13 MARCH 1852, Page 11



Du numerous gathering of Liberal Members at Lord John Ens- aell's house is a promising review of the Opposition forces, as to numbers: we are not so sure that the policy instituted—to pre- cipitate a trial of strength with the new Ministry, and to concen- trate the power of the-Opposition on the one question of Free-trade --was the best for the occasion. It would be so, undoubtedly, were the adverse doctrine of Protection the sole characteristic of the present Ministry ; but signs of greater danger in other quarters of their horizon begin to be descried. The Government against which the meeting in Chesham Place was virtually arraying the Liberal forces involves something more than Protection, and something far more dangerous than restriction on commerce : the most posi- tive declaration on which the members of the Government are agreed is, that there shall be no substantive.reform of the House of Commons.; ominous passages in Church matters indicate a dispo- sition to revive the old " Church and State " spirit ; in Ireland, an unmistakeable hint has been thrown out that the system of Na- tional Education is to be disturbed if not reversed; and Lord Eglinton is welcomed as the Lord-Lieutenant of the Orange party : in short, the United Kingdom is threatened with several forms of reaction, more dangerous politically and morally, more imminent too, than restriction on trade. If the new Opposition has any function, it is to resist what the new Ministry involves.

Flan the best course to that end been selected ?—this is the question suggested by the conclusion of the Chesham Place meet- ing. It cannot be answered without serious doubt, and it will pro- bably remain under consideration until Mr. Villiers have obtained replies to his questions. The limitation of action is one of doubtful policy, because, in the first place, it seems unnecessary. Of course it is desirable to have some concentrated action on so important a point as Free-trade—one, too, where success is certain to result from steadfast concentration : but the Anti-Corn-law League already furnished a machinery for that purpose. .In the second place, suppose, what is not impossible, that Lord Derby were to yield on the Free-trade point : in that case, would the banded Liberals be prepared to accept his Administration on other grounds ? or if not, what ground have they reserved to them- selves for counteracting the Government? We presume that this alternative question has already occurred to some Members of the meeting, and that it stands over for decision until after Monday next. In the mean time, the question is worth deliberate re- flection.

Still more se, as, even if the Members could_ agree amongst them- selves to concentrate their own action on the one point, they could not keep baok the other questions which are already occupying the field of public discussion, nor oblige the public to forbear. At the general election, which cannot be very long deferred, those other questions will be eagerly debated, especially that of Parliamentary Reform; and by waiving them before the election, the leaders of the Liberal party might not only forfeit the credit which they would obtain by continuing to stand up for popular requirements, but they would .create much displeasure by the show of neglect, and would leave the discussion to be carried on without confidence in them, without temper, and without guidance. Such an election might be the more exciting for those who love the amusements of the _hustings, but it could be advantageous only to the interests of Reaction. One chance, far from improbable since it is already discernible in foregoing signs, is, that the Liberal party, already a heterogeneous mass severed into sections by many a crack and chasm, would be so thoroughly divided into separate camps, many and small, as to leave the Reactionists in possession of the sole united _force respectable in numbers—a majority surrounded by many minorities—a party Triton amid a shoal of party minnows. The "territorial aristocracy" might then canter over the field of contest, enjoying a victory as costless as that of their mailed an- cestors caracoling and cutting amid an unarmed rabble of the "common people.' The ulterior object of the newly-organized Opposition, of course, must be the reconstruction of a more popular Government ; but it is very questionable whether a party of candidates for office, ad- vancing with the single inscription of "Free-trade" upon their banner, could command the confidence of 'the people. The Liberal public ;vill naturally desire some combination which incorporates the exact opposite of the unpopular principles involved in the con- struction of the Derby Administration • an idea which includes, as essentials, many things besides Free-trade,—most —most chiefly, Parlia- mentary Reform, religious freedom and equality, general education, and material improvement. •To a party putting forward Free- trade, as the be-all, the public would very likely answer, that we are not still in the spring of the year 1846. With the substitution of Cobdenior O'Connell,—in itself, no doubt, a change for the better —the conclusion at which the Chesham Place meet- ing seems to have arrived bears too much resemblance to a " Lich- field House compact " ; and of such compacts the fatigued public is naturally suspicions. It will respect the earnestness and sin- gleminded concentration of leading Free-traders, but it may say, and justly, that every form of Liberal action needs not be estopped to settle that question; and it will look around to see what com- bination of able men can be found to embody the complete coun- teraction of the Tory Government. We have no belief, let us say, that the public would recognize that embodied counteractive in Lord John Russell's return to office; his Ministry having been obliged to surrender place precisely because the public and Parlia- ment _ had ceased to repose confidence in the men. The nation will. expect another and a better Ministry; and if it be disap- pointed, it may be content to let Toryism have its thug for a season. Such a possibility, we insist, is worth the most serious considera- tion of the Liberal party.