George Carslake Thompson.

Public opinion and Lord Beaconsfield, 1875-1880 online

. (page 18 of 62)
Online LibraryGeorge Carslake ThompsonPublic opinion and Lord Beaconsfield, 1875-1880 → online text (page 18 of 62)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

on their side. A wholesome horror of war, and a dread of putting
ourselves in any position that may expose us to a risk of being
drawn into a war, are sentiments of great power among the
people. ... It seems probable that the working classes would
support the policy recommended by the Opposition. . . . Manu-
facturers and merchants, on the other hand, view all suggestions
of force with undisguised aversion. — T. Feb. 1 th.

One thing is certain, that the House of Commons, at least,
will not endure for another session the reticence and mystery of
the last, or acquiesce submissively in the demand that the Govern-
ment shall be implicitly trusted. — T. Feb. 10th.

What we conceive to be clear is that the policy of Lord Derby
■ — ^the earlier policy of Lord Derby — has conquered, and that
there is a well marked recession from his energetic language of

the autumn towards the cold indifference of spring and

summer. The policy of laissez /aire is for the moment in the

ascendant, and so far as it is qualified at all it is qualified

in the direction of Mr. Disraeli, rather than in the direction of
the Liberals. — Spec. Feb. 10th.

The chiefs of the Liberal party hope that Europe may yet be
persuaded to make the Conference executive as Russia has
requested, and, failing that, wish themselves to assist Russia to
make it executive, thus binding Russia to consider Europe and
not her own advantage. That is, we believe, the ultimate policy


of the Liberal party. Lord Granville, an experienced diplomatist,
did not go quite so far. He did not make any allusion to the
possibility that ■we might be compelled to ally ourselves with
Russia singly, for he declined to doubt that the European accord
could be maintained or that when this was once perceived Turkey

would venture to resist We do not believe that Europe,

as a body, will move one step, but that does not matter. It is
necessary during the month of bad weather which remains to us
to exhaust that possibility, and then the next step must be either
the one hinted at by Lord Hartington ^ or the far bolder and
more righteous one which has been hinted at by the Duke of
Argyll, to do the work ourselves with the assistance of the
oppressed. The foi-mer is the m.ore practicable alternative, and
it is that which the Liberal party, backed we trust, by the people
of England, intend to support. — Siiec. Feb. 10th.

The Daily Telegraph earnestly advises the Opposition to get
rid of the unlucky policy put forward experimentally by the
Liberal leaders. It notes; that Lords Granville and Hartington
did not commit themselves irrevocably. The Liberal Party may
be wise in time. — (Feb. 19th.)

[It speaks again of the fatal policy of coercing the Porte in
concert with Russia. Is this policy going to find expression in
the political proceedings of the Opposition ? It believes that the
present Cabinet as it stands will never yield to such a proposal.]
What; we have had mainly to busy ourselves with during the
troubled months of the past year has been the general policy of
the Government, the conduct of England, and the designs which
have been set in motion to subvert existing territorial arrange-
ments to the disadvantage of this nation. To that line of action
we shall remain steadfast without respect to parties ; nor shall
we fail to oppose alike those who cry " Perish India," and
those whose watchword is " Better the Russians in Constan-
tinople than another year of Tory rule." — D. T. Feb. 13th.

In a very few days it became clear that the Government en-
tertained no intention of coercing Turkey into agreeing to their
proposals, if indeed they were not fast swinging back into that
attitude of objection and hostility to the bringing to bear upon
Turkey of any pressure whatever, an attitude which would ulti-
mately result in an anti-Russian and pro-Turkish policy on the
part of England, in the event of Russia's persisting in pressing for
the emancipation of the Provincials.

