18 AUGUST 1855, Page 11



Jr Members of Parliament are to console themselves at all for their expenditure of time, health, and energy, upon public business during the session that has just closed, it must be by reflecting upon some other result of this expenditure than that which will ap- pear upon the statute-book. "Labor ipsovoluptas " is, indeed, the principle upon which most men who devote themselve to labour for the public can alone regard themselves as fully compensated ; but generally the Parliamentary session does not terminate with- out some definite improvement effected, some great principle re- duced to practice, or some obstruction to enterprise removed. And even this session, Lord Brougham, growing more hopeful as he grows older, will not allow that nothing has been done in the way of Law Reform. Sir Benjamin Hall, too, points complacently to the Parliamentary result of his own efforts. A slight mitigation of the restrictions imposed by the Beer Act of last session, and the partial success of the Limited Liability Bill, indicate the growing influence which the interests of the respectable poor exercise upon the views of our legislators. But, allowing the utmost credit for these essays at improvement, we cannot but note that Parlia- ment has seriously abated its legislative functions within the last • six months, so small is the amount of conspicuous, substantive, and weighty measures completed, compared with either what-is usually done during a session, or with that which has been projected and carried through several stages of discussion during this session. But, in truth, the legislative functions of' Parliament, as the3r have been practically almost in abeyance, so are they. really subor- dinate in importance at the outset of a war which absorbs the ener- gies and strains the resources of the country. Though it sits always as the great council of the nation, to dictate the policy of the Go- vernment, to watch, criticize, and control its proceedings, and when necessary to change its composition, these functions become at such a crisis as the present far more important than that of settling legislative questions which can wait for a quieter time, when men's minds will be freer to decide them on their own merits. By its manner of discharging its functions as the mainspring of government, Parliament will be judged in history. For this it stands accountable to the constituencies and the country; on. this depends the opinion the world will hold.of the capacity of institu- tions such as ours to stand the strain and answer the demands of a political war—their capacity, that is, to subserve the highest aims of statesmanship and national life. If we look only at the positive proceedings of Parliament during the last six months—at the very slight degree in which it has ven- tured to interfere with the details of foreign policy or military Operations, or even with the financial arrangements of the Govern- ment—we might be tempted to suppose that its influence on all these matters was inconsiderable, and that little difference would result had Parliamentary instittitions not existed among ns. But when we remember what the power of Parliament is—how com- pletely the Executive Government is its representative and instru- ment—this very circumstance indicates not the weakness but the might of its influence. There is no considerable revision of Minis- terial propositions by Parliament, no constant conflict between Parliament and the Ministers of the Crown, because the Ministers Of the Crown, in preparing their propositions and in their whole public conduct, are accustomed almost solely to consider the opin- ion and to anticipate the wishes of Parliament In estimating, therefore, the conduct of Parliament during this session of war, and especially, in any comparison of our system of government With that of our principal ally, or our enemy, we must be careful to place to the credit of Parliament-all that vast and generally si- lent influence by which it tends to keep the Executive in harmony with the wishes of the nation as to its policy, its conduct, and its composition. Too often the action of Parliament is judged with Reference to this question only by those occasional efforts it is com- pelled to make in order to restore harmony to the system.; its ex- ceptional and irregular action is taken alone beeause it is more tangible and conspicuous,—as if the action of the vital forces ih the physical system were judged solely by those efforts to expel ele- ments of destruction which we call fever or cholera.

If, then, the tendency of representative asseniblfes to interfere in details of business of which they cannot be geed judges, their fac- tious speeches and votes, their sensitive reflection of public excite- ments, the publicity they demand, the strict responsibility they at- tempt to enforce, be reckoned against them as so fax prejudicial to a vigorous prosecution of any great war, and if these defects can- not be honestly said to be minimized in our own Parliamentary proceedings during the last session, at least let us not forget that the whole policy of the Government--its original declaration of war, its hearty alliance with France, its expedition to the Crimea, so wise in purpose however poor in execution—its conciliatory conduct towards Austria and the German Powers down to its final refusal to accept the Austrian propositions and its abandonment of the Vienna Conference—is in reality no more the policy of the Executive Government than of Parliament. All through this series of affairs, the Ministers of the Crown have rather followed than outrun the wishes of the nation as expressed more or less clearly through their representatives. And whatever credit isdue to our leading statesmen for having at first ventured to take a de- . eided step towards resisting the farther progress of Russian do- mination, and for having followed up that step with the degree of vigour they have shown, at least a corresponding credit belongs to

the Parliament of England for having all through indicated with no shade of uncertainty its resolve to take its share of the respon- sibility attaching to measures of which no one could foresee the issue. No despotic monarch, however high his spirit and firm his resolution, could have declared war with more reliance upon himself and his resources, than Queen 'Victoria was enabled to place upon her Parliament when she declared war against the Emperor of Russia; and no despotic monarch could have drawn upon the resources of absolute power with the unhesitating confidence with which the Queen of England has since the declaration of war con- tinued to appeal to that support. Whatever be the unfitness of parliamentary governments for carrying on war, this at least is an advantage they confer—that the wars in which they do engage are such as enlist the sympathies of the nation, and that the conduct of those wars must be such as to satisfy the nation that its blood and treasure are not recklessly squandered or foolishly misdirected.

