TOPICS OF THE DAY.
SUM OF THE PALMERSTON DEBATE.
Is it desirable to have such a foreign policy as Lord Palmerston's ? Is it desirable to have such a Ministry as that of which Lord Pal- merston is an essential part ? Such are the issues upon which Ministers and their friends insist upon taking the decision of the House of Commons, in lieu of the specific question adjudicated by the House of Lords. The object is both to obscure the Greek af- fair, and obscuring to aggrandize it, in a vast mist of words; and then to take the verdict on the general plea of character.
Now what is our foreign policy ? As set forth in the Ministe- rial case, it is a defending of British subjects universally ; in "con- stitutional" countries according to the laws of those countries, in despotic countries against the laws if those laws transgress consti- tutional ideas of individual liberty; a teaching of nations that this country is friendly to endeavours at self-government ; and the maintenance of peace. Such is the description of Lord Palmer- ston's policy by himself and friends : but if we test the profession by its results, we are startled to find Endland every-where accused of first fomenting revolution and then betraying the popular party; producing distrust and irritation in all countries ; and in all quarters dabbling in war. Let us study Lord Palmerston's policy in himself, to catch, if not its principles, which elude analysis' or its results, which elude classification, at least its spirit. And here we have the clue to it. It is an adroit combination of many-faced plausibili- ties. Two samples will serve to illustrate this position.
His most masterly and elaborate oration is disguised in a manner so colloquial and easy, that the smiling listener is won to delu- sion; and when sufficiently soaked with the Circean poison, he admits Lord Palmerston's sounding professions as facts indis- putable. listen to the Viscount's virtuous refusal to limit his own responsibility according to the diplomatic canon conveyed in the Peers' resolution, and you go heartily with him. But what if the Peers have put forth no such canon ? Such is the fact. Lord Palmerston, inspirer of jeurnals, President, and Roebuck, revives the exploded argument, that the resolution of the Lords cannot be observed, because it asserts that English subjects can only be referred for defence to the tribunals of a country in which they reside. But the Lords say no such thing. They admit that it is the duty of an English Minister to de as much—they do not assert that it is never his duty to do more ; they do not raise that question at all. They admit that Lord Palmerston was bound to do what he professed to do in Greece; they condemn what he really did; and then he professes to seek to have a Par- liamentary reversal of this edict, because he is not to be de- barred from performing an ulterior duty which has not been called in question. To this juggling plea he adheres with pertinacity : it furnishes the key to his whole speech—large generous professions applied in a quibbling manner— truth lending its ray to falsehood. The other instance is not less edifying. His friends boast for him, that when Russia was pursuing the Hungarian refugees into Turkey, Lord Palmerston sent the English fleet to the Dardanelles and said, "You sha'n't do it ! " and then the House of Commons rings again at that "British" sentiment. But when Russia asked for an explanation, Admiral Parker said that he was driven in "by stress of weather." This seems a disgraceful duplicity, combining the bully before one's friends with the craven before one's enemy. Lord Palmerston undertakes to explain it There was, he says, no defiance of Russia, only the fleet was sent to the Dardanelles, to assure Turkey of protection in case she were attacked : the en- trance into the Dardanelles is forbidden by treaty, and when the fleet entered a bay within the bounds, to avoid threatening weather, the explanation given to Russia became both a due to that power and a oorrect explanation. Thus, on the facts, both statements are true, and Lord Palmerston's friends ap- plaud enthusiastically. It has been one of his happiest dodges. But do not let us be deluded by his astute frankness. The discrepancy lies not in the facts, but in the oral interpreta- tion of them. He makes a boast to the friends behind, that he is going to the Dardanelles to tell Russia "You sha'n't do it" ; but when he comes to the spot, he adroitly puts himself in the wrong, and when Russia demands to know what brings him there, he does not keep up the loud "You sha'n't do it," but meekly ex- plains that