30 JUNE 1855, Page 13



THE Chairman of the Sebastopol Committee proposes that the House of Commons shall by a formal vote confirm the censure pass- ed upon Lord Aberdeen's Cabinet in the report of the Committee. The peculiarity of the case is, that the Cabinet thus proposed to be censured no longer exists, can no longer be affected except in its scattered and variously-recombined elements by the censure, and has already anticipated the utmost effects of such a motion by a resignation, that is thrown back by the rapid flow of events out of politics into history. The vote of the House of Commons will, 'therefore, be not a political act, but an historical criticism. It might indeed be something more, if to the expression of censure were added the resolution to address the Crown to remove from its councils any members of that Ministry at present employed. But, however the secret wishes of many supporters of the motion may be supposed to reach that ultimate aim, few, we presume, would be found to give expression to them, and the Chairman of the Sebas- topol Committee is not very likely to become the mouthpiece of those few, even while he may be furthering their objects. Under these circumstances, nothing but a peculiar susceptibility, not to be looked for from Lord Palmerston, could give an immediate practical importance in politics to the vote which Mr. Roebuck asks from the House of Commons ; and the question which Members have to consider is, whether it is an effectual means of enforcing the prin- ciple of Ministerial responsibility, lamentably unreal as that re- sponsibility is at present, to follow up the resignation of a Minis- try by a solemn declaration of the House of Commons that it "visits with its severe reprehension every member of the Cabinet whose counsels led to such disastrous results."

To ourselves it appears, that the vagueness of the resolution, or at least the indefinite character of the penalty implied in the 4' severe reprehension" of the House of Commons, as attempted to be affixed on a Ministry no longer in existence, forms the prin- cipal objection to the motion. No one who has studied the evi- dence given before the Sebastopol Committee could have much hesitation in admitting, that Lord Aberdeen's Cabinet failed to make due preparations for the war with Russia, which, by every one but themselves, was seen to be impending for months before it was declared. No one can deny that the expedition to Sebastopol was undertaken by the generals in command at the order of the French and English Cabinets ; nor that it was ordered without such a knowledge of the resistance to be overcome, or such a pre- paration for overcoming uncertain resistance, as could alone have thoroughly justified an enterprise of extreme difficulty and dan- ger. As little will it be maintained that the resources of England were worthily put forth at the commencement of the enterprise. These facts constitute the gravamen of the charge against the -Government which planned and carried.out the execution of the en- terprise: and heavy enough they are, when one remembers what unstinted liberality the country manifested—what uncontrolled com- mand of all 'that wealth, science, and patriotism could furnish, the Ministry might have claimed—what enormous sums were actually spent—what immeasurable importance attached to rapid suc- cess—what terrible misery and loss of life, what obstinacy on the part of the enemy, what indefinite prolongation of the war, has resulted from success being retarded. If any complaint is generally made of the report of the Committee appointed to investigate the cause of the calamities that befell our army from October to Janu- ary, it certainly is not that the report presses too hard upon indi- viduals or upon the Cabinet collectively, though perhaps the in- dustry and energy of certain persons have scarcely received due acknowledgment. We may fairly assume the verdict of the Com- mittee to be the judgment of English society at large, expressed with judicial calmness and sobriety of tone, and carefully guarded from conjectural censure where the circumstances of the case did not allow of complete investigation. But the real question is, whether the House of Commons should by a formal vote convert this judgment of the Committee and of society into a weapon of Parliamentary warfare, supposing the vote to have any practical influence; or, in the other and more probable case, should alter the normal and proper character of its votes from motions in practical polities to retrospective historical criticism.

It is not unnatural that Members of the House of Commons should acquire the habit of thinking no national act complete without a vote of their House, no national judgment sufficiently emphatic that is not recorded in their journals. But in this ease the direct political effect which could have resulted from a vote of

the House has been discounted months before ; and it will not tend to increase the real influence or dignity of the House to de- scend from such an act as the overthrow of a Ministry to a resolu- tion that terminates in words. That would be a practical bathos which no friend to representative institutions could seriously re- commend. On the other hand, the report undoubtedly supplies matter for practical motions enough, in respect to administrative reform, and the military education of the Army and its cooperating departments, which the temper of both the Government and the country would just now favour. Thus, it appears to us, the House would best consult its dignity and usefulness by avoiding resolutions where action is impossible or has already taken place, and passing to such courses of action as the circumstances of the time and the disclosures before the Committee justify and demand. There is another consideration which, in our judgment, goes fa r to overbalance any arguments in favour of Mr. Roebuck's resolu- tion from its abstract justice or its assumed coincidence with the judgment of the nation. It is impossible to give to a vote of the House of Commons a judicial character, or to strip it of party mo- tives. Though Lord Aberdeen's Cabinet has resigned, and thereby accepted the understood penalty to which Ministerial responsibility has been in our time reduced, the feelings of partisan and personal rivalry engendered by our political system would have full play in such a vote as Mr. Roebuck proposes. And we cannot doubt that the prevailing motive which would induce one half of the House to acquiesce in such a vote, and another half to oppose it, would really be in the vast majority of cases the ordinary motive in party votes, to damage an opponent and to promote the interest of the political faction to which each member belongs. In reality, there- fore, such a vote, so far from lending solemn emphasis to the judg- ment of the Committee and the nation, would vitiate it with tainted motives without materially altering its practical influence. It might, indeed, as we have hinted above, through the suscepti- bility of some member of Lord Palmerston's Government, become an instrument for transferring the Government to Lord Derby with a new combination. Symptoms are not wanting to show that such a motive is the only one which would give the motion any interest. The Derbyite press is working it in that direction, and attempting the very superfluous task of reconciling Tory Members to vote with a Radical, on the express ground of turning out the present Government. Surely Mr. Roebuck does not sympathize with this use of his motion, and yet he must know well enough that his best chance of support rests only on this.

"Is the offence of the late Ministry to be condoned, then? " we may be asked ; "and are crimes and misdemeanours of great men to be passed over by an indignant nation in passive silence We reply, that the penalty was inflicted before the offence was proved, when only certain facts were known and the rest con- jectured. That penalty is the highest our political system in- flicts, except impeachment. If the Ministerial offence was not sufficiently atoned by extrusion from office, impeachment remains. But no rational man supposes that such errors of judgment, or feebleness of character, as are the highest faults attributed by sensible persons to the late Government, deserve impeachment, or could be made in our days to sustain it. A perpetual or pro- longed exclusion from the public service might be enforced, or at least might be recommended, by a resolution of the House of Com- mons. But who does not see that this is practically absurd, when our only possible Government, after the dissolution of Lord Aber- deen's, was one composed very largely of the same materials? Lord Derby would doubtless now try his chance again. For those persons who think the change from Palmerston to Derby de- sirable—who would prefer Lord Malmesbury to Lord Clarendon, and would intrust influence in our negotiations and our alliances to the unsettled principles and declamatory vagueness and personal vanity of a Disraeli—Mr. Roebuck's motion may have attractions. We, who do not vehemently admire the present Government, would yet rather trust to it the conduct of a great war, for which it has now served an apprenticeship.