A WHIG ORATOR ON THE CONSTITUTIONAL LAW OF MINISTERIAL RESPONSIBILITY.
MR. COCKBURN, the new Member for Southampton, who is in every sense, we hope, a "rising man," has been entertained by his constituents at dinner, and has repaid them with some ori- ginal remarks on the constitutional position of Ministers. Mr. Cock-burn's observations were distinguished by much of that pro- fessional tact which is making his way at Nisi-prius, in catching men of all opinions by applauding all. He was more than Whig- gishly Liberal, to catch the Whig-Radicals; most elastic in his Liberalism, so as to line it down for the accommodation of Whigs. He is just such a man as it must delight an easy-going Minister to see appointed Tribune of the People—so " enthusiastic " with- out being impracticably austere. A fine specimen of his self- adjusting logic, which may be made available on both sides of a question, is his vindication of Ministers for giving up a measure which he applauds them for having intended to maintain— "We must make allowance for the difficulties which they have to contend with who are working the machine of government. We should be prepared to help on the wheels as fast as we can; but we must make some allowance for those who have to work the machine, whose movements are often clogged by impediments Winch they have it not always in their power to remove or clear away. I am glad to see that the Ministers have come forward to do their best to act in ac- cordance with the loudly expressed wishes of the commercial community; because 1 believe the view of her Majesty's Ministers was that the existing law was to be upheld; but when they found that the general voice of all classes of the commu- nity was loudly in favour of removing the restrictions on. the Bank of-England, the Government gave way to the loudly pronounced opinion of the public at largei, as it ought always to give way on such occasions. It is all nonsense to tell me that certain principles in the eye of the theorist, the political economist, or the' philosopher, are best Calculated to insure certain results. It may be so in theory, nay more, it may be so in truth; but when you find a great community rising as one man, and declaring their opinion to be, that the removal of a certain measure essentially fatal to their interests and their welfare was imperatively required, no- set of men, because they happen to be in power, are entitled to stand between ths expression of the public feeling and the public will. Therefore, I-say, Ministers. did wisely to remove the restrictions on the Bank."
This passage is unparalleled for the coolness with which it travesties the form of reason. The speaker applauds Ministers for having yielded, because they thought they ought not to yield it is nonsense, he says, to maintain certain principles which may be theoretically, philosophically, and truly said to be best calcu- lated to insure certain results, when the community rise " as one man," and assert, very "loudly," that "the removal of a certain, measure essentially fatal to their interests was imperatively re- quired." The community that rose "as one man " only consisted of those inclivideals who were suffering the consequences of their own mismanagement, and whose castigation under the wholesome discipline of adversity was necessary to the purification and safety ' of the real "community." Mr. Cockburn's doctrine will be strange to his friends the " constitutional " Whigs. It destroys the very root of social government. Ministers, the Executive servants of the supreme Legislature, are appointed to see that the laws passed by that Legislature be executed. They thought a particular law best calculated to attain its ends; they thought so truly ; but because, in its legitimate operation, the law bore hard upon certain persons who had deliberately transgressed its prin- ciples, and their complaints were loud, Ministers were justified in. giving up the law ! According to this rule, the Recorder at the Old Bailey, instead of passing sentence, ought to repeal the sta- tute under which a prisoner is tried, if the culprit belloWs very loudly at the prospect of the penalty. The Lord Chief' Justice: ought to repeal any civil statute which is unpleasing to a defend-- ant. Parliament decrees a law which is to have a certain opera- tion ; it is the part of the Executive to enforce the laws decreed by Parliament : but if those who fall under the operation of the law are loud, the Executive may abrogate it. This is Mr. Cock- burn's doctrine, and a precious doctrine it is. But his notion directly violates a well-established rule of Mi- nisterial etiquette. The real " community " may fall into error, • may demand some measure which is not wise, and the demand from the sovereign people may be too imperative to be disobeyed.. But in such cases, it is the recognized rule, not that those who disapprove of the proposed measure should succumb to the op- posite opinion and act against their convictions, but that they• should decline the office, and niake way for those who do con- scientiously approve of the measure. This rule has many advan- tages; whereof the most signal are, that every measure is carried out by those conscientiously favourable to its complete working, and that outrageously discreditable measures cannot be carried out, because you cannot find men lit to be Ministers who will adopt very degraded views. But admit Mr. Cockburn's principle, and you sweep away that established etiquette of Ministerial ap- pointments: you keep certain persons in office without reference- to their opinions ; you abandon opinions, perhaps good in them- • selves, to be worked by their enemies; and you permit Ministers: to adopt the lowest policy without being hell accountable for it. According to such a system, the leading statesmen in the country might become mere agents for the railway stags, or some worse' "community."