&. Tlia Guerilla Warfare. — This " swing back " on the part of
Ministers had its counterpart in the attitude of the official leaders
of the Opposition. Challenged by Lord Salisbury to " pick the idea
of coercion to pieces," they avoided coming to close quarters with the

^ Alluding to Lord Hartington's reference to Camiing, ante, p. 152, vvliich the
Spectator had f£uoted.


question as to what was to be done if their belief in the amenability
of the Porte to pressure should prove erroneous. Thus as between
official parties attack and defence passed each other. To the question
■ — " Do you wish to purchase the adoption of your solution at the
cost of an English war if necessary ? " — the Opposition leaders would
only answer, " It is to be had on better terms ; the mere threat will
suffice, and it is the only way to prevent an actual Russian war."
Instead of distinctly formulating the " violet " policy and chal-
lenging the Government to accept or repudiate it, the Opposition
began to engage in a guerilla waifare of questions and criticisms
founded on the Blue Books. The Government, while deprecating
a general debate on the ground that negotiations were still on
foot, maintained strenuously that their policy had not undergone
any change, and referred all inquirers to the Blue Books as con-
taining the completest exposition of what that policy was. Yet
how could those policies be the same which dictated the language of
Lord Salisbury at Constantinople and the language of Lord Derby
before the agitation, to say nothing of the Premier's speeches at
Aylesbury and at the Guildhall ?

These tactics no doubt were founded on the constitutional
doctrine of joint ministerial responsibility, and the assumption
that the Cabinet must either accept any policy fairly to be deduced
from the language of any member of their body, or else repudiate
the spokesman.! ^^t first, probably the desire to draw from the
Government a definite statement of the actual attitude which
they intended to adopt predominated ; but when the Government
resented, as resent they did, every attempt of this kind, no doubt
the desire came in to discredit them by convicting them of that
inconsistency which they so strenuously denied.

It was apparently supposed that Ministers could sooner or
later be driven by tactics of this kind into a logical dilemma
whence escape with credit would be impossible. However, nothing
of the kind happened. Verbal references to the independence
and integrity of the Ottoman Empire were appealed to, as con-
clusive evidence that in despatching Lord Salisbury, they had
not infringed on the rights of the Porte as an independent Power,
or on the maxim of non-intervention.

* Compare the advice on parliamentary tactics given hy the Times, ante, vol i.
p. 378. The co\irse recommended by the Times was followed at a later date with
respect to a speech of Lord Carnarvon's ; with the result (Lord Beaconsfield not
feeling himself bound by the constitutional canon enunciated) that the public were
seriously misled. Post, chap. zvii.


Thus by blurring and breaking down the signification of words,
a verbal contradiction was avoided ; while on the other baud,
whether they were criticised for disregarding the claims of the
Porte or those of the Provincials, passages could be found among
the redundant wealth of the Blue Books to show how far the
Government was from meriting the blame imputed to them.

The whole of the early part of the session was characterised
by skirmishing of this kind ; a vast number of questions were put
to Ministers, which may be likened to the raids of the proveibial
Uhlan to ascertain the lie of the country and the attitude of the
inhabitants. There were also a few reconnaissances in force, but
there was no decisive battle. These tactics, which might have been
useful if merely preliminary to a general engagement, as tending
to force Ministers to define their position, only served when unduly
prolonged to weary Public Opinion, aud perhaps on the whole
tended to reinstate in public confidence a Cabinet against whose
present policy, as it seemed, there was after all nothing substantial
which could be urged. If Ministers did not now pledge themselves
to carry out the emancipation policy to its logical end, neither
were the Opposition, it seemed, ready to do so. The ostensible
ground of the consent of the official Opposition to postpone the
general discussion was that negotiations were still pending and
that a discussion might embarrass the Cabinet. But it soon
became evident that the Cabinet had swung quite away from
" Emancipation," and that in Lord Derby's view, the sole difficulty
of the situation was that which arose from Eussia's having put
forward demands which she would now be glad to abandon, if only
some one would be good enough to furnish her with a plausible
excuse. Accordingly, he was only anxious to build, as it was said,
a '■ golden bridge " to facilitate Russian retreat.

While the Government thus dropped all question of alleviating
the condition of the Provincials and all thought of removing
the chronic cause of disturbance by insisting on a large measure
of Emancipation, their supporters were unwearied in iheir insist-
.ence on the guilt of those who would bring down upon Europe
the frightful evils of war. The Czar and the supporters of
the " violet " policy in England were joined in one condemnation.
A strange echo of these recriminations reaches us from the
Continent : —

In the AUgemeine Zeitung of this morning I find a party
to which I shall never be ashamed of belonging described by a


name which 3 confess a little startles me. Those English who
wished to bring coercion to bear upon the Turk are, it seems, " the
bloody Radicals" (die sogenannten "blutigen Eadicalen.") —
Mr. E. A. Freeman in D. N. May 5th. i

Yet with all this pious horror of war waged for the purpose ot
emancipating the Provincials, the assumption again begins to show
itself, at first somewhat modestly but fast increasing in confidence
and becoming obtrusive, that if Russia attacked her, Turkey would
find an ally in England.

