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THE LATE CRISIS.
WE have lately witnessed one of those ministerial
changes which are so peculiar to our country and so characteristic of her constitution. Under no other government can a catastrophe occur which is at once so sudden in its advent, so complete in its operation, and so little detrimental in its consequences. In France the removal of a minister, if it shew anything more than the displeasure of the Emperor, at any rate can only indicate a change in his policy or his plans. If there were such a thing as public opinion in that unhappy country, we should not expect to hear its voice in the advancement of Espinasse or the mission of Pélissier. In Spain the strife of party resembles more than anything else the contest of factions in an ancient Greek state; to be out of office implies disgrace, to be in office implies the power of vengeance on those who before held office. Even in those countries whose principles of conduct most resemble our own, to whom in conjunction with England the world looks with confidence for the establishment of constitutional freedom in Europe, we find no practice similar to ours. In Belgium a ministerial crisis is rare, and when it does occur it is accompanied by no change in the governing party. If the assembly of deputies offers to any measure an opposition more than usually violent, the cabinet tenders its resignation until the measure is adopted; a compromise is almost always the result of the dispute, the ministers resume their seals, and affairs proceed in their usual course until another difficulty occasions another resignation and another compromise. By this arrangement public opinion has every power of making itself felt, it can shew a successful repugnance to an unpopular proposition, it can even procure the dismissal of an unpopular minister, but it cannot compass the downfall of the whole cabinet, it cannot raise in its room a party whose principles on all important points are diametrically opposed to those of the party which preceded it. In another country we have lately experienced the best possible proof of the stability of its government. In England the introduction of a Conspiracy bill was sufficient to overthrow the most popular minister that we have seen for many years, and to summon men to office who we might have expected would have remained all their life nothing more than brilliant leaders of opposition.
In Sardinia the same cause has failed to have the same effect. In supporting his policy Count Cavour would appeal to the experience and the success of twenty years, he could shew how he had gradually raised his country to the honourable place which she now occupies, and could convince his hearers that his possession of power was identical with her dignity and her prosperity. But we see in England what we should in vain look for elsewhere. We see a government driven from office by the adverse fortune of a single debate, so suddenly that no one could have suspected it a day before, s0 completely that not a member of it remains, and we see its engagements and responsibilities devolve upon those who have spent all their time and talent in denouncing their incurrence. This is dependent on no freak of the sovereign's will as in France, it is accompanied by no personal animosities as in Spain. We do not regard Lord Palmerston as disgraced in the eyes of Royalty, or augur from the advent of Lord Derby to power the growth of conservative principles in the mind of our Queen. We could behold without surprise the ex-premier and the present premier walking arm-in-arm down St. James'-street, we could believe that Mr. Disraeli and Sir C. Lewis hold amicable conferences with regard to past and present budgets. Still there is nothing wanting to complete the change, there are new faces and new principles in every official department, new occupants and new furniture in every official residence; those who formerly attacked have now to defend, those who before defended have now the more pleasing and successful position of attack. We might almost believe that a change of sovereigns would produce less real effect than a change of ministry. The nation would be plunged into sorrow and mourning at the loss of one whom it had loved and respected, its grief would be not untempered with joy at the accession of a new monarch, but our policy would remain the same. Frederick the Great might look forward to the death of Elizabeth of Russia as relieving him from his worst and most dangerous enemy, but he knew that the firm alliance of England could only be shaken or destroyed by the retirement of Pitt.
If we believe that the consequences of a change of ministry are so great, and that the change itself is often so sudden and so unlooked-for, we might at first feel inclined to regret that such a mighty power was confided to the hands of a popular assembly. In the case of a vote of direct or implied censure on a government, there are but two courses left for it to pursue, either to appeal to the country or to tender its resignation. We know that there must be a limit to the first of these courses, but there may never be a limit to the second. It is contrary to reason to suppose that a parliament will only sit three months, but it is not contrary to experience to believe that a ministry will only last three months. It would only have justified the predictions of many political prophets, if at the end of a month's experience of office Lord Derby had laid down the seals which he had so lately received; and there is no one into whose hands we should more have expected them to come than into those of Lord Palmerston. Is there then no danger of perpetual change? Can we expect a House of Commons to afford the minister a majority on every important question; or if its opinions be so fixed, its principles so weil constituted, can we ever expect a change at all? Does it not seem an anomaly that those who have so long contributed to the victory of Liberal opinions should be now content to support with equal vigor the opponents of those opinions? We would answer that our constitution is made up of anomalies, the merit of which is that they are successful and triumphant. This is one of the many dangers which beset our country. It is fatal in theory, but innocent in practice. There are few ministries which do not outlive the period assigned to them at their birth, and some whose very struggles into life were thought to be the throes of death, have survived those who predicted their early dissolution.
