Charles Duke Yonge.

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the case of the bishops. And the bill was carried in the House of Lords,
but defeated in the Commons by a motion to refer it to a committee,
which was adopted by a small majority, in a not very full House,[292]
toward the end of the session.

Those who look at the question apart from all preference of one minister
or one party to another will, probably, be of opinion that the decision
of the committee, that a life peerage thus created by the crown could
not confer a seat in Parliament, was conformable to the most legitimate
view of the constitution. It was, indeed, matter of history that in the
Middle Ages the crown had exercised its prerogative in many ways which
it had since abandoned. Boroughs had been enfranchised, and again
disfranchised, apparently from no motive but pure caprice; writs of
summons had been withheld from peers.[293] But no one would have
justified the repetition of such acts now. And common-sense, as well as
recognized usage, favored the doctrine that long disuse was a sufficient
and lawful barrier against their revival. That the power of conferring
life peerages with a seat in Parliament - of which, perhaps, the only
undeniable instances were the cases of the brothers of Henry V., whose
royal blood would in those days, probably, have been held to warrant an
exception in their favor - had not been exercised for full four hundred
years, was admitted; and the assumption that so long a disuse of a power
was tantamount to a tacit renunciation of it, is quite compatible with a
loyal and due zeal for the maintenance of other parts of the prerogative
which have suffered no such abatement.

If, however, we consider the expediency of the measure, or, in other
words, the possible advantage that might ensue from the existence of a
power to create life peerages with a seat in Parliament, opinions will
probably be more divided. We have seen that Lord Derby allowed that
there might be advantages in such an exercise of power under certain
limitations; and the existing system does, undoubtedly, appear open to
improvement in certain cases. At present the only mode of rewarding
naval or military commanders who have performed brilliant and useful
service, or a Speaker of the House of Commons, whose public career,
though less showy and glorious, may at times have been scarcely less
valuable, and has certainly been by far more irksome, is the grant of a
peerage with a pension for lives. Without the peerage they cannot have
the pension.[294] And, consequently, many most distinguished officers,
whose conspicuous merits well deserved conspicuous honors, have gone
unrewarded except by some promotion of knighthood, which carries with it
no substantial benefit; while the descendants of some of those who have
been ennobled have openly lamented that the only mode which could be
found of honoring their fathers proves a punishment to their heirs, by
encumbering them with an empty title, which they are unable adequately
to support, and practically closing against them avenues to possible
wealth and distinction which custom pronounces derogatory to their rank.
So, not to mention the names of living worthies, no reward could be
found for Sir W. Parker, that brave and skilful seaman who conducted a
British fleet two hundred miles up a Chinese river, and crowned his
exploits by the capture of a mighty city, which had never before beheld
a European flag; nor for Inglis, who, when the safety of our Indian
Empire hung upon his gallantry, successfully sustained a siege whose
hardships and dangers are surpassed by none in ancient or modern
history. Many will, probably, be of opinion that it is not for the honor
of England that such services should want due recognition; and that for
men like those life peerages with liberal pensions would be an
appropriate recompense. It would, of course, be impossible to limit the
number of them beforehand, but it would also be needless, since the
nature of the services by which alone they could be deserved would act
of itself as a sufficient limitation.

One of the expedients which had been mentioned in this discussion had
been the annexation of peerages to certain offices, to which it had been
regarded as an unanswerable objection that this would be the creation of
an absolutely unheard-of tenure, the peer thus created being able at
pleasure to lay down his peerage, or even, it might be, being removable.
But before the end of the session an emergency arose which induced
Parliament to sanction the principle, novel though it was, that an
official peerage, if a bishopric may be so called, might be laid down
with the sanction of Parliament when the holder was no longer able to
discharge its duties. Two of the most eminent members of the Episcopal
bench, Dr. Blomfield, Bishop of London, and Dr. Maltby, Bishop of
Durham, had become wholly incapable of discharging their duties, the one
having been struck down by paralysis, and the other being almost blind.
And they now proposed to the Prime-minister that he should make some
arrangement by which they might be allowed to relinquish their offices,
retaining a certain portion of the income of their sees as a retiring
pension. There was no precedent for such an arrangement, but the
necessity of the two cases was so manifest, the injury which the Church
must suffer if the superintendence of two such important dioceses were
to be neglected, was so palpable, and the conditions of the retiring
pensions asked were so moderate and equitable, that Lord Palmerston had
no hesitation in sanctioning the introduction of a bill to give effect
to the arrangement proposed.

