WHAT IS CONSERVATISM.
CONSERVATISM professes to reform the essential errors of Toryism, by substituting the fidelity to long-established principles in lien of maintaining antiquated frameworks as the vital part of institutions. Conservatism, therefore, does not consist in resisting all changes of method or practice whether in government or society—does not consist in defending either _abuses or imperfections. Those es- tablished practices for the conduct of our political or social action, which we mill " institutions " are themselves the growth of ex- perience and intelligence in "institutions," community ; and as the experience
and intelligence of the community continue to grow, these institu- tions will continue to be developed. To arrest that process of growth is an act of destruction, not merely denying to the nation the larger development of which it is capable, but directly destroying vitality which cannot exist without growth. True Conservatism consists in preserving to the community that faculty of growth ; in shielding it alike against puerile attempts to tear open the bud, or attempts to arrest the expansion of the organism by an artificial framework.
Our recent history exemplifies this species of Conservatism. When the intelligence of Ireland had advanced so far that it was no longer possible to deny a place in the political system to the Roman Catholic of that country, the concession of Emancipation was an act of Conservatism. The reform which superseded con- vulsive attempts to get rid of the abuses that had crept over our Parliamentary system, was eminently an act of Conservatism ; and it was Sir Robert Peel's adoption of that reform as distinguished from the obsolete dogmatism of the Tory party, which resulted in the formation of the party since called. Conservative. The emancipation of our commerce from the obsolete principle of Pro- tection, not only preserved the commercial development of this country, but saved its Legislature from discredit in supporting an antiquated abuse. If we want an illustration a converse, we may say that Con- servatism is exactly the opposite of some things that Lord Derby has done as First Minister. The last principle that he avowed in his shifting course, the counteraction of Democracy, was a viola- tion of true Conservatism. By Democracy he meant, the growth of influence and power in the body of the people at large, the result of development in experience and intelligence; exactly the things which the practical Conservative would encourage.
Lord Derby, indeed, has not scrupled to violate some of the standing maxims of the constitution ; but his innovations have been the reverse of conservative—that is, destructive. It is a maxim of our constitution that Peers shall not interfere with the proceedings of the Commons; but Lord Derby not only spoke at the Commons from the House of Lords, but presented himself in the division-corridor at the close of the late debate, and competed with the common election-agent in his bustling intervention. It is an old practice of constitutional Ministers to keep the Houses of Parliament, however independent, as much as possible in accord, especially when they take any joint action upon a great public question. Every year this practice is called to mind by the voting of the Address to the Sovereign, uniform in its repetition of the Speech from the Throne, uniform in the joint language of the two Houses. But when Parliament had to make its declaration, after a solemn appeal to the country, on the subject of Free-trade, Lord Derby studiously induced the two Houses to pass different resolutions ; the Peers at his instigation repudiating the statement of the Commons. No demagogue could make more striking inno- vations in the practice of our constitution than this ; but it will be observed, that instead of opening the framework for the political growth of the state, it tends both to restrict and to break it down.
It is true Conservatism to maintain confidence in public men as something sacred. The faithful statesman not only keeps his word for tl.e sake of his own honour and dignity, but also for the sake of maintaining the character of his office and transmitting it unsullied to his successor. Lord Derby, who obtained power as a Protectionist, and entered office avowedly as an Anti-Democrat, but neither ef- fected nor attempted any performance in either character, did his utmost to destroy the faith in the understanding upon which pub- lic men obtain office. He avows that his Government was mani- festly in a minority as soon as the returns of the new Parliament were surveyed ; yet he continued to hold office,—a departure from the rational observance of constitutional usage, at variance with the preservation of our organic action and one tending to destroy the last remnants of that responsibility which enables Ministers to stand between the people and the Crown.
Lord Derby does not furnish the only example of destructive and subversive behaviour, although in his peculiar system of states- manship he is the keystone of the arch. For a Minister of the Crown to be formally convicted of complicity in a plan of organized bribery is not conservative either of the moral influence of his class or of the institution whose working was vitiated. For the Foreign Minister to eulogize the "immense glory" of one Napoleon, and to express " cordial " sympathy with that Napoleon's successor who had seized the post of the Kings of France on the pretext of universal suffrage, is not conservative. To eulogize that eulogi- zer of successful high treason, as Lord Derby did, is not conserva- tive.
It is not conservative to create a deficit in the revenue in the face of increasing expenditure ; and to accompany that wanton act of a Minister embezzling his own means, by a resort to sources of revenue at once the most unpopular and extreme.
It is not conservative to employ the last few hours in office to scatter imputations of meanness and insincerity on all political rivals ; or to impede a new Ministry in its earliest operations, by officially denouncing the Parliamentary majority as nothing but a congeries of minorities ; or by descending even to such small impedi ments as the refusal of a week's adjournment to the nobleman intrust- ed with the Sovereign's mandate, to obstruct its execution. By doing his best to prevent the formation of a Government, and by endea- vouring to discredit the members of that Government before it was formed, Lord Derby followed up his labours of undermining the confidence in public men, and undermining the Parliamentary system, by undermining the constituted authority of the Exe- cutive.