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Political Tranquillity page 4

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A presentee named Edwards being refused ordination by the presbytery of Strathbogie, appealed to the civil court, and gained a verdict; whereupon seven ministers of the presbytery united in ordaining him, contrary to the principle of the Veto Act, which had been adopted by the Church of Scotland in 1834. Dr. Chalmers, in consequence, moved their deposition from the ministry, contending that they had committed an enormous offence against the rights and authority of the Church. " The Church of Scotland," he exclaimed, " can never give way, and will sooner give up her existence as an establishment, than give up her powers as a self-acting and self-regulating body, to do what in her judgment is best for the honour of the Redeemer, and the interest of His kingdom upon earth. We can see no other alternative; if these men do not humble themselves, their deposition is inevitable. The Church of Scotland cannot tolerate, and what is more, it cannot survive the scandal of quietly putting up with a delinquency so enormous as that into which these brethren have fallen." Dr. Cooke, the leader of what was called the moderate party in the Church of Scotland, proposed a counter resolution, to confirm the seven ministers in their offices. After a long debate the motion for deposition was carried by a majority of 97. The seven parishes were then declared vacant, and Mr. Edwards was deprived of his license as a minister. The deposed ministers next petitioned the House of Lords. This petition was presented by Lord Aberdeen, who said, that as they were suffering for simply obeying the law, the Government was bound to protect them. Lords Haddington, Normanby, and Brougham argued that the law should be enforced, and that the civil power should not yield to ecclesiastical pretensions. The petition was laid on the table, and there the matter ended for the present. Parliament having declined to interfere, the consequences which have been already recorded took place, namely, the secession of a very large number of ministers and people from the Establishment, and the foundation of the "Free Church of Scotland."

On the 31st of May, pursuant to notice, Sir Robert Peel brought forward a motion of want of confidence in the Government, in the following words: - "That Her Majesty's Ministers do not sufficiently possess the confidence of the House of Commons to enable them to carry through the House measures which they deem of essential importance to the public welfare; and that their continuance in office under such circumstances is at variance with the spirit of the constitution." The right hon. baronet referred to a number of precedents for the course he adopted - namely, the cases of Sir Robert Walpole, Lord North, Mr. Pitt, Lord Sidmouth, Lord Liverpool, the Duke of Wellington, and himself, each of whom resigned, failing the support of a majority of the House of Commons; and he insisted that Lord Melbourne was bound to follow their example. A debate of two nights followed: it was interrupted by the Whitsun holidays, after which it was resumed and lasted three nights more, during which all sorts of topics were discussed, and all the shortcomings of Ministers were dwelt upon, and urged against them with great earnestness. The burden of the charges against them was, that they were causing the greatest public mischief, by leaving important questions in doubt, setting party against party, and stirring society to its very foundations. At length the House went to a division, when there appeared for Sir R. Peel's motion, 312; against it, 311, giving a majority of 1 against the Government. The total number of members in the House of Commons was 658. On this occasion 623 actually voted - a proof of the intense interest excited by the contest. At the meeting of the House on the following Monday, the most lively anxiety was manifested as to the course Ministers would pursue. Lord John Russell stated that, after the late division, he felt that in that House of Commons the Government could expect no further majorities, and that they were resolved to appeal to the country. The session had now lost its interest; but it lingered on for another fortnight, in order to get through the necessary business.

On the 22nd of June the Parliament was prorogued by the Queen in person, when she stated that she had come to the determination of proroguing Parliament, with a view to its immediate dissolution; that the paramount importance of the trade and industry of the country, and her anxiety that the exigencies of the public service should be provided for, in the manner least burdensome to the community, had induced her to resort to the means which the constitution had entrusted to her, of ascertaining the sense of her people upon matters which so deeply concern their welfare. The Lord Chancellor then declared Parliament prorogued till Tuesday, 29th of June, and on the following day a proclamation appeared declaring Parliament dissolved.