It did not pass without vigorous resistance from more than one quarter.
The Bishop of Exeter complained of it as incompatible with the great
Church principle, that a bishop could only resign his office to the
archbishop of his province; others opposed it as a violation of the
common law, which forbids any bargain being made for the resignation of
an office; while some, referring to the prohibition of simony (a word,
perhaps, as much misunderstood and as often misapplied as any in the
language), denounced the arrangement that the retiring prelates were to
have pensions as simoniacal.[295] The most reasonable objection made to
the proceeding was, that such exceptional legislation to meet an
isolated case tended to establish a dangerous precedent, and that, as
there were other men of great age on the bench, it would be better to
effect the end now aimed at by a large general measure providing means
for the retirement of all clergymen, those of inferior rank as well as
bishops, whom age or infirmity might incapacitate. But the general
feeling was against delay. The bill passed, and served in some degree as
a model for that general measure which was soon afterward introduced,
and which, as was suggested on this occasion, provided for an
arrangement similar in principle being carried out whenever a priest
holding any kind of ecclesiastical preferment should become disabled for
the performance of its duties.

There can be no doubt that such legislation was absolutely necessary in
the interests of the Church, taking that expression to include, not the
clergy alone, but the whole congregation of Churchmen. But it introduced
a remarkable change into the system of ecclesiastical peerages, and, so
far, into the constitution of the House of Lords. What was resigned by
the two prelates was not the peerage (they had still the right to be
styled "my lord"), but the seat in the House of Lords, which was a part,
and which had hitherto been regarded as an inseparable part of it, or,
at least (as it should, perhaps, rather be said, since the recent
regulation that the junior bishop should not have a seat was a clear
violation of that principle), which hitherto no one had been able to
dissociate from the peerage after it had been once enjoyed.

The treaties which terminated the war with Russia were not concluded
till the spring of 1856; and it was well, indeed, that the country had
no longer a foreign war on her hands, for a twelvemonth had scarcely
elapsed when the very continuation of her existence as a great Eastern
power was suddenly imperilled by what, regarded in one aspect, was a
mutiny of her troops on a most extensive scale; in another, a civil war,
waged by a combination of native princes, Hindoo as well as
Mohammedan,[296] for the total extinction of our power, and the
expulsion of the British race from Bengal. As early as the first week of
February several commanders of regiments and other authorities received
warnings of the organization of a wide conspiracy against our power; and
in the second week of May the troops at Meerut broke into open mutiny,
set fire to the public buildings, murdered their officers, and even
their wives and children, and then marched off to Delhi, where the
garrison was prepared to receive them with open arms, and to imitate
their atrocities. The contagion spread, and in a few weeks nearly all
Bengal was in arms. In one or two instances the native chiefs stood by
us, but the greater number joined the insurgents, some from the desire
to throw off our yoke, but others, probably, from constraint and through
fear. Whatever were their motives, before the end of June nearly all the
principal cities and fortresses of Bengal, up to the very gates of
Calcutta, were in the hands of the insurgents, the chief exception being
at the great city of Lucknow, where, though the mutineers got possession
of the city, a British garrison held the Residency, in the centre; and,
maintaining themselves with heroic fortitude, unsurpassed in all the
history of war, for nearly nine months, contributed more than any other
body of men to the final suppression of the revolt. It would be beside
our purpose here to dwell upon the great deeds by which in that terrible
year our army, in all its branches, maintained its old renown; upon the
recapture of Delhi; the deliverance of the incomparable defenders and
preservers of Lucknow; the exploits of Lawrence, and Inglis, and
Havelock, and Outram, and Peel, and Campbell; and, if we are forced to
deny ourselves the proud gratification of dwelling on their combined
heroism and wisdom, we may for the same reason be spared the pain of
recounting the horrid cruelties wreaked in too many instances not only
on the officers who fell into the rebels' hands, and on the civil
magistrates, but on the helpless women and children. In the first
excitement of fear and horror those cruelties were, no doubt, greatly
exaggerated, but still enough remains proved to stamp the insurrection
as one branding with the foulest disgrace the race which perpetrated and
exulted in them.