The solution, if there be a solution, lies in the fact that a minister is never now driven from power until he has deserved his fall; a government never loses the confidence of the House of Commons till it has lost the confidence of the country. There is no greater exemplification of this truth than the event which we are now discussing. Lord Palmerston came into power with the most abundant popularity, he was thought to represent the spirit of vigor and manliness, which we had so long desiderated in our councils. The fever of Gallicism, which has now given place to the reaction usual in such attacks, was then at its height. We were dazzled by the power and the magnificence of Louis Napoleon. We compared the short and pregnant messages which were passed between the Tuilleries and the Crimea, with our own lengthy despatches, so much slower but not so sure. In our hearts we almost cursed the fortune which had given us a constitutional government, and sighed for the unity and vigor of a paternal despotism. To execute these ideas as far as possible the voice of the country raised Lord Palmerston to the head of affairs. We knew that he was the representative of spirited foreign policy abroad, we cared not if we were made the subjects of similar policy at home. We gloried in the title of Cives Romani,” and held up its great originator to the terror of foreign nations; but we acknowledged to ourselves that our citizenship was not of the Republic, that the Rome to which we looked for protection was not that of Augustus but of Augustulus. Lord Palmerston did not disappoint these expectations. He brought a war, which at one time seemed more serious than we had expected, to a successful conclusion; he avoided faults which had proved the ruin of former ministries. If we were surprised at the complacency which he shewed to France, we were flattered by the continuance of the French alliance; there was something for us to respect in his age, something that excited our sympathy in his joviality: But in spite of all this public feeling had completely changed when he fell. Vices were discovered in his policy where we before were taught to praise the existence of corresponding virtues, while the few who lamented his fate did so less from personal respect, than from a feeling that his party possessed more unity of organization than the parties of others. The inquiry will not be devoid of interest, if we attempt to trace the reasons for this change. We cannot believe that the fall of the late ministry was caused in any immediate manner by the introduction of the Conspiracy bill
. The feeling which broke out then had been collecting for many months, and if we would find the real cause we must look farther and deeper.
There are two actions of Lord Palmerston which are always quoted as contributing in no small degree to his defeat, the appointment of Lord Clanricarde and the decoration of Col. Phipps. Now that these should occupy a prominent place in such considerations is of itself very significant. We all know how the advent of Lord Palmerston to power was hailed with joy by a certain religious party : our ears have long been outraged by the cry of “Palmerston the man of God.' We know how his judicious selection of bishops contributed to his political strength, and how strong was the belief that we had at last, besides our serious cooks and serious footmen, the blessed luxury of a serious prime minister. Alas! these anticipations were frustrated by the appointment of Lord Clanricarde, the appointment of a peer who ought not to have been allowed to take his seat in the house of peers until his character was relieved from suspicion. There was no party which was not estranged by this injudicious and indecorous act. The servility of Evangelical journalism attempted to transfer the blame from the Premier to his colleagues. But the hand of the artist was too apparent in his work : if it was not Lord Palmerston who made the appointment, we knew at least that he who made it was no other than Lord Palmerston. We seriously think that this contributed more largely than anything to the general distrust of the country.
The decoration of Colonel Phipps was made more of at the time than it deserved, the recipient was probably in all respects worthy of the honor; but still the way in which it was conferred was characteristic of Palmerstonian effrontery.
No one else would have concluded a list of Indian worthies, who had been scarcely sufficiently rewarded for the merits which they had shewn, with the name of one who at best was nothing more than a courtier, a knight on carpet consideration. Here as before the people were deceived. They had trusted that the days of nepotism and oligarchical exclusiveness had passed away, and that those of equality and civil service examinations had arrived; they were awakened from their dream by the proof that vices which would ruin a commoner can be concealed by the coronet of a marquis, and that the best reward for a life spent in public service under the blaze of an Indian sun, the best guerdon for a country saved, is to be united in decoration with one whose sole claim to distinction is to have kept the queen's private purse. These however were mistakes which could have been avoided by more prudent policy or by more perfect tact. But there was that inherent in Lord Palmerston which would have always prevented him from continuing long the chief minister of this country. He never rose to the dignity which was required by the position which he held or the occasion on which he spoke. He was ever flippant, ever superficial. sometimes even worse than this. He was uncivil and dictatorial. No one else would have ventured to reply to the fair and temperate questions of independent members, as he ventured to reply to those of Mr. Stirling and Mr. Darby Griffith. If we allow such power as we do allow to the House of Commons, we should at least contrive that the House should feel the importance of the subjects which it is discussing. If we place the confidence which we are content to place in our ministers, we may expect in them a double portion of this gravity: not only a gravity in proposing their own measures, but an earnestness in replying to the objections of other members. In both these qualities Lord Palmerston was deficient. To shew how far he was deficient in the first, we need only point to that memorable occasion when in virtue of his office he proposed a vote of thanks to the Indian army. We might have supposed that nobody was ignorant of the story of their victories, and that our prime minister would have been less ignorant than others, but it proved otherwise. The subject required no embellishments of eloquence, although it might have struck some fire from the most impassive breast; but we at least expected infor