On the other hand, the confidence with which the " violet "
party had looked forward to the meeting of Parliament, and to
the official leaders of the Liberal Party, gave way to a very different
feeling. When it seemed that after all the claim of the "violet"
policy was not to be brought to the test of a division, and especially
after Mr. Fawcett's attempt of March 23rd was frustrated, there
was a very general feeling that Parliament had not only failed in
this particular instance in its great function of bringing the action
of the Executive into accordance with the preponderating opinion
of the country, but, what was far more serious, that it had almost
abdicated this function altogether.

The following may be noted as the salient points of the first
part of the session, between the debates in both Houses on the
Address and the formal debates on the negotiations, which latter
took place on April 13th in the House of Commons, and on April
16th in the House of Lords.

c. A Debate on Treaty Ohligations, raised ly Mr. Gladstone.
{Feb. 16th.) — Mr. Gladstone attempted to draw from the Govern-
ment a repudiation of Treaty Legalism. He founded his inquiries
on the despatch of September 5th, 1876,^

which appears to throw a good deal of light — more than
I for one was previously possessed of — on the intentions of
Her Majesty's Government previous to that epoch, because
when they conveyed to Turkey the fact that in their judgment
certain recent disclosures had made it impossible for them to
interfere in defence of the Ottoman Empire in the extreme
case of a war by Russia against Turkey, it certainly does ap-
pear to imply that until these disclosures were made they had
distinctly cherished that intention. . . Now we are told here
that in the event of war between Eussia and Turkey the
sympathies of the nation would be brought into direct oppo-
sition to its treaty engagements [He proceeded to

combat this view, and to develop his contention as to our

' Ante, p. 47. ^ Ante, vol. i. p. 367.

1877. MR. GLADSTONE'S DEBATE (FEB. 16th). 159

treaty obligations.] ^ ... It is most important that we should
know before we deal with this question how far our hands are
tied by treaty engagements in the judgment of those who
represent us in the face of Europe, and how far we are free to
do that which is just and right in itself.

There is a marked change of tone noticeable in this debate as
compared with that of February 8th. Now Mr. Gladstone was
suspicious, then he had inclined to be confiding. On the other
hand the Ministerialists treated the demand that ambiguities
should be cleared up as a hostile demonstration. Moreover they
began tauntingly to defy the Opposition to impugn the policy of
the Government. Mr. Chaplin gave rise to a heated "incident"
by intimating that this was the only course open to Mr. Gladstone
as a man of honour. Mr. Sullivan at a later hour retorted on Lord
Elcho, who wished the question to be brought to the test of a vote
that what Ministers wanted was not discussion but division.

Mr. Hardy replied to Mr. Gladstone on the part of the Govern-
ment. He asserted emphatically that the Government did not
consider themselves set free from the obligations of the treaties and
hinted that the " humiliating position " mentioned by Lord Derby ^
referred to the remote possibility that France or Austria might call
upon us, as bound to them under the Tripartite Treaty, to interpose.^

The Conference, Mr. Hardy said, was based on the Independence
and Integrity of Turkey.

We have proclaimed, and I proclaim again in the strongest
language, that we should be wrong in every sense of the word, if
we were to endeavour to employ material coercion against Turkey.
(Ministerial cheers.) It is a serious thing to draw the sword, and
1 should feel that if at this period, after all we have said and done,
we were to undertake to draw the sword against Turkey for the
purpose of material coercion, we should be doing an act for which
there could be no justification — (cheers) — an act which ought to
bi'ing shame into our faces — (renewed cheers) — because we should
have falsified our promises, and been faithless to our engagements.

But Mr. Hardy immediately proceeded to qualify this very
strong declaration.

I deny altogether the right or the duty which is said to be im-
posed upon us by anything that has up to this time taken place,

^ ATite, vol. i. pp. 124 and 128.

■" In the despatch of Sept. 5th. See ante, vol. i. p. 357.

- See ante, vol. i. pp. 118 and 130.