Ever since the re-construction of the Melbourne Cabinet, and the repulse of Sir Robert Peel by the Court, the Conservative party had been daily gaining strength under the skilful management of its chief. Its ranks had been recruited by a large accession of earnest men, who, though they had been Reformers, and had identified themselves with the Liberal cause, had now arrived at the conclusion that the exigencies of the country and the progress of practical improvement required a strong Government. They believed that Sir Robert Peel was the man for the time, that he alone could overcome the vis inertiƓ of the House of Lords, and that, aided by the vast moral influence of the Duke of Wellington, he would be able to carry measures of real amendment. Even those who were doubtful as to the future policy of a Conservative Ministry were disposed to give them a fair trial, hoping that after such a long exclusion from office, they would make extraordinary efforts to win the confidence of the country. They had great reliance on the liberal tendencies of Sir Robert Peel's mind, which had been proved on several occasions, and they were not without hope that he would do for the laws which excluded corn from the country what he had done for the laws that excluded Roman Catholics from Parliament.

On the other hand, earnest Liberals had lost faith in the Whigs, who had never possessed the confidence of the Church, and had now excited the distrust and dislike of the farmers, from the intimations they had given that they were disposed to surrender the citadel of protection. Besides, they had been vacillating and uncertain in their policy - wanting strength of will and steadiness of purpose, without which no political leaders can command respect; and instead of taking their stand upon broad principles and carrying them out, they were continually shifting their ground, and having recourse to temporary expedients. It was under these circumstances and in this state of parties that Lord Melbourne resolved to appeal to the country. In doing so, his supporters, it is true, promised that when re- invigorated by an accession of strength at a general election, he would do much better for the future. But it was in vain that they represented that the Ministry had fallen a victim to class interests and monopoly; in vain they published the most attractive programme of future measures: the electors were determined to have a change.

The city of London exhibited a most remarkable defection from the Whigs on this occasion. It had returned four Liberals to the late Parliament, one of whom was Lord John Russell himself. On this occasion they returned two Conservatives and two Liberals; Mr. Masterman, a Conservative, being at the head of the poll. Lord John Russell was also returned, having beaten his Conservative opponent by a majority of only 7. Another significant triumph of the Conservatives was one in the West Riding of Yorkshire, one of the most liberal constituencies in the kingdom. There Lord Morpeth and Lord Milton - the candidates, of all others, most likely to succeed - were beaten, after a tremendous contest, by the Hon. S. Wortley and Mr. Penison. For Dublin, also, two Conservatives were returned - Messrs. West and Grogan; Mr. O'Connell being defeated. The general results took the public by surprise. In England and Wales the Conservatives had a majority of 104. In Scotland the Liberals had a majority of 9, and in Ireland of 19. The majority in favour of the Conservatives in the United Kingdom was 76. The two cries which had most to do in producing this result were, on the one side, "cheap bread," and on the other, "low wages."

On the 19th of August the new Parliament assembled. The session was opened by commission; the royal speech, which was read by the Lord Chancellor, contained a paragraph referring to the duties affecting the productions of foreign countries, and suggesting for consideration the question whether the principle of protection was not carried to an extent injurious alike to the income of the State and the interests of the people; whether the corn laws did not aggravate the natural fluctuations of supply; and whether they did not embarrass trade, derange the currency, and by their operation diminish the comfort and increase the privations of the great body of the community. Here was a distinct enunciation of the principles of free trade in the speech from the throne, for which, of course, the Ministers were responsible. The address in the House of Lords was moved by Earl Spencer, a decided free trader, and seconded by the Marquis of Clanricarde. The political war now commenced in earnest.

The Earl of Ripon moved an amendment to the effect that the Government did not possess the confidence of the country. He proposed that an address be presented to Her Majesty, expressing the concern of the House that for some years the public expenditure had exceeded the annual income; and that in order to remedy this, and to deal in a satisfactory manner with the matters referred to in the royal speech, it was essential that Her Majesty's Government should possess the confidence of that House and of the country - a confidence which was not reposed in Her Majesty's present advisers. Lord Ripon delivered a long and elaborate speech in support of his amendment, which evidently took the Prime Minister by surprise.

