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Chapter XXII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 3

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The violence of national feeling, however, ha/l not risen quite to this pitch, when Ministers found it necessary to summon Parliament, that they might obtain power to raise a Foreign Legion, and power to accept the offers of militia regiments to do garrison duty abroad. The two Houses met on the 12th of December, and sat until the 23rd. The whole policy of the war was discussed as well as the state of the army in the Crimea; but although the Opposition, led by Lord Derby and Mr. Disraeli, tried to defeat both measures, they were carried by considerable majorities. The speeches delivered during this short session served to herald the storm which was about to burst over the Government in January.

The virulence of the paper war at home increased during the recess. Every croaker on the muddly and half-frozen plains of the Crimea sent home doleful and indignant accounts of his sufferings. Many of these terrible stories were pure inventions; but everything, without discrimination, was printed and believed. The bulk even of educated men were at that time far more ignorant of military affairs than they are now; and ignorance, when joined to indignation and presumption, is fruitful in suggestions to overcome difficulties. Many were the pieces of foolish advice tendered to the Government. But next to a genuine desire to relieve the suffering of the soldiers, was a desire to punish somebody. The attacks in the newspapers became more fierce when it was known or surmised that there were members of the Cabinet who reeled under this storm of public censure; and it was soon manifest that when Parliament again assembled the Ministers would be driven from power.

Parliament met on the 23rd of January, and Lord Ellenborough, Mr. Roebuck, and Lord Lyndhurst at once put hostile notices of motion on the paper. Mr. Roebuck proposed an inquiry, by a committee of the House, into the condition of the army in the Crimea, and the conduct of the departments whose duty it was to minister to the wants of that army. Lord Ellenborough intended to ask for returns showing the number of the force sent out, and the number of killed, wounded, and sick. Lord Lyndhurst's notice of motion embodied a censure on the Government. These were symptoms of the exasperated state of public feeling. More than this, there was a statesman who flinched from sharing with his colleagues the responsibilities of the moment. On the very day, the 25th, set apart for the discussion of Mr. Roebuck's motion, it became known that Lord John Russell had resigned. From that moment the fate of the Ministry was decided. On the 26th Lord John stated why he had abandoned his colleagues. His reasons were two-fold: - First, he could not resist Mr. Roebuck's motion for inquiry, because it was notorious that the condition of the army in the Crimea was melancholy - nay, horrible and heartrending; but he failed to show how inquiry would better its condition. Next, in a tone of complaint, he insinuated that he had long been dissatisfied with the management of the war department, and that his suggested reforms had not been adopted. It appeared that, although he had concurred in the appointment of the Duke of Newcastle, he had, in November, that is, when the tide seemed flowing against the allies, thought that there should be a strong Minister of War, and that Lord Palmerston should be that Minister. To this Lord Aberdeen demurred. Lord John gave up his point at the suggestion of Lord Palmerston, and dropped the subject. But when Mr. Roebuck made his motion, he saw the danger it involved, and ran away. Lord Palmerston very properly said that the course taken by his noble friend was not in correspondence with the usual practice of public men. t He ought to have given his colleagues the option of considering whether they would accept his views or lose his services. Lord John had attended in his place on the 23rd; he had walked from the House with a colleague, giving no hint of his intention. At midnight he sent a note tendering his resignation. "In speaking," said Lord Palmerston, "of the hasty manner in which he tendered his resignation, the precipitate manner in which he announced it, and the grounds on which it took place, I must say I think it was unusual, and that the Government have a right to say that they were not justified in expecting it." The Government, ho added, would not run away from Mr. Roebuck's motion. "It would be disgraceful not to meet it standing in the position which we now occupy - minus my noble friend." They did meet it, and it was carried by 305 to 148. 1 Lord Aberdeen and his colleagues immediately resigned, and, as it was justly and shrewdly said, the Duke of Newcastle was made the "Byng " of the day. The sole object of the motion was to turn out the Ministry, and that object was accomplished. The public demanded a victim, and, as usual, one was provided. In the meantime those measures which remedied the evils in the Crimea were already in operation, and the committee about to sit became a committee for the gratification of curiosity, and for the raking together of materials to form a bill of indictment against the Duke of Newcastle and the Aberdeen Government. It was absolutely powerless to do a single act for the bettering of the condition of the soldier, or promoting the success of our arms.