No human being can know what may arise, and, as to the future,
I decline to give promises or pledges on hypothetical circum-

The debate was adjourned.

On February 22nd Lord Hartington stated he did not consider
it satisfactory that the question of our position under the treaties
should be left where it was left by Mr. Hardy's speech of the 16th.
However, on Sir Stafford Northcote's intimation that negotiations
were proceeding, and that the resumption of the debate would be
inconvenient, the Opposition acquiesced, and an opportunity for the
resumption of the debate was never afforded.

On February 26th Lord Derby in the House of Lords, by way
of reply to Mr. Gladstone's suggestion based on the despatch of
September 3th, referred to the despatch of May 2oth to prove that
the Government had never entertained the idea of fighting for

d. The Duke of Argyll's Debate. {Februanj 20th.)— THae Duke of
Argyll called attention to Lord Salisbury's instructions.

These instructions had two great ends in view; the first was
some security for internal reforms in Turkey, and the other was
some security for the peace of Europe. Unfortunately, neither of
these two great ends have been attained ; there is no reform in
Turkey, and alas, my lords, there is no prospect of peace in
Europe. [There were two causes of this failure.] The first is the
unhappy policy which Her Majesty's Government pursued up to
the end of last August, and the second is the half-heartedness, the
timidity, and vacillation with which they pursued the new policy
forced upon them by the public feeling of the country after the
Bulgarian massacres.

When on February 8th he had hinted that Turkey had been
told of the decision of the Government not to coerce her, Lord
Salisbury shook his head : but what was the message sent to the
Porte (and not included in the Blue Book) which elicited the
Grand Vizier's telegram (December 24th) of warm gratitude? It
appeared a Cabinet Council was held on December 22nd, when it
was decided that coercion should not be applied. If that was
communicated. Lord Salisbury might just as well have left
Constantinople at once

He still hoped the time might come when Lord Beaconsfield
looking back upon his Ministry would be enabled to say that he
wielded the great power of England for the purpose and with the
efiect of procuring some measure of tolerable liberty for the
people of Christian Turkey, and that in securing that measure of

^ Ante, vol. i. p. 356.

1877. THE DUKE OF ARGYLL'S DEBATE (FEB. 20th). 161

tolerable liberty he secured it on such conditions as would
guarantee them for the future both against the odious barbarism
of the Turks and the crushing autocracy of Russian Czars.

The question which I have to jjut is not what measure the
Government propose, but whether they have any measure in con-
templation for the fulfilment of the promises which they have
held out to the people of Turkey, or whether they have abandoned
them and left them to be dealt with by E,ussia 1 (Cheers.)

Lord Derby said it was too early to say the Government had
failed in the two objects specified by the Duke of Argyll —

the one, the improvement of the internal government of Turkey,
and the other the maintenance of European peace. I agree with
him that these were the objects, but as a matter of style I would
have put the maintenance of European peace first. [If the question
of the employment of coercion were raised Ministei-s were prepared
to justify the course which had been taken.]

Lord Salisbury. — The difference in sentiment appears to be that
the noble Duke [Argyll] blames us for not coercing, and the noble
earl [Kimberley], who is far from blaming us for that, blames us for
not saying that we intended to coerce. [^Earl Rimherley : "No; but
for not having refrained from expressing your intentions."] Does
the noble earl think so meanly of the diplomatists of Europe, even
of the diplomatists of Turkey, as to imagine they would not have
seen through so flimsy a pretence as that 1 This country works in
a glass beehive. . . We had to deal incidentally with the question of
the internal reform of Turkey ; but the principal object we had
to aim at was to put a stop to the prospects of a great war. . . It
is right to say that though it is true that fear of a breach with
Russia was the greatest motive power for the Conference, yet
there was no difference among the Plenipotentiaries on the question
of coercion. Of course I did not use any threats of coercion. But
neither did the Ambassador of Russia. . . . And we do not yet
despair. There can be no doubt that the man principally opposed
to the late Conference [Midhat] — I don't say to all internal reforms
— has gone from power ; and it is possible that the Sultan, in
making this change, has been guided by a desire to draw nearer
the European Powers. At all events, it is open to us to cherish
that hope.

Lord Granville complained of the excessive candour of the
Government in letting the Porte know they had nothing to fear as
to coercion.