It was not till the last week of 1858 that the last sparks of rebellion
were finally extinguished by the defeat in Oude of the last body of
rebels who remained in arms, and the flight of the remnant of their
force across the frontier of Nepaul; but, even before that day came, the
ministry at home had been led to see the necessity of putting the
government of the country for the future on a different footing. It
could hardly be doubted that the prompt suppression of a revolt of so
unprecedented a magnitude, and the proof given in the course of our
operations that the British soldier still maintained the same
superiority over the native trooper as in the days of Clive, had
heightened our reputation and the belief of our power among the native
tribes. But, speedily and decisively crushed though it had been, the
revolt had given too terrible a proof of the inconstancy and treachery
of the native tribes not to act as a warning to our statesmen; and the
reflection that was thus forced upon them showed that a company of
merchants, however distinguished by general courage and sagacity they
had shown themselves, was no longer qualified to exercise imperial
dominion over a territory which now extended over more than a million of
square miles, and more than a hundred and fifty millions of native
subjects.

Accordingly, in the first week of the session of 1858, Lord Palmerston,
as Prime-minister, introduced a bill to transfer the government of
British India from the East India Company to the crown. It was natural
that the principle of such a measure should be opposed by the Directors
of the Company, though it was supported by more than one person who had
held high civil office in India; and equally natural that the
arrangement of its details should call forth a minute and rigorous
examination, and on many points a very determined opposition. We need
not, however, say more about this bill, since circumstances prevented
its being proceeded with; and the history of those which succeeded it is
now only worth referring to as showing the extreme difficulty of the
task of framing a government on new principles for a dependency of such
vast magnitude and importance.[297]

Lord Palmerston's bill was dropped, in consequence of the fall of his
ministry, before the time came for its second reading; but the
discussion on it had to some extent smoothed the way for that of his
successor, Lord Derby. A great impression on the Parliament, and on the
country in general, had been made by a very able speech of Sir G.C.
Lewis, Chancellor of the Exchequer. He traced the whole history of the
Indian government from the day of Plassy, and substantiated the right of
the home government and Parliament to remodel it as they might judge
best, by proving that ever since the passing of Pitt's first bill, in
1784, the Company had been constantly subject to Parliamentary control.
He showed, too, most convincingly, that a petition which the Company had
presented to the House of Commons, deprecating any change in the
existing system which should tend to diminish the authority of the
Directors, was based on one great fallacy - speaking, as it did, of the
Company as one and indivisible, and unchanged in character, functions,
and influence, down to the date of the last renewal of its charter, only
five years previously; whereas the truth was, that in the one hundred
years since Plassy the system had undergone as many changes as the
English constitution between the Heptarchy and the reign of Queen
Victoria.

He had thus removed some of the obstacles out of the way of the measure
of the new government, though Lord Derby would have preferred postponing
it till tranquillity should have been restored to the country by the
complete suppression of the revolt, had not the large majority[298]
which had sanctioned the introduction of Lord Palmerston's bill, in his
opinion, "placed the Company in such a situation that they could no
longer command the same amount of public confidence and public support
as they were entitled to receive previously to that vote of the House of
Commons." It may be added that the first bill on the subject which was
introduced by his government bore evident marks of the difficulties
under which it was framed - difficulties existing from the unexpected
suddenness of his accession to office; so that, after a not very short
discussion, it was eventually withdrawn, and it was not till the end of
June that the measure which was finally adopted was introduced.