Lord Melbourne, in replying, said: "The nature of this motion, and the circumstances under which it has been made - notwithstanding its great importance, the arguments on which it has been founded, and the fair, candid, clear, and distinct spirit in which it has been submitted - do not make it necessary for me to trouble your lordships with many observations. I listened to my noble friend who moved the amendment with great deference for his abilities, with great deference for his information, and with great respect for his candour; and I must say that, seeing the superstructure he was about to raise, a more meagre, slender, and fragile foundation it would be impossible to lay down. The noble lord made a sort of omnium gatherum speech; impressed everything into his service, as well what we had done last year as during the present; and on such a collection of heterogeneous materials he founds a motion of this magnitude - a motion so important in its consequences, and one, allow me to say, perfectly new to this House. My lords, it came like a thunder-clap upon me. I own I was ignorant that there existed in this House the spirit on which that motion seems to proceed. We all know that there were a great many factious motions in the late House of Commons, and continual motions of want of confidence, but there was not the least intimation that your lordships sympathised with or countenanced any such proceedings. Your lordships were reposing a tranquil confidence in the present Government, when suddenly, on the grounds stated by the noble lord, unexpectedly, and contrary to all precedent, the noble lord has come forward with this distinct motion of want of confidence in Her Majesty's Ministers." The noble viscount then defended himself and colleagues from the charge of omission of various topics in the royal speech, and proceeded to the measures proposed in it for the relief of commercial depression.

Having delivered his opinion at length upon the Corn Laws, he proceeded thus: - " Of course, the meaning of the motion, in plain English, is just this: 'We have now a majority in the House of Commons.' I should suppose, if we are to go from speculations on the hustings, there is such a majority; but at the same time members are sent here ad consultandum de rebus arduis regni. We must not look merely to statements on the hustings, but to the conduct that is pursued where these matters are discussed in a more gentleman-like manner. I have, however, derived some degree of consolation and hope from the arguments by which the views of my opponents were supported at the hustings, and I feel quite certain that such is their sense of honour, candour, and justice, that they cannot persevere in the opinions they held there on such arguments." The noble viscount said, in conclusion, that he could only repeat, that considering the nature and object of this motion, as far as he could understand them, he looked on it as quite unprecedented, and that there certainly never was a motion supported on weaker grounds, or by more insufficient arguments.

The Duke of Wellington followed in a speech which was chiefly remarkable for the generous testimony he bore to the conduct of Lord Melbourne towards the Queen. The duke said - " He was willing to admit that the noble viscount had rendered the greatest possible service to Her Majesty, in making her acquainted with the mode and policy of the government of this country, initiating her into the laws and spirit of the constitution, independently of the performance of his duty as the servant of Her Majesty's Crown; teaching her, in short, to preside over the destiny of this great country." The Marquis of Downshire subsequently stated that he had listened with the greatest pleasure to the speech of the noble duke, "which did him the highest honour, and no part more so than that in which he had spoken of the services of a peculiar nature rendered by the present head of the Government to the young Sovereign of this country; and he was rejoiced that the recognition of those services went forth to the world stamped with the high authority of the noble duke." The House divided on the question, when there was a majority of 72 against the Government.

The first business in the House of Commons was the re-election of Mr. Shaw Lefevre as Speaker. Several days were occupied in the swearing in of members. On the 24th of August the address was moved by Mr. Mark Philips, and seconded by Mr. John Dundas. Mr. Wortley then moved an amendment similar to the one which had been carried in the House of Lords, in which he went over all the charges against the Government. His motion was seconded by Lord Bruce, and supported by Mr. Disraeli. The debate lasted several nights. Sir Robert Peel delivered a long and very able speech, in which he reviewed the whole policy of the Government. He was answered by Lord John Russell, whose speech closed the debate. The division gave to Sir Robert Peel a majority, for which no one seemed prepared. The numbers were - for the Ministerial address, 269; for the amendment, 360; majority against the Government, 91.

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