had tendered to the Melbourne government his "unbought, unpurchaseable, unconditional support. He had neither. made terms nor stipulations with them. It sufficed for him that their political principles were all identified with the cause of good government, and of justice to the loved, land of his birth. The tranquillity, the prosperity, the! liberty of Ireland appeared to him to be identified with the maintenance in power of the present ministry; and the horrid specimen they had just had of conservative and Orange ascendancy made him smile with delight at finding the violent, bigoted oppressors deprived of power, and the prospect of a sanguinary contest between the people and the viperous Orange faction closed, he trusted, for ever." He went on to state the advantages he expected from the present ministry: protection for the people; the purification of the administration of justice, whose waters would no longer be poured through mephitic channels, but would flow in pure sources, diffusing salubrity and gladness over the thirsty land.. The highest offices would no longer be abused by the dull and merciless foes of Ireland. Poor lord Haddington would be followed by the high-minded and intelligent lord Mulgrave. He therefore exhorted his followers to assist the ministry "finally to adjust all rights connected with the tithe system, so as totally to extinguish that unjust and bloodstained impost for ever; " to establish a complete corporate reform, "and to banish for ever from their usurpations that pestilent nest of corporate bigots and monopolists who have so long disgraced and plundered our towns and cities. The new ministry are placed in a situation of much difficulty, and will want all the aid of all the friends of reform and amelioration. Let Ireland become a portion of their strength and security; and let them, on their part, so deal with Ireland as to be able hereafter to look back with pride to the pacification and prosperity of this country as the work of their hands, and grateful Ireland will recognise them as the first of its benefactors."

While O'Connell was thus employed in Ireland, commending the government to the good-will of his countrymen, lord Alvanley was exerting himself to get him ignominiously expelled from Brookes's. On the 2nd of May he wrote a letter to the members, stating that O'Connell had made use of coarse and insulting expressions with regard to him, and that he had sent a challenge to him in consequence, through colonel Damer, to which he had received no answer; and he now appealed to the only tribunal of men of honour, to which they were both amenable. He therefore sent a requisition, to call a general meeting of the club, in order to take the case into consideration. The requisition was signed by twenty- three members. The managers of the club answered that it would be inconsistent with the practice and contrary to the established rules to take cognisance of differences of a private nature between the members of the club, and therefore they declined to call the general meeting. The first name on the list of the managers was lord Dun- cannon - now a member of the cabinet - an old friend of O'Connell, who had introduced him to the house of commons in 1828, after the Clare election, and who exerted himself to induce the great agitator to take office in 1833. On the 1st of May O'Connell replied to three letters which he had received from colonel Damer, in which he said it was " an unvalorous absurdity to send him a challenge, when his sentiments on that subject had been so publicly and so frequently proclaimed. As to duelling, he treated it with sovereign contempt, as inconsistent with common sense, and a plain and palpable violation of religion. If, however, he had injured any man, he was willing to repair the wrong to the utmost extent of his wishes."

Thus ended the affair, so far as the elder O'Connell was concerned. But his second son, Morgan, was resolved not to let the matter rest. As soon as he heard of the proceedings in Brookes's, he wrote to lord Alvanley a very spirited letter, in which he designated the challenge as a party manœuvre, with no other object than to cast a stigma upon his father - upon the party to which he belonged, as well as upon the government and its supporters. He denounced the proceeding as a wretched manœuvre - as an utterly ungentlemanly and braggadocio mode of carrying on party warfare. He adopted his father's insulting language, not, he said, in the vain hope of inducing him to give satisfaction; but, lest he should be wrong in that surmise, he intimated that he was at his lordship's service. This letter was conveyed through colonel Hodges. The result was that the parties met at Arlington Street, when they arranged to have a meeting at a short distance beyond the turnpike next the Regent's Park, on the Barnet Road. The ground was measured at twelve paces; the parties took their positions; the word was given, " Ready - fire." O'Connell fired, but lord Alvanley did not, owing to a mistake, and claimed the right to fire, which was refused. Both parties fired two rounds more without effect, each satisfied that the other had acted with perfect fairness. There was no apology made on either side.

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Pictures for Chapter XXVII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7

Riot at Hawick.
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Lord Mulgrave
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