Horace Twiss.

The public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) online

. (page 25 of 65)
Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 25 of 65)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

who could have thought ill that Mr. Canning will have his own way. I guess that
I, Wellington, Peel, Bathurst, Westmoreland, &c., will be out."

(The same to the same.} (Extract.)

(April, 1827.)

"There seems again to be some uncertainty whether Lord Lansdowne and a few
Whigs have joined Mr. C.; but it will be so, I have no doubt.

" The whole conversation in this town is made up of abusive, bitterly abusive talk,
of people about each other all fire and flame. I have known nothing like it."

These heats arose from no cabal among the anti-Catholic members
of the cabinet. The anti-Catholic leaders at that time were Mr. Peel
in the one House of Parliament, and the lord chancellor in the other;
yet, even these two ministers, attached as they were both personally
and politically, had thought it not right to anticipate the king's plea-
sure with respect to themselves or their colleagues, by pre-arranging

* Sic in orig.


between them the course which they might feel it their duty to take
or to recommend in the event of his requiring their services. Mr.
Peel's difficulties on the subject of the Catholic question, as connected
with the then contemplated appointment of Mr. Canning to the direc-
tion of the government, were first avowed to the king himself; and it
was only when they had been conveyed by his majesty to Lord Eldon,
that Mr. Peel considered himself at liberty to communicate with his
colleague on the subject of them. The two letters in which he then
explained himself have been found among Lord Eldon's papers ; and
the error of the common notion, that in the workings of a statesman's
mind there must always be double movements and secret springs,
could hardly be better illustrated than by the plain, frank exposition
which these letters present of Mr. Peel's motives of action.
(Mr. Peel to the Lord Chancellor.)

"Whitehall, April Eth, 1827.
" My dear Chancellor,

"To prevent misconception, allow me to commit to writing the purport of what I
said to you this morning.

" My earnest wish is to see the present government retained in his majesty's service
on the footing on which it stood at the time of Lord Liverpool's misfortune. I am
content with my own position, and wish for no advancement or change. Differing
on the Catholic question from every one of my colleagues in the government who is
a member of the House of Commons, still I have been enabled to act cordially with
them, and much to my satisfaction on other matters. I esteem and respect them, and
should consider it a great misfortune, were his majesty to lose the services of any
one of them, but particularly of Canning.

" I can say, with truth, that on all other matters of domestic and general policy (with
the exception of the Catholic question) my opinions are in accordance with theirs.
In regarding the interests of the country, and the position of the government, I can-
not confine my views to (he Catholic question alone. Our differences on that question
are a great evil ; but they ought not to make us forget that on other subjects, some
of not less importance parliamentary reform, for instance we are united. On the
Catholic question the House of Commons recently divided, 276 to 272. Is not such
a division an answer to those who demand an united government, either in favour
of, or opposition to the Catholic claims'!

" You informed me that the king had mentioned to you yesterday, that I feared I
should have great difficulty in remaining in office if Canning were placed in the
situation of prime minister. As his majesty has mentioned this to you, I may, in
writing to you now, break that silence which I have hitherto maintained on a subject
of so much delicacy.

"The difficulty to which his majesty referred arises out of the Catholic question,
and I must say out of that alone. If I agreed with Canning on that question, or if
his opinions had been the same with Lord Liverpool's, I should not have hesitated to
remain in office, had his majesty commissioned Canning to form a government, and
had Canning proposed to me that I should form a part of it.

" My own position, with respect to the Catholic question, and with respect also to
the particular duties which my office devolves upon me, is a peculiar one. I have,
for many years, taken a leading part in the House of Commons in opposition to the
Roman Catholic claims; and for the last five years (God knows not without serious
difficulty and embarrasment) I have filled that office which is mainly responsible for
the administration of affairs in Ireland.

