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Chapter XLVI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 4


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Sir Robert Peel withheld his confidence from the Ministry on every ground on which confidence could be withholden; on the results of their public policy - on their own confessions of incompetency - on the testimony of their most valued friends - on account of the constitution of their Government - on account of their measures - and above all, on account of the principles they were now forced to avow, in order that they might retain their majority, and in consequence, their offices. In the first place, the right honourable baronet pointed out the diversity of opinion which prevailed in the Cabinet on the subject of the ballot, the corn laws, and other groat questions; he also took Mr. Macaulay to task for preaching, in his capacity as Cabinet Minister, the sacred duty of agitation. "But even supposing that you abstain from agitation," said Sir Robert Peel, " and that, to prevent collision in the Cabinet, you never discuss either the corn laws or the ballot, or any other of the open questions, what answer will you make to your constituents at Edinburgh? Out of office, you declared yourself in favour of these measures; in office, you repeated the assurance that you were faithful to your principles. Was it not the fact that from the proud keep of Windsor you proclaimed your fidelity to them, not for the gratification of any personal vanity, but from the firm resolution that truth should be spoken in high places, and that from the palace of kings the comfortable tidings of radical reform should be conveyed by a voice of authority?" This was an ironical allusion to a circumstance which was much commented on at the time of its occurrence. Mr. Macaulay, on his appointment to office, had issued an address to his constituents in Edinburgh, in which he declared his adherence to the opinions he had always held, especially that in favour of vote by ballot; and as he was at the time on a visit to the Queen, he dated his address from Windsor Castle. Sir Robert Peel concluded a powerful speech as follows: - " I cannot answer the question you put to me, what principles will prevail if a new government be formed? But I can answer for it that if the principles I profess do not prevail, of that government I shall form no part. It may be that by the avowal of my opinions I shall forfeit the confidence of some who, under mistaken impressions, may have been hitherto disposed to follow me. I shall deeply regret the withdrawal of that confidence; but I would infinitely prefer to incur the penalty of its withdrawal, than to retain it under false pretences, or under misapprehensions, which silence on my part might confirm; and, in that case, I shall not seek to compensate a threatened loss of confidence on this side the House by the faintest effort to conciliate the support of the other; but I shall steadily persevere in the course which I have uniformly pursued since the passing of the Reform Bill, content with the substantial power which I shall yet exercise- indifferent as to office, so far as personal feelings or personal objects are concerned; ready, if required, to undertake it, whatever its difficulties; refusing to accept it on conditions inconsistent with personal honour; disdaining to hold it by such a tenure as that by which it is at present held. Every stimulus to continued exertion will remain; every distinction that my ambition aspires to will be gained. I shall have the cordial co-operation of many friends whom I honour and esteem, and with whom I have acted from my first entrance into the troubled career of political life; and above all other encouragements, I shall have the proud satisfaction of acting in entire and cordial concert with that illustrious man on whose right hand I have stood throughout the varying fortunes of the great contests of recent years, who is still devoting his faculties, unimpaired by time, to the service of a grateful country, and achieving a reputation as a statesman not inferior to his pre-eminent fame as a warrior, through the exercise of the same qualities, as rare in their separate excellence as wonderful in their combination, and which ensured his military triumphs - the same acuteness, the same sagacity, the same patience, the same true courage, the love of justice, the love of truth, the noble simplicity of mind without fear and without reproach. Encouraged by such an example, and supported by such aid, holding opinions which I believe to be the opinions of the vast majority of those intelligent and powerful classes which used to influence, and ought to influence, the constitution and the march of governments - the clergy, the magistracy, the commercial classes, the yeomanry of this country - I can hardly believe that such opinions are incapable of practical execution; but be that as it may, of this I am sure, that such opinions must so far prevail, that he who holds them will be enabled effectually to assist you (the Government), whenever you resolve to refuse improper and dangerous concessions; and if you are inclined yourself to make them, to offer those impediments to your downward progress which you may call obstructions to public business, but which the country will consider the real guarantee that this free and limited monarchy shall not be converted, through the folly or weakness of its rulers, into an unqualified and unmitigated democracy."

Lord John Russell wound up this great debate with a speech of much power, in which he defended himself from the various attacks that had been made upon him and the Government. He thus summed up the effects of their policy during the last four years: - " If there were so many of the interests of the empire which had not been neglected - if the affairs of Belgium had been brought to a satisfactory conclusion - if England had still an ally in the Queen of Spain - if the Basque Provinces had been pacified - if the Canadas at length assumed a prospect not only of returning tranquillity, but of permanent freedom and happiness, he did think that when the House was called upon to pronounce an opinion upon the general conduct of affairs, in giving that opinion the House ought not to leave out of view those many important interests upon which not a syllable had been uttered, nor forget that the Government had never betrayed its duty, or neglected to pursue the policy essential to the interests of the country. It had been said by the noble lord (Stanley) opposite that they were utterly inefficient as regards measures of legislation. Now, obstructed as they had been by a large party in the House of Commons, by a very decided majority in the House of Lords, he (Lord John) thought that during the four years which had elapsed since 1835, the legislative measures proposed and carried by Government were neither few nor unimportant. He maintained that there was scarcely a time to be found of equal duration in which measures of more importance had been carried. In 1835 was passed an act reforming altogether the municipal corporations of the country, placing them all upon a new foundation, admitting popular control, and regulating all the affairs with the greatest minuteness. In another year there were important questions with regard to the Church. At that time there was one bishop, as in the case of the Bishop of Durham, with 22,000 a year, and another bishop with only 500 a year. The wants of the poorer bishops were then made up by deaneries, and other lucrative offices in the Church. There were likewise pluralities to the greatest extent. He remembered finding, in a catalogue of the benefices of the Church, that sixteen persons were holding sixty-five different species of ecclesiastical preferments. Measures were, in consequence, taken by the Government to prevent any clergyman from holding more than two pieces of preferment of any benefices more than two miles apart. He thought that act was one of the greatest importance that had been passed since the Revolution, perhaps since the Reformation. There were likewise acts introduced by the same administration for the registration of births and marriages, by which the Dissenters were allowed what they never had before - the privilege of being married according to their own forms. And he might add, also, another act passed for the introduction of a poor law into Ireland; and an act for the settlement of tithes in England, by which agriculture was promoted, and the clergy benefited to a great extent. It was upon these grounds, Lord John Russell contended, that the Opposition had not made out their case against Government. The House then divided - ayes, 287; noes, 308: majority for the Government, 21.

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