TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE CLOUD DISPERSED.
Dix semi-official announcement that the misunderstanding between our Government and that of the 'United States was cleared up, must have given more genuine satisfaction to millions, both here and across the Atlantic, than most political events in these days are calculated to afford. However monstrous and absurd it may have appeared that two powerful nations, linked by the closest ties of kindred, sympathy, and interest, should make war upon each other for such a cause as was involved in this dispute, yet none who remember how much decisions on questions of foreign policy depend on the good sense, candour, and good temper of the men immediately concerned in their discussion, and how little on the interests or even the real wishes of the nations on either side, can have deemed it impossible that England and America should have fallen to fighting for the right of catching fishes in the Bay of Fun- dy. The near approach of the Presidential election in America, when the vote of every vagabond and adventurer is eagerly sought—and the occupation of office in England by a party with notorious and avowed Absolutist sympathies, and with a disposition, the natural sequence of their selfish class principles of commercial policy, to put Free-trade to the teat of a war with our principal customer—must have increased the uneasiness of every reflecting man.
Nor were reasons more personal wanting to lend importance to a dispute that would otherwise have occasioned little anxiety among us. An accidental glass of claret might have brought on a fit of Lord Derby's gout, and have ruffled his usually gentle and complaisant temper; Lord Malmesbury's historical cook, "with whom so many of your Lordships are familiarly acquainted," might have thrown in a dash too much acid into some favourite entremet, and the destinies of two great nations might have been altered by the morn- ing's irritation succeeding to indigestion and a sleepless night. It is by no means pleasant that the peace of this country should be dependent on the state of the nerves or stomachs of invalids and bon-vivants. Both have their places, their occupations, and their consolations ; but the council-board of the empire in these days is more exacting than the library-chair or the dinner-table ; and even if a man have all the mental capacities of the statesman, yet strong health and a businesslike regime are found essential to the satisfactory discharge of the duties of public life, becoming every year more and more engrossing. At any rate, the people, whose interests are at stake, only feel those interests safe when they are intrusted to men in whose discretion, knowledge, and constant fitness for business, they feel confidence ; and just now the reverse of all this is the case, as regards both our Foreign and Colonial Secretary and our Prime Minister. The cloud has indeed broken and dispersed, with no worse result than a few flashes of summer lightning ; but the period during which it has been "looming in the distance" has been one of painful uncertainty, and that uncer- tainty mainly owing to the characters of the men in whose hands lay the primary decision of the part England was to take. The feelings of the last fortnight must have made many acutely sen- sible, perhaps for the first time, how really they are interested in the personnel of a Ministry, and how far below the acknow- ledged standard of ability are her Majesty's present advisers. Among other considerations that may be suggested by this trans- ient peril, not the least practical is the illustration thrown by it on the nature .of responsible government among us in connexion with Foreign affairs and Colonial affairs. It is a fine phrase, and in matters of taxation and Home administration, it approximates to a reality ; but as far as our relations with Foreign nations are concerned, it is a mere phrase, and the use of it is as mischievous as all unrealities in practical life must be, in proportion to the magnitude of the interests they affect. An incapable Foreign or Colonial Secretary may do a vast amount of mischief; and long before the public knows anything about it the mischief is irrevo- cable, and perhaps involves the nation in a continuance of it as the lesser of two evils. This might easily have been the case here. Had a single shot been fired between an English and an American man of war, all England would have indignantly reclaimed against the rash despatch and the reckless man who was the cause of the quarrel ; but the blood of the two people would have been up, tra- ditional jealousies would have been roused, and the flame which a fool had lighted might not have been extinguished by the united wisdom, moderation, and self-interest of the sober and thoughtful of both countries. And in this case what becomes of the respon- sibility of the Minister ? When war is once begun, all parties see that the only way to peace is to conquer it ; that feeling absorbs all other considerations, and the nation has something more imme- diately pressing than to take vengeance on the person who may after all only be guilty of the common crime of occupy- ing a post of dignity and emolument for which he is totally unfit,—a crime, besides, in which the electors of the country are to the full participators. The theory of Ministerial responsibility is in such cases a pure fiction—has not a shadow of fact correspond- ing to it. Nor is it easy to devise any machinery by which the acts of the Executive can be submitted to the control of the nation before they have produced effects which no after deliberation can efface or materially modify, unless the government were alto- gether put into the hands of a Committee of the House of Com- mons: for which development of Democracy the nation is not yet prepared, though it is impossible to say how soon we might grow ripe even for that under a course of Derby and Malmesbury. It would not take long to make welcome any means by which the genuine wishes and opinions of the people of England might find expression in our Foreign and Colonial policy; and it is among the strange anomalies of Lord Derby's position, that he, the St. George who is to combat and slay the dragon of Democracy, has round him just the men who force upon the most conservative the con- viction that no developments of Democracy could probably throw the fortunes of this country into hands less capable of piloting a bark freighted with so costly a treasure. Let Lord Derby bp as- sured, that if he wishes to establish among us a pure Park nit- ary government, from which we are far enough at preont, he could not do better than continue to fill the most important offices with gentlemen who, except as statesmen, could not possibly earn three hundred a year in any useful or ornamental function ; and the warning to him applies equally to those, whoever fh-- may be, who are to come after -him—at least to the few who eseirk. the Deluge" and repeople the wasted land—that the only way to stave off the extreme limit of Democracy, direct government by popular assemblies, (though nations have got on tolerably in old times even so,) is to seek diligently for able men, and to make ability, knowledge, and uprightness, essential conditions, if not the sole test, for office. If we thought the immediate advent of Democracy in this country a desirable thing at all, we shpuld advise a Premier to put a fool into the Foreign and a tyro into the Colonial Office, and to let them embroil the nation in a war with the United States : the rest would follow of its own accord.