We have devoted some space to remarks of this general scope because there is a tendency among us, for which we see no sufficient season, to depreciate the action and effects of representative governments in war ; and this appears to us in great measure to have arisen from overlooking all influence of parliaments but such as is really only occasional and is rather an imperfection in their working than inherent in their essence. With respect to the more prominent action of Parliament during the put session—to its formal adoption of the Ministerial policy, to its reception of the financial demands of the Government, its criticiemorrn military and diplomatic proceedings, and the general m support de- rived from the demeanour of the two Houses to the members of the Cabinet—we are unable to perceive in any of these particular, sufficient ground for the attempts made to cast a slur-upon repre- sentative institutions. We saw strong objections to the vote in consequence of which Lord Aberdeen's Government resigned, and we thought that resignation at the time an almost unmixed evil; a feeling deepened by the successive fruitless attempts to form a strong Administration, which terminated in a Ministry imperfectly representing a single section of the displaced Cabinet. But we are bound to admit, that, whatever the various motives actuating the House of Commons in that vote, it was entirely in accordance with national feeling ; and the recent conduct of the more eminent members of the so-called Peelite party—always excepting em- phatically the Duke of Newcastle, and not including Lord Aber- deen, of whose present opinions we have no evidence—has changed our feeling of regret into one of unmixed satisfaction that they. have not for some time past possessed any influence in the con- duct of the war or the direction of our diplomacy. It is not for us to expend bitter expressions on thepublic conduct of men to whose ability and character we have been wont to look with confidence and hope ; we have only to lament that the view taken by the Milne of Commons and the nation at large of their unfitness to. carry on the war with thorough-hearted vigour has been amply justified by their recent votes and speeches, and that the popular instinct has proved more accurate in its perception of tendency and its estimate of action than our belief in honourable consistency and statesmanlike foresight. In this matter at least the House of Commons fairly represented the nation, and the nation's judgment was essentially correct though rough and rude in its application.

Nor can We regard the reception given by the House of Com- mons to Lord John Russell's treachery towards his colleagues as Other than creditable to its feelings and its sense. Bent as it was upon changing the Government, it refused to be a party to an act which violated public morality and jarred upon the general feeling of the community. The hereditary leader of the Whigs, the Parliamentary chieftain of the Liberal party for twenty years, found that for once there was something in the House of Commons stronger than faction, something even among his pure Whig followers more powerful than love of place. Pie knows still better now the exact character of the impression he then pro- duced; and, smarting under an ostracism doubly earned, he at least will not accuse the House of Commons of being indifferent to the vigorous prosecution of the war in their zeal for party, or ut- terly reckless of party morality in their eagerness for a warlike Government. In no proceeding of the Commons during- the whole session have they more adequately expressed the national senti: ment, or more amply maintained their own.character as an assem- bly of English gentlemen, sound at heart and superior to paltry trickery, than in their treatment of Lord John Russell.

In persisting in the appointment of the Sebastopol Committee, the House of Commons, amid a choice of difficulties, decided con- trary to our opinion. We still think, that, except as an escape- valve for public indignation and anxiety, the Committee answered no purpose sufficiently important to justify the danger that at- tended its proceedings. But a prudent alteration of the personal composition of the Committee, with the strong warnings publicly uttered, warded off the danger; the public was meanwhile calmed and soothed ; practical improvements were quietly effected ; and by the time the Committee reported, the true state of the case was discerned with sufficient clearness, and the temper of the nation was sufficiently moderated, to allow the House to pass over the Report without sending Civil Commissioners to supersede the General in command of the army, or subjecting all the leading statesmen of the country to a perpetual ostracism. We are not aware that, in fact, the appointment or the operation of the Sebas- topol Committee has weakened the discipline of the army, fettered the hands of the.Executive Government, or impaired the cordiality of our alliance with France. On the other hand, it bas been a Warning to the Government and to our military commanders that-

their proceedings are subject to a severe retrospective judgment; it has put on record systematic faults Which before were almost unknown to the public; and it may constitute the starting-point of a thorough military reform.