Lord John Russell's conduct on this occasion was a blot upon a very bright escutcheon. He had all along been jealous of the Duke of Newcastle. He had, and it was a right thing to do, forced on a division of the Ministries of War and the Colonies, but he had done so without providing a definite plan for the conduct of the new department. When the Cabinet determined to divide the two secretaryships, he was annoyed that the Duke of Newcastle selected the post of danger - the war department. He had actually thought of occupying it himself thus justifying the famous remark of Sidney Smith, that Lord John would not hesitate to take the command of a Channel fleet. When, the Duke was seated, with the full consent of his colleagues, Lord John pursued him with foolish criticisms, which were immediately disposed of as they deserved. When all seemed to be going well, Lord John wrote to the Duke of Newcastle, " You have done all that could be done, and I am sanguine of success." When calamity began to fall upon the army, Lord John revived the old exploded criticisms, and wished to substitute Lord Palmerston for the Duke. But the whole Cabinet dissented. Lord John retained his opinion, and intended to insist upon it; but before Parliament met in December, he told Lord Aberdeen that, having consulted his friends, he had changed his views, and no longer wished to oust the Duke from his office. From that time to the meeting of Parliament in January, he gave no sign. But public opinion was loud and fierce, and Lord John could not bear its anger; and in the dead of the night, from his domestic hearth, he wrote the hurried and brief announcement of his intention to fly from a sinking ship.

The Aberdeen Ministry did many good things, but it was ill-constructed to carry on a war. Apart from inexperience, which any Ministry that could have been formed in 1853 must have laboured under, it possessed a chief who could not put sufficient heart into the business; and it was compounded of men, able for domestic administration in time of peace, but not rough and ready enough, not hard enough for the rude work of war. The two parties in the Cabinet, the Whigs and Peelites, did not blend well together; and men much inferior, but united, and almost passionately in earnest, would have done better. The machine they had to work with was imperfect, the system they had to work through was devised not to secure efficiency, but economy; and they did not expand and complete the first, or alter and invigorate the second, sufficiently early to mitigate the effects of a military failure. With the means at their disposal in 1854, with the ideas then prevailing on all sides respecting fleets and armies, it is not likely that any ministry would have been more successful. For, it should never be forgotten that, so far as the suffering in the Crimea was concerned, it would have been possible to lessen it only on two conditions: that the possibility of the failure of the original plan should have been taken into account; and that England, like France, could have placed 20,000 fresh troops in the Crimea, and adequate transport, towards the end of October. But to do that the army should have been increased by 50,000 men, not in the spring of 1854, but in the summer of 1853. The suffering that occurred out of the Crimea could have been and should have been prevented; but to that point we shall recur elsewhere.

There were some difficulties in forming a new Ministry. The Queen sent for Lord Derby; he accepted Her Majesty's commission to frame a Cabinet, and he invited the co-operation of Lord Palmerston, Mr. Gladstone, and Mr. Sidney Herbert - the very Ministers whom his party had just censured! They declined; and as Lord Derby, much to the chagrin of Mr. Disraeli, would not venture without them, he threw up his commission. As the contingent led into the opposition ranks by Lord John formed part of the majority, Her Majesty commanded him to form a Cabinet. But he could get no one to back him under the circumstances, and then Her Majesty called in Lord Palmerston. But few days had elapsed since he and others had fallen under a vote of censure. Yet he now was able to construct a new Ministry out of old materials. Lord Aberdeen, Lord John Russell, and the Duke of Newcastle, of course, could not well form part of the new Cabinet. Lord Palmerston succeeded Lord Aberdeen; Lord Panmure replaced the Duke of Newcastle; Earl Granville succeeded Lord John as President of the Council: and Lord Canning obtained a seat in the Cabinet. These were the only material changes. It was understood that the policy of the new Cabinet should be the policy of the old one. So that nothing was gained except the exclusion of two men by a vote of the House, and the self- exclusion of a third. This Government, however, lasted only a few days. Lord Palmerston declared that he was still opposed to the Committee of Inquiry as unconstitutional and inefficient for its purpose. The Government, he said, had already begun the needed reforms - had re-modelled the "War Department, established a transport board at the Admiralty, and were about to send commissioners to the Crimea and re-organise the medical department at home. But Mr. Roebuck insisted on appointing his committee; and as Lord Palmerston was not willing to run counter to the desire of the public, which found expression in Mr. Roebuck's motion, and would no longer resist the appointment of the committee, Mr. Sidney Herbert, Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Cardwell, and Sir James Graham resigned. So the committee was appointed, and Lord Palmerston formed a fresh Ministry.

The new members were Sir George Cornewall Lewis, Chancellor of the Exchequer; Lord John Russell, Colonial Secretary; Mr. Vernon Smith, India Board; the Earl of Harrowby, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster; while Sir Charles Wood, quitting the India Board, became First Lord of the Admiralty, and Lord Carlisle went to Ireland in the room of Lord St. Germans. The object of the original movers in this business had now been accomplished: the Peelites had been driven out of the Government altogether. So much of the home history of England it seemed needful to introduce here. We must now return to the Crimea, and endeavour to describe what really happened there, and show how far the popular outcry was justified.

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