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Commons, in favor of a certain policy, our constitutional system is a farce unless you can have a government in harmony 'with that majority.' .... 'I think, we are fairly entitled to say this—that -whatever else the men may be, we insist upon having a free-trade administration. And when I say a free-trade administration, I mean a body of men, if they are to be the men now in office, who shall distinctly and emphatically repudiate all the doctrines they have been promulgating in their past lives upon this great question. . . . But it must be emphatic. They must say that free trade does not lower wages; they must say that free trade does not cause a drain of gold from this country; they must say that free trade has not thrown land out of cultivation in this country; they must say that the land of this country is still worth somethmg; and they must say that wheat, good wheat, has not been imported into this country, and cannot be, at twenty-four shillings a quarter. These are a few of the things they must say, when they said the very opposite before. And we must have no accompaniment about "compensation."'
Mr. Cobden adverted with great force to the state of feeling in the agricultural districts, as rendering a distinct and emphatic repudiation of protection necessary. Nothing short of this, he affirmed, will ever settle the question there. There are many other points in his speech which tempt remark, but our space is limited, and we must pass Oil
The Queen's speech of the 11th contained, of course, a reference to the subject, which, however, was not so explicit as some journals had anticipated. The improved condition of the country, and 'especially of the industrious classes,' was admitted. So far well; but the cloven foot is visible in the shape of compensation to the landed interest. This is the obvious import of the suggestion, and clearly betokens the terms made by the ministry with their supporters. As a whole, the paragraph is justly designated by Mr. Villiers 'as an unworthy evasion of the whole matter.' It is marked by the usual reserve of the ministry on this subject. There is no explicitness in it,—no such disclaimer as, under the circumstances we were entitled to look for, from Lord Derby's government. The honorable member for Wolverhampton consequently gave notice of his intention to submit a motion to the House, putting the question of free trade 'on such clear and intelligible grounds, that at least their fellow countrymen out of the House should be left in no doubt with regard to the opinion of parliament respecting it.' The ministers in the Commons did not clear up the mystery. From Mr. Disraeli this was not expected, but from some of his colleagues it might have been looked for. There was, however, an obvious difficulty in the way. Ministers had entered office as heads of the protection party. They had agitated for years on behalf of 'native industry.' Their strength was founded on a supposed fidelity to the principles of restricted commerce, and they may well therefore be excused for want of explicitness, when surrendering the cause of their supporters. They wanted, in fact, to l>arry the attack of opponents, without alarming their own friends. The Home Secretary, indeed, admitted that the paragraph in the royal speech had been framed, with a view to prevent an amendment from being moved on either side of the House. The candor of the avowal was instantly recognised, but the honesty of the policy pursued, no mortal out of the ministerial circle could perceive. The language of the Premier was much more distinct and unhesitating than that of his colleagues. He admitted that the country, 'by a very large and very undoubted majority,' had decided against any alteration in the commercial policy' of 1846, and that this fact carried with it 'the whole financial policy of the kingdom.' 'On the part of myself and of my colleagues,' said his lordship, 'I bow to the decision of the country; and, having so bowed, I declare, on their part and on mine, that while desirous to the utmost of our power to mitigate that unavoidable injury which the adoption of the policy to which I refer has inflicted, and must inflict, upon important classes, I do not adopt it with any reserve whatever. I adopt it frankly, as the decision of the country, and honestly and fairly I am prepared to carry it out as the decision of the country.'
The explicitness of this language might seem to preclude the necessity for any such measure as that of which Mr. Villiers had given notice. Yet it is obvious to remark that the statements of the Premier must be viewed, in connexion with those of Ids associates, with his own recorded opinions on many eventful occasions, and with the tortuous and dishonest policy of his government from its first accession to power. Taking these into account, we cannot but arrive at the conviction, that it was incumbent on Mr. Villiers and his friends to require that the response of the country to the appeal of the government should be recorded in the votes of the House, more especially after the ambiguous and most unsatisfactory reference contained in the royal speech. The thing to be done was, to settle at once, and—so far as the present parliament and ministry are concerned—for ever, the litigated question of free trade. On this one point Lord Derby had appealed to the constituencies. To his appeal they had replied, and the parliamentary free traders were bound to see that their response was recorded in plain and unmistakable words. This was the business for which, in fact, our representatives assembled.
