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ART. V.-History of the Whig Ministry of 1830 to the passing of the Reform Bill. By JOHN ARTHUR ROEBUCK, M.P. London: John W. Parker and Son.
THERE are two ways of writing History. The annalist, or mere chronicler, records events in the order in which they occur; but he does nothing more. He takes the striking public circumstances of each period, and details them in their sequence; but he attempts nothing beyond this. He does not show how extraordinary mutations really take their rise from apparently obscure, remote, and unimportant beginnings; nor how acts, now forgotten in the distance, have actually eventuated in a great and present crisis. To voyage forward with the reader upon the varied and troubled current of human annals, to limn out in detail the footprints of a nation's progress, and, at the same time, to explain to the inquirer the originating causes of each mutation, is the province of the philosophical historian; and to perform this successfully constitutes one of the highest efforts of human intellect. It is so, because to do this, a knowledge of cause as well as of effect is requisite. To perceive and record that which is palpable and upon the surface is a task comparatively easy. To trace the recondite causes of great effects, involves more or less of knowledge of the complex moral machinery by means of which society is constituted and carried forward, and a partial comprehension, at least, of the connexion between the varied portions of its wonderful and stupendous mechanism.
In his history of the Whig Administration, from their accession to power in 1830, to the passing of their celebrated Reform Bill, we fear Mr. Roebuck will be found to be more of the annalist than the historian. In his general view of affairs, from the close of the war, in 1815, to the end of Lord Liverpool's administration in 1827; and in his account of the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, and that of the penal laws affecting the Catholics, he does indeed advert to some of these causes; but no distinctions are made. Small and large, weak and strong, are confounded, and the pique or prejudice of a few party leaders classed with a great financial change, as if both were of equal efficiency to produce political effects. This is a great error; because it almost inevitably leads the untaught or unwary reader to conclude that the mere passions or caprices of individuals, or the change of one minister for another, may be as potential in the production of great political results as are those acts which per
CAUSES OF THE DECLINE OF THE TORIES.
haps exercise a perennial and baleful influence upon the domestic ease and comfort of an entire nation. This is a mistake which true history disproves. Changes of ministers, dynasties, or even forms of government, act only upon the surface. Fiscal and economic revolutions penetrate to the very bottom of society, and throughout all its depths. They come home to the rich and to the poor, and affect the body politic over its whole constitution.
The causes of that re-action which, after an exclusion from power for nearly half a century, at length again gave the reins of government to the hands of the Whig party, were many and various. If carefully traced back, we shall be led as far as the enormous extravagance of Mr. Pitt and his successors during the period between the years 1797 and 1815, and the depreciation of the current money which alone enabled the Tory party to persevere in that stupendous expenditure. If to the effect of the accumulated financial burdens, thus created, we add the consequences of that act which Mr. Roebuck mildly designates as hasty proceeding,'-the too celebrated act of 1819 for the restoration of cash payments, we shall find in them the great and primary cause of that decline of the power of Toryism which ended in the triumph of their Whig opponents in 1830. One consequence of that depreciation of money which went on unchecked from 1797 to 1815, and of the monopolies which arose out of our naval supremacy throughout that period, was a great change in the sober habits of the nation. Before this period, men, whether engaged in agriculture or commerce, were accustomed to moderate prices free from violent fluctuations, and a good but steady rate of profit. All this, the continued depreciation of money, joined to the war monopolies, totally altered. As commodities of all descriptions rose in price, speculation grew, and the profits of these adventures were sometimes so enormous that men of all grades not unfrequently made rapid and sudden fortunes. Farmers and graziers who had long leases seemed to prosper beyond hope. The gains of those who lent money to government were also enormous almost beyond credibility, and the influence which this torrent of apparent prosperity-for, in part, it was only apparent-joined to the profuse national expenditure, gave the party in power was irresistible. To this, however, the termination of hostilities in 1815 put a sudden stop. With the war, its current expenses ceased. Government was no longer the great paymaster. It became impossible to keep in circulation the same amount of paper currency as before. Prices rapidly fell. Agricultural, colonial, commercial, and manufactured produce, all felt the effect. The nation was pledged by various acts of parliament to return to payments in gold and silver
within six months, or as soon after six months as possible; and the country party, still predominant, defied public odium, and to protect themselves from the dreaded consequences of an enhanced value of money, passed the Corn Bill of 1815. This bill being passed, the economists of that day, now beginning to be conspicuous in parliament, were suffered to take their own rash and erroneous course, and by the proposal and enactment of the Cash Payments Bill of 1819 into a law, to perpetrate one of the greatest pieces of national injustice that the world has often seen.
That this act was passed, by the majority of those who voted for it, in total ignorance of its assured consequences, seems to us undeniable. The very preparations for it had already reduced prices on the average fully twenty per cent. The Houses were persuaded, although the real effect of the act was to double the value of money, that a further fall of four or five per cent. only needed to be apprehended. The result has been that the average price of all raw produce has been reduced at least fifty per cent. since the war; in some cases, the reduction has been much greater. At the same time, the public debt remaining the same, and the taxes nearly the same, their weight has been unjustly doubled; and by the sufferings thus created the first blow was given to the influence and power of modern Toryism, which, since the entrance into office of the younger Pitt, had seemed to be almost omnipotent.