The leading enactments of the measure[299] provided that for the future
the government of India, described as having been hitherto vested in, or
exercised by, the Company in trust for her Majesty, should be vested in
her Majesty, and exercised in her name; that one of her Majesty's
principal Secretaries of State should have and perform all such powers
and duties relating to the government or revenues of India as had
formerly belonged to the Court of Directors, as the Court of Proprietors
of the Company; that a Council of the Governor-general should be
established, consisting of fifteen members, seven of whom should be
appointed by the Court of Directors, being persons who were, or had
formerly been, Directors of the Company, and eight should be nominated
by the crown. And as to both classes, it was provided that the majority
should consist of persons who had served or resided in India for ten
years at the least, and should not have left India more than ten years
when appointed. They were to hold their offices during good behavior, to
receive salaries, and to be entitled to retiring pensions, but to be
incapable of sitting in Parliament. The appointment of Governor-general
and Governor of each Presidency was to belong to the crown. The
expenditure of the revenues of India, both in India and elsewhere, was
to be subject to the control of the Secretary of State in Council; other
clauses provided for the dividends of the Company, for the admission of
persons into the civil service; and, with reference to existing
establishments, one clause provided that "the Indian military and naval
forces should remain under existing conditions of service."

This last clause was strongly objected to by the Queen,[300] as
"inconsistent with her constitutional position as head of the army,
which required that the Commander-in-chief should be put in
communication with the new Secretary of State for India, in the same
manner in which he is placed with regard to the troops at home or in the
colonies toward the Secretary of State for War.... With regard to the
whole army, whether English or Indian, there could, with due regard to
the public interest, be only one head and one general command." She
yielded her opinion, however, to the resolute objections of the
Prime-minister, with whom on this point his predecessor,[301] Lord
Palmerston, agreed; but the result proved the superior soundness of her
Majesty's view. It was not only a most anomalous arrangement, since the
supreme control of all the warlike forces was one of the most
inalienable prerogatives of the crown, but it had the strange fault of
preserving the double government in the case in which, above all others,
unity of system and unity of command were most indispensable. And, what
weighed more than either consideration with the generally practical
views of English statesmen, it was from the beginning found to work
badly, creating, as it did, great and mischievous jealousies between the
two divisions, the Royal and the Indian army. It was found that all the
generals then in the highest commands in India - Lord Clyde (Sir Colin
Campbell having been ennobled by that title), Sir Hugh Rose, and Sir
William Mansfield - strongly disapproved of it, and recommended a change;
and consequently, in the summer of 1860, Lord Palmerston, who in the
mean while had returned to the Treasury, came round to the Queen's view
of the subject, and a new act was passed which amalgamated the two
armies into one Imperial army, taking its turn of duty throughout all
parts of the British empire.[302]