he only wanted to stand out of the rain. His position between Britain and Russia was precisely that of Tony Lum kin between his mother and his stepfather, whom he makes pass for a highwayman : Tony pretends that he is going to talk off the dread- ful bravo, and, walking up to old Hardcastle, enters into a friendly chat, while his terrified mother is in a pious paroxysm of anxiety for him, of admiration at his devotion, his coolness, and his suc- cess. So Lord Palmerston's very acts are acting, his words are prevarication. Another point made by Lord Palmerston told very well at the time, but on scrutiny looks as suspicious as any of the rest. In the note of reconciliation with Spain he added the remark, that if Sir Henry Bulwer had not been in America, he should have been appointed to the Spanish Embassy • thus, apparently, pointing reconciliation with insult Lord Palmerston now explained that the notes, both on the English and Spanish side, were mutually agreed upon before they were forwarded. No doubt, Lord Palmer- ston, we have said, is diligent in preparing his own events. But he does not tell us whether or not this particular passage was not forced upon the Spanish negotiator as a disagreeable condition ; whether it did or did not take much trouble in cramming it down the throat of Spanish pride. How did the Spaniard look when he read it ?— In no blue book has Lord Palmerston published that countenance.
Now this seems to be the spirit of ins foreign policy—to get up a double aspect for everything—to ride doubly-allied between two armies, until one grows strong with victory. Pirates pursue the same policy when they carry two flags, and are English or Rus- sian with the change of bunting. Professions of Liberalism, not committed to irretrievable acts, the whole covered with a pleasant plausibility—that is the description of Lord Palmerston's foreign policy as expounded by himself. Is it a desirable foreign policy for powerful, practical, plainspoken England? We need not answer the question.
Issue the second—Is it desirable for this country to have a Mi- nistry of which pleasant plausible Palmerston is an essential ? For the country, it seems, is so weak that it cannot do without him, though he must sit in the same Cabinet with his censor—like the simple goose riding in the same boat with the dreadful grey fox. What is the practical use of having such a Cabinet ? Its use is, to keep up an authoritative string of liberal professions,— the performance of said Liberalism daily becoming more and more of a form, like the coronation challenge of the Champion. Lord Palmerston " teaches " the Cabinet how to speak frankly and fluently without erring into pledges; he teaches them how to set fact against fact in such a way that they shall have evidence to prove both sides of a question—how to make shields of gold and silver so that they may stand by either metal; and when at last they are in a scrape, he teaches them how to confute an accusation by proving some merit on other grounds—a sort of Irish alibi, proving that they didn't steal O'Brady's cow in Belfast on Mon- day, because they were at Newtownlimavady on Thursday ; and that they did not give up lii•Bride to the Peep o' Day Boys, be- cause they bravely defended O'Shaughnessy from the Peelers. " And. is n't it all thrue ? " Sure enough, it is all true : the Libe- rals cheer lustily ; the more enthusiastic of them present Lady Palmerston a full-length of her lord to hang round her neck; an they "rush to the poll" that they may vote confidence in Lord Pahnerston's Ministry. So we keep in the shop-window the great mouthpieces of " Reform," content to do without any new measures in our stock. That is the use of the Palmerston-Russell Cabinet This is precisely the conviction reimpressed on the public mind by the joint display of Lords and Commons. Hitherto the question, however, has been merged in another— What Ministry is there to take its place ? But wl°, the question is, whether the Ministry is growing not merely useless but insufferable, for its small mis- chievousness, its detrimental character, and its discreditable aspect before the world at home and abroad ? It has long held office on sufferance, "until its suocessors should be appointed " ; it win henceforward hold office until the measure of public vexation shall be full—until the primary question shall become, not whether a better Ministry can succeed it, but whether this is any longer en- durable, whatever may happen beyond ? As we expected, the evasion of the Lords' judgment has not helped to mitigate the downward influence of the demonstration in the Commons.