The first proof of this new debility was the attempt made by the ministers, in 1822, to retrace their steps. The humiliation was great. The act of 1819 had been passed by the unanimous vote of the Commons. In the Lords, the sagacity alone of Earl Grey induced him to doubt the soundness of the doctrines of the economists. These doubts were soon verified. May, 1823, was the time fixed by the Act for the suppression of all bank-notes below five pounds; but as that time drew near, the fall of prices became so alarming, especially of agricultural produce, that the murmurs of the country could no longer be disregarded. An act to respite the suppression of the notes for sums below five pounds was passed, whilst the obligation to pay in gold and silver continued. They who passed that act were totally ignorant of its assured consequences. They quickly followed. The respite induced the bankers, all over the country, to issue their paper eagerly, in order to make the best of the harvest. An immediate rise in prices, a second depreciation of money, and an excess of imports, with aviolent exportation of the precious metals, followed. The monetary crisis of 1825-6 arrived, and the nation, in the words of Mr. Huskisson, was within forty-eight hours of barter.' This severe convulsion unquestionably hastened the dispersion
of the Tory party. It now compelled the hesitating government to fix the year 1829 as the period when Peel's act should come into full operation, and it, in all human probability, hastened the death of Lord Liverpool, already in a declining state. For some time, anxiety had so shattered his nervous system, that he could not open a dispatch without trembling.' In February, 1827, he was seized by paralysis, and lingered a short time, a miserable wreck of mind and body. His death gave the opportunity for the first open inroad upon the supremacy of high Toryism.
Mr. Canning was now, looking at his talent for debate, the most prominent member of the party, and certainly the most ambitious. Whilst Lord Castlereagh was minister, his uncompromising dislike of Mr. Canning kept the latter in the background. But the catastrophe of that minister, followed by the sudden wreck of the mind of Lord Liverpool, cleared the path before him. Canning's hour was now come. As a statesman he has been egregiously overrated; but as an orator he was showy and brilliant, and as a debater ready and adroit. By his side stood Lord Eldon, the chancellor, who, to the obstinacy of strong political prejudices, began now to add that of anility; the Duke of Wellington, a successful soldier, but as a politician not hitherto highly esteemed; Mr. Peel, a rising young man of good available talent and great address; and Lord Bexley, a dull man of business: to whom we may add Mr. Huskisson, a smooth, and plausible, and clever, but somewhat overrated man. To any of these men it was known that the brilliant Canning would not act as a subordinate; and they, in their turn, taking as an excuse his leaning to concession to the Catholics, refused to act under Canning. He, however, bent on power at all risks, was not to be daunted by this refusal. A close observer, he had now become aware of the growing weakness of his ostensible party. He was also aware that many of the opposition thirsted, like himself, for power; and with their aid he determined to form, and eventually did form, a short-lived administration. Nothing so completely proves the deep unpopularity of the old Tory party, as the favour with which this really unprincipled coalition was received by the nation. It is difficult to point out any feature in which the Canning administration differed from the old Tory administrations, excepting in the heterogeneous description of its members and allies. To a reform of the parliament, hitherto one of the principles of Whiggery, the new premier was as bitterly opposed as ever. He steadily declared he should oppose reform, in whatever shape it might appear, to the last hour of his life!' As for concession to the Catholics, it was notorious that George the Fourth only consented to
receive him as minister upon the express condition that no such concessions should be even thought of. As to the chief points of domestic policy, he stood, therefore, upon the same ground really with Lords Wellington and Eldon. The truth was, his want of birth and family connexion, joined to some suspected liberal leanings, determined the Tory aristocracy to reject him: and when they found him with office in his grasp and rejected by the Tories, the majority of the liberal party joined him. Lord Lansdowne and Mr. Tierney became part of the administration, and the majority of the liberal party, headed by Brougham and cheered onwards by Sir Francis Burdett, supported him in the House of Commons.
We must own our sorrow at seeing Mr. Roebuck, who, in his own person, can be stanch enough to some of the principles which he delights to inculcate, passing lightly over this most questionable coalition. He certainly does not write as approving of it, neither does he indignantly condemn it; and yet, if the reasonings embodied in those portions of Mr. Brougham's apologies quoted by Mr. Roebuck, be all that can be said for it, never was case more hollow nor more worthy of condemnation. In answer to the taunts of inconsistency thrown out by Mr. Peel he spoke thus:
'I will tell the honourable gentleman further, that putting aside all the great questions which he is so singularly anxious to bring under discussion, including amongst the rest parliamentary reform, I see sufficient reason to support the present administration. The honourable gentleman seems never to have known that there was a schism on the subject of reform. It is news to him that there ever were shades of opinion upon it. He was not aware, it appears, that there were as many different views of the general measure as there have always been of comprehensive political questions. Some are for confining it to narrow limits; others for extending it to the widest. I am ready to vote for any measure of reform. By supporting the present government, I do not abandon or sacrifice one iota of my principles as a friend of parliamentary reform, or any other question on which I may deem it fitting or prudent to deliver my sentiments. As a man of common sense I must wish to achieve some practical good in my time. If I cannot do all I would, I am bound, without waiting till more extensive views have been adopted, to promote all the good which the opportunity of the passing moment offers me.'-vol. i. p. 33.
After reading this bit of special pleading, one feels strongly tempted to parody Lady Teazle, and say, 'Don't you think we may as well leave principle out of the question? What practical good' Mr. Brougham was to achieve by helping a minister who plainly meaned to do just what his predecessors had done,