The great debate was commenced, on the 23rd, by Mr. Villiers, whosubmitted the following resolutions, in pursuance of notice:—
'That it is the opinion of this House that the improved condition of the country, and particularly of the industrious classes, is mainly the result of recent commercial legislation, and especially of the act of 1846, which established the free admission of foreign corn, and that the act was a wise, just, and beneficial measure.
'That it is the opinion of this House that the maintenance and further extension of the policy of free trade, as opposed to that of protection, will best enable the property and industry of the nation to bear the burdens to which they are exposed, and will most contribute to the general prosperity, welfare, and contentment of the people.
‘That this House is ready to take into its consideration any measures consistent with the principles of these resolutions which may be laid before it by her Majesty's ministers.'
On Mr. Williers's speech we have no room for comment. It was a favorable specimen of English parliamentary eloquence, destitute on one hand of the brilliancy and sarcasm and personal bitterness, which form the ground-work of Mr. Disraeli's oratory; but distinguished, on the other, by clearness, intimate knowledge of his subject, earnest conviction of the soundness of his views, thorough sympathy with the welfare of all classes as opposed to the monopoly of any one, distinct perception of the hollowness of the policy contemplated by the government, and a tact, which ability and experience only could give, in laying bare their weakness and dishonesty. “I hear of persons, said Mr. Williers, “who are honestly desirous of supporting your policy, and I am told that we have framed our resolutions purposely to prevent their conversion. Give us some information that they are honest converts, and that they adopt our views of commercial policy, and certainly they shall receive all forbearance from this side of the house. But so far as I can undersand, the converts to free trade, if converts at all, are so from necessity. You have dissolved the last parliament, and you have got a verdict against you, and you, what you call, bow to the verdict of the country. Certainly I must say that a more convenient course for a party I never heard of than that of dissolving parliament to obtain a verdict from public opinion, and the adoption of such a phraseology after. One cannot but be amused at it. To use a rather vulgar metaphor, it is merely “heads I win, tails you lose.” If free trade is successful we “bow” to the verdict of the country, but at all events we remain in.'
To the resolutions of the honorable member for Wolverhampton, the Chancellor of the Exchequer moved the following amendment:— ‘That this House acknowledges with satisfaction that the cheapness of provisions, occasioned by recent legislation, has mainly contributed to improve the condition and increase the comforts of the working classes; and that unrestricted competition having been adopted, after due deliberation, as the principle of our commercial system, this house is of opinion that it is the duty of the government unreservedly to adhere to that policy in those measures of financial and administrative reform which, under the circumstances of the country, they may deem it their duty to introduce.' Such an amendment, coming from such a quarter, is a notable fact. Could Sir Robert Peel have revisited the scene of his glory, he would have reaped a generous revenge in the confession thus wrung from his most bitter and implacable opponent. It is impossible to avoid the recollection of the fierce diatribes with which, night after night, that eminent statesman was assailed by Mr. Disraeli. Every form of invective was adopted, the lowest passions of party warfare were invoked, whatever was mean, pusillanimous, and base, was fiercely hurled against the commercial reformer, and yet in 1832 this unscrupulous assailant is reduced to the humiliating position -for so to him it must be—of admitting that the great measure of Sir Robert Peel has 'contributed to improve the condition and increase the comforts of the working classes,' and of pledging the government to which he belongs to adhere to the policy of that measure. There is one striking difference, however, between the men, and it cannot but have occurred to Mr. Disraeli
When Sir Robert discarded protection, he did it openly, and without reserve. He had counted the cost, and was prepared for it. His resignation of office was therefore instantly tendered, while his best aid was proffered to his political opponents in emancipating commerce. Of Mr. Disraeli, it is needless to say that his course has been the reverse of this. He was protectionist so long as there was a chance of its triumph; and now that its defeat is certain, he is equally prepared to carry out free trade. Anything more discreditable, anything more dishonest than this, has never been exhibited in the history of our country. There is, however, one consolation in it. The cause of protection must indeed be hopeless, when such a man, with such recent antecedents, thus discards its advocacy. We hail the fact implied in Mr. Disraeli's amendment, at the same time that we mistrust the spirit which dictated it:—
'Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.'