"Can I see the influence of the office of prime minister transferred from Lord
Liverpool to Canning, and added to that of leader of the House of Commons, without
subjecting myself to misconstruction with respect to my views on the Catholic ques-
tion ? Can it be so transferred without affecting my particular situation as secretary
for the home department, and my weight and efficiency in the administration of Irish
affairs? It is with deep and unaffected regret that I answer these questions in the
negative. You will perceive, at the same time, that no small part of my difficulty is
a peculiar and personal one. It arises partly from the very marked course 1 have


taken on the Catholic question partly from the particular office in which circum-
stances have placed me, and the particular relation in which I stand to Ireland and
Irish affairs. Others of my colleagues, who concur with me generally on the Catholic
question, may not feel this difficulty. I will not seek directly or indirectly to influence
their judgment: my first wish is to see the present (perhaps I should rather say the
late) administration reconstituted precisely on the footing on which it stood when
Lord Liverpool was at his head. If this be impossible, can it be reconstituted by
Canning, I alone retiring 1 ?

"If it can, I shall retire in perfect good humour, and without the slightest disap-
pointment, though certainly not without regret.

"I shall continue, out of office, to act upon the principles on which I have hilherto
acted; and cannot but feel that, if the government shall remain in the hands of my
former colleagues, I shall be enabled, in conformity with those principles, to give it a
general support. I have written this in great haste; and as you are so soon to see
his majesty, I have hardly had time to read it over.

"Ever, my dear lord,

"Most faithfully yours,


" P. S. I hope that I explained, entirely to your own satisfaction, the reason why
I had not opened my lips to you on the subject of the present state of affairs as
connected with the position of the government until this morning."
(Mr. Peel to the Lord Chancellor.}

" Whitehall, April 9th, 1827.
" My dear Chancellor,

" What I said with respect to a Protestant peer at the head of the government was
this, That if a peer of sufficient weight and influence could be found whose general
principles were in accordance with those of Lord Liverpool, the appointment of
such a peer to be head of the government would be quite unobjectionable to me, so far
as I am personally concerned. It might be difficult to find such a person, because I
think he ought to be a peer of name and character, and ability also sufficient to sus-
tain the part of prime minister.

"I certainly did say to his majesty that I could not advise the attempt to form an
exclusive Protestant government; that I could not be a party even to the attempt,
should it be contemplated; but his majesty was, I am confident, of the same opinion.

"I said, also, that I was out of the question as the head of a government, under that
arrangement which I consider by far the best that could be made namely, the recon-
stitution of the late administration ; because it was quite impossible for Canning to
acquiesce in my appointment.

"I wish to remain as I am, acting with him, he being leader of the House of Com-
mons, with the just influence and authority of that station, subject of course to what
I stated in my first letter. Ever yours,


On the 10th of April, Mr. Canning received his majesty's com-
mands to form a government; but on the 12th, when he kissed hands
as first lord of the treasury and chancellor of the Exchequer, he found
himself shorn of more than half the strength of the Tory party. He
had now to construct a ministry without the duke, Mr. Peel, or Lord
Eldon. The Lords Bathurst, Melville, Westmoreland and Sidmouth,
also signified their intention to retire ; and the only members of the
cabinet, who finally adhered to the new minister, were, Lord Har-
rowby, the president of the council, Mr. Huskisson, the president of
the board of trade, Lord Bexley, the chancellor of the duchy of Lan-
caster, Mr. Wynn, the president of the India board, and Mr. Robin-
son, the last of whom was now created Lord Goderich and transferred
from the chancellorship of the Exchequer to the secretaryship of the
colonies, with the lead of the government in the House of Lords.
Lord Eldon was succeeded as lord chancellor by Sir John Copley,
the master of the rolls, who was created Lord Lyndhurst, and Mr.


Peel as secretary for the home department by Mr. Sturges Bourne.
The Duke of Clarence became lord high admiral, superseding the
office of first lord of the admiralty, which had been held by Lord
Melville ; but his royal highness had no seat in the cabinet ; nor had
the Marquis of Anglesey, who followed the Duke of Wellington as
master-general of the ordnance ; but Lord Palmerston, who retained
his office of secretary-at-war, was called to a place in that council.
The Duke of Portland succeeded to Lord Westmoreland as lord privy
seal ; and Lord Dudley and Ward to Mr. Canning as secretary for
foreign affairs.

Thus was accomplished the formation of a government under