A letter addressed by Lord Palmerston to the Queen in the autumn of
1857, which appears to have been his first statement to her Majesty of
the opinion which he had formed of the necessity of abolishing the
governing authority of the Company, states the principal arguments in
favor of such a measure with great clearness, as arising from "the
inconvenience and difficulty of administering the government of a vast
country on the other side of the globe by means of two cabinets, the one
responsible to the crown and Parliament, the other only responsible to
the holders of Indian stock, meeting for a few hours three or four times
a year, which had been shown by the events of the year to be no longer
tolerable." His disapproval of parts of Lord Ellenborough's policy
probably prevented him from alluding to his recall from India by the
Directors, in direct defiance of the opinion of the government,[303]
though that strange step can hardly have been absent from his mind. But,
in fact, the case for taking the whole rule of so vast a dominion wholly
into the hands of the Queen's government at home was so irresistible,
that it did not require to be strengthened by reference to any
individual instances of inconvenience. When the double government was
originally established, the English in India were still but a small
mercantile community, with very little territory beyond that in the
immediate neighborhood of its three chief cities. Of the conduct of the
affairs of such a body, still almost confined to commerce, the chief
share might not unreasonably be left to the merchants themselves,
subject to such supervision on the part of the government at home as was
implied in the very name of the department invested with that
supervision, the Board of Control, which, as Pitt explained the name,
was meant to show that it was not to be, like the measure proposed by
the Coalition Ministry, a board of political influence.[304] But the
case was wholly altered when British India reached from Point de Galle
to the Himalayas, and spread beyond the Ganges on the east, to beyond
the Indus on the west; when the policy adopted in India often influenced
our dealings with European states, and when the force required for the
protection of those vast interests exceeded the numbers of the royal
army. India, too, is a country the climate of which prevents our
countrymen from emigrating to it as settlers, as they do to Canada or
Australia, and where, consequently, the English residents are, and
always must be, a mere handful in comparison with the millions of
natives. In such a case their government must at all times rest mainly
on opinion, on the belief in the pre-eminent power of the ruler; and it
was obvious that that belief would be greatly fortified by the sovereign
of Britain becoming that ruler.[305] The great rajahs cordially
recognized the value of the transfer of power considered in this light,
and felt their own dignity enhanced by becoming the vassals of the
sovereign herself.

Turning to French affairs, a brilliant French writer has remarked, that
his countrymen are, of all peoples, the least suited to be conspirators,
since none of them can ever keep a secret. But it was the ill-fortune of
Louis Napoleon that he had provoked enmities, not only among his own
countrymen, but among the republican fanatics of other nations also, who
saw in his zeal for absolute authority the greatest obstacle to their
designs, which aimed at the overthrow of every established government on
the Continent, and shrunk from no crimes which they conceived to be
calculated to promote their object. To free themselves from such an
antagonist, the most wholesale murders seemed by no means too large a
price. And in the middle of January, as the Emperor and Empress were
going to the Opera, a prodigious explosion took place almost beneath the
wheels of their carriage, from the effect of which they themselves had a
most narrow escape, both being struck in the face by splinters, the
aide-de-camp in their carriage also being severely wounded on the head;
while their escort and attendants were struck down on all sides, ten
being killed and above one hundred and fifty wounded.[306] It was soon
found out that the authors of this atrocious crime were four Italians,
of whom a man named Orsini was the chief, and that he, who had but
recently escaped from a prison in Mantua, had fled from that town to
England, and had there concocted all the details of his plot, and had
procured the shells which had been his instruments.

It was not unnatural that so atrocious a crime, causing such wide-spread
destruction, should awaken great excitement in France, and in many
quarters violent reclamations against England and her laws, which
enabled foreign plotters to make her a starting-place for their
nefarious schemes. Even in the French Chambers very bitter language was
used on the subject by some of the most influential Deputies, for which
our ministers were disposed to make allowance, Lord Clarendon, the
Foreign Secretary, writing to the Prince Consort that "it was not to be
expected that foreigners, who see that assassins go and come here as
they please, and that conspiracies may be hatched in England with
impunity, should think our laws and policy friendly to other countries,
or appreciate the extreme difficulty of making any change in our
system."[307]

But a different feeling was roused by a despatch of the French Secretary
of State to the ambassador here, which seemed to impute to this country
that it deliberately sheltered and countenanced men by whose writings
"assassination was elevated into a doctrine openly preached, and carried
into practice by reiterated attacks" upon the person of the French
sovereign, and asked, in language which had rather an imperious tone,
"Ought the English Legislature to contribute to the designs of men who



Online LibraryCharles Duke YongeThe Constitutional History of England from 1760 to 1860 → online text (page 40 of 43)