Mr. Disraeli's speech was in keeping with his amendment. Having made up his mind to the latter, he resolved to go 'thorough,' as old Laud phrased it, in the former. We were prepared for much, but we confess that our expectations fell far short of the reality. The whole history of parliament affords no parallel. The late Daniel O'Connell sometimes startled us by the audacity of his assertions, but never did the Irish orator, in his wildest mood, equal the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the 23rd. IfMr. Disraeli is to be believed, the protectionist party has been amongst the mildest, most scrupulous, self-sacrificing of political associations. Their freedom from animosity and partisanship has been equalled by their benevolence only. 'The first and most considerable ground' of their opposition to free trade—such, gentle reader, is the assurance of Mr. Disraeli—'was, that it would injure the interests of labour.' C'redat Jiidceus! We will not say what we thought on reading these words. We should be deemed discourteous did we do Ho. We may, however, add that some honorable members on the ministerial side of the House, must have blushed when they heard their chief thus claiming credit for a philanthropy of which they knew him to be wholly guiltless.
Mr. Bright followed the Chancellor in one of the ablest and most telling speeches ever delivered in parliament. His exposure of the sophistries of Mr. Disraeli, and of the hollowness of the free trade profession of his party, was complete. It left little to be supplied and must have gone far to conclude the debate, but for the course subsequently taken by Lord Palmerston. The resolutions moved by Mr. Villiers were shown to involve a principle, whereas that of Mr. Disraeli merely affirmed a fact. 'The one,' said Mr. Bright, 'meant that free trade benefited the whole world, the other always contemplated the possibility of some injustice being wrought by free trade to certain interests which ought to be compensated to any amount parliament might be induced to give.'*
There was a common sense character in the appeal which the honorable member made to the House, when, having contrasted the consistency of Mr. Villiers' course with the sudden and most suspicious conversion of the Chancellor, he asked—' whether, when parliament was called upon to give a final verdict upon the question of free trade, the terms of that verdict sltouhl be drawn up by one who had altogether repudiated free trade, or by one who Itad altogether consistently supported it i'
Lord Palmerston subsequently suggested a compromise in the shape a via media, professedly designed to secure unanimity on behalf of free trade; but really adapted to extricate ministers from an embarrassing position. It is needless to advert to the interpretation put on his lordship's procedure. Events will soon show whether they are correct or not. In the meantime, it is obvious to remark, that the division thus effected amongst free traders is of vital moment Before his lordship's proposition, we felt assured of a majority of votes being recorded on behalf of Mr. Villiers's motion, but our confidence is now greatly diminished, and we think the honorable member for Wolverhampton would have done wisely in acceding to the proposition of Sir W. Clay; more especially when Lord Palnicrston's amendment was improved by an addition of the words suggested by Sir James Graham. We write on the 26th, and in absolute ignorance, therefore, of what may occur this evening, when a division is expected. The Chancellor's amendment has been withdrawn, and the issue, will take place on the resolutions of Mr. Villiers and of Lord Palmerston. Should the latter be carried, an appearance of trinmph will be given to the Government at the very time they are, sustaining a most humiliating defeat. We shall deeply deplore thu, and 'it will certainly' to use the words of the 'Times,' be turned against us, should we ever be at the mercy of the protectionists.'
The division of Friday the 26th, was much as we anticipated. W» have only room to announce the result, and must leave all comments. The numbers were—
For the original motion .... 256
Majority . . 80
For Lord Palmerston's amendment 468
Majority . . 415
* Lord John Russell took the same view of Mr. Disraeli's amendment iu hi' speech on the 25th. 'It appears to me,' said his lordship, 'that the resolutions he has proposed are so equivocal—falling so far short of the length to which inj resolutions should go—that they would leave it hereafter a matter of dispute whether the act of 1846 was not an act of injustice and folly—a measure, uV