_Having by these two measures—by forcing Lord Aberdeen's Government to resign, and by extorting the Committee from Lord Palmerston in spite of his evident reluctance—announced its deter- mination that the Ministers of the Crown should not only be the persons of its oboioe but that theirprocredings should be in accord- ance with its views, the House of P01221130111$ has refused to pass votes of censure proposed with a view to subvert the Ministry, and has with lavish hand granted all the supplies that have been denzauded of it. Tinder ordinary circumstances, it would, we believe, have been impossible for such a Government as Lord Pal- merston's to stand, with so small a section of regular party sup- porters, so formidable an organized Oppositien, and such numerous cliques of Members pledged to nothing but their own crotchets. The dissolution of Lord Aberdeen's Govertsment, and the conse- quent break-up of the parties which supported it as a coalition,. would have necessitated an appeal tone constituencies. But, how- ever little the national anxiety for the vigorous prosecution of the war, and for the avoidance of anything that might weaken our foreign alliances, may-have restrained particular Members of the House, the collective body has firmly resisted the various attempts made to embarrass and overthrow the Government. It would be exaggeration to assert that Lard Palmerston's Ministry possesses the full confidence of the House or the nation-, or that an uneasy feeling of suspicion does not still attach to men with whom Mr. Gladstone and Lord John Russell have till recently shared confi- dential counsels. Butthe noise of Commons has no absolute power of creating a perfect Ministry; it can only select from among prac- ticable combinations of-existing and 'known public men ; and in continuing to support a Government without awarding that Go- vernment an implicit and unreserved confidence, it follows the rule of not changing for the mere sake of change—of accept- ing that among the alternatives presented which offers least prospect of evil. Both in the practical support which it has given to Lord Palmerston's Government, and in the reserve it has shown in manifesting unstinted confidence, the House of Commons exactly represents the intelligent portion of the nation. It is a sufficient indication of this state of feeling in the House that the Minister has not ventured to ask, nor has the House volunteered to give a vote of unequivocal approbation of either the policy or the conduct of the Government. Why Lord Palmerston in the existing state of public feeling, emphatically shown as it was by the expulsion of lad John Russell from office, should have hesi- tated to ask the House of Commons to approve the refusal of the Government to accept the Austrian proposition embodying the principle of counterpoise inthe Black Sea, he knows best himself. It was his fault that the debate on the Vienna Conferences took place prematurely,- before that proposition could be safely dis- closed; for the English Parliament -will never insist on -discussing the foreign pokey of a Government in the, face of an official decla- ration from the Minister that all the facts of the case in question cannot yet be published. But whatever his reason, it marks very strongly the uncertainty of his positron, and the timidity with which he is ,feeliag his way towards a surer footing; for of the opinion of the country and the House on the question itself, apart from his dealing with it, there can, we should think, be little doubt. So far, however, as_ the Government has claimed the sup- port and assistance of the House of Commons, it has been granted an no stinted measure; and, what is more to the purpose, that support has been cordial and enthusiastic in proportion as Govern- ment has shown more vigour and firmness in prosecuting the war to the issue desired by the nation. We have no space to criticize the parts taken by individual Members of either House of Parliament. But if, on the one hand, such speeches as those delivered frequently of late by Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Bright are calculated to strengthen the hopes and render obstinate the resistance of our enemy, and proportion- ally. to alarm and discourage our allies, the reception given to suck exhibitions does more than counterbalance the evil effect. And, on the other hand, if our free institutions allow scope for these ec- cant humours of individuals of influence and repute, they also allow scope for the ardent spirit of a Lyndhurst; whose eloquent speeches on the crooked pokey of Prussia and Austria, calm and exact as state papers, fervid and stirring as a call to battle—heightened in effect by the age, the dignity, and official experience of the speaker, and Ins freedom from the ties and temptations of party—will remain when the contest is over as the -verdict of history on the conduct of thetlerman Powers. If the absence of Parliamentary inatitu- tioneweidd have spared us the pain and injury of the one set of influences woul have lost us the pleasure and advantage of the other. And, putting on one side all the possible mischief that can have arisen from the noisy and intemperate denunciations of their country's cause and their countrymen's spirit by the Peace party, and on the other the strength that lies in the almost unanimous expression of unofficial opinion in favour of >the most vigorous and &flinching prosecution of the war to a glorious and, perma- nent peace through victory:, it can scarcely be doubted that a vast, overbalance of advantage is due to the unchecked freedom of dis- ouesion in Parliament.

Such in our retrospect of the session, viewed broadly as it exhibits the capacity of oar representative assembly to aid in administering the a&irs of the nation during a great war. A closer inspection, or one from a different point of view, would undoubtedly bring to

light other features that we havn over.. But we think:: we have given a fair and impartial estinanteirem the point of view selected. The one thing desirable:m:ew ita.netrong Govern- ment; a Government which from its frank adhesion to the national sentiment, and its recognized ability to execute the difficult-and- complex affairs intrusted to it, can command the oonfulenee•of.the nation, and relieve it from all suspioion and ,anxiety but 4110h as I necessarily belong to a war whose issue is uncertain and not en- ! tirely depending on ourselves. Had Lord. Pilinerateeln Govern- ment attained this position, it would, ax,we said three weeks since,, find Parliament a willing and self-acting,insrtimen, „needing I uci- ther spur nor bridle; or if not, it inight,eafels: Appeal to the con-to • stituenoies, when it was generally understood that to eninaert,:the...-1 • Government was the best and surest way to triumph over. Russik-1 and restore to Europe a permanent an honourable,peitee,. r‘Wirp say "to triumph over Russia"; for we .abjure and&spea the 4:antic which bids us spare .humiliation . to our foe, and places the:': haughty pride of an ambitious court and the fanatieism of a peoplei debarred from all Means of knowing the truth, and excited syste- matically by unscrupulous official lies, above the liberties of half. : Europe and the tranquil progress of genuine civilization.