I cannot believe that the only possible means of coercing the
Turk meant bombarding Constantinople. That, I think, is a perfect
chimera. ... I must regard the impossible contingency of our
being obliged to exercise coercion, and then, when it came to the
point, finding ourselves without the means of accomplishing it, as
a trespassing upon the credulity of your lordships.



Lord Beaconsfield protested that the Guildhall speech was not
meant as a defiance of Russia,^ and expressed surprise that it
should ever have been so regarded :

I said that the policy of England is a policy of peace, that there
is no country of which essentially peace is more a policy than
England. We wanted no city, we desired no province, and we
coveted none ; but I said — and had good reasons for saying — that
if there was to be a war, and if unfortunately we were brought
into it, we should enter that war with the determination to carry
it on until right be done. These are the statements I made at the
Guildhall. Tliose are the statements I now make in the House of
Lords. I entirely adhere to them. There was no sneer. I was
as unconscious of sarcasm then as ever I was — as I am speaking at
this moment. They were the sincere expressions of myself, and I
believe of my colleagues. (Loud cheers.)

He set up once more the theory of Treaty-Legalism ^ and the
Independence and Integrity of Turkey.

I hold that if we lose sight of that object we shall be a ship
without a rudder.

He turned his back upon the policy of the Conference, and
attributed it to the Opposition and to the Duke of Argyll.

The noble lord and his friends are of opinion that we should
have coerced the Porte into the acceptance of the policy which he
recommends. That is not a course which we can conscientiously
profess or promise. — Beaconsfield, H. of L. Feb. 20th.

6. Lord Stratheden and Campbell's Debate. {Souse of Lords,
February "i^Sth) — This may be regarded as the pendant of Mr.
Gladstone's debate of February 16th. Mr. Gladstone had raised
a debate to establish the " violet " interpretation of the treaties.
Lord Stratheden and Campbell now contended for the " red " in-
terpretation of the same instruments.^ In both cases the Ministeis
declined to commit themselves to either view.

/. Mr. Fawcctt's Debate {March 23rfZ.)— Mr. Fawcett moved a
resolution which affirmed the fruitlessness of any promises of
reform made by the Porte without guarantees, and the right of the
Powers to demand adequate securities in the interests of peace.

Mr. Fawcett's speech was to much the same purpose as that of
the Duke of Argyll (February 20th). Did the Cabinet, he desired
to know, adhere to the opinion rej)resented by Lords Salisbury's

' On the 13th, in the House of Commons, Mr. Samuelsnn had asked whether
Lord Beaconsfield, when he spoke at the Guildhall, had heard of the Czar's declara-
tion, and received the reply from Sir Stafford Northcote, "Yes, sir, of course he had."

^ Ante, vol. i. p. 117. ' Ante, vol. i. p. 130.

1877. MU. RYLANDS' DEBATE (MAECH 2Vth). 163

and Derby's words, and having put their hand to the plough would
they go on ? If so he would be satisfied. To this appeal he got
no direct answer.

Sir Stafford Northcote professed himself unable to understand
to what Mr. Fawcett's resolution tended, and insisted that the
Cabinet, being engaged in delicate negotiations which closed their
mouths, must be left to do all they could in what they believed to
be the best way for " the unhappy people in some of the countries
subject to Turkey." Mr. Gladstone discussed, at length and
historically,! the subject of the treaty rights and obligations of the
European Powers in reference to the Christian subjects of Turkey.
However, Lord Hartington and Mr. Gladstone both declared
themselves unable to support the resolution because, with negotia-
tions pending, they considered the moment inopportune for
formulating an abstract principle of policy. Mr. Fawcett offered
to withdraw it, but this was objected to on the part of the
Government. Many of the official Liberals left the House to avoid
taking jjart in the division. The Government insisted on voting
Mr. Fawcett's resolution down, and as this was resisted by his re-
maining supporters a number of forced divisions against small
minorities took place on questions of adjournment.

g. Mr. Bylands' Debate {March 21th). — This debate may be
taken as marking the time when it became evident that nothing
was to be gained by seeking to pin the Government to phrases used
by them at some i^revious time, and, as marking also, the almost
total loss of belief in the conversion of Ministers to the " violet "

Online LibraryGeorge Carslake ThompsonPublic opinion and Lord Beaconsfield, 1875-1880 → online text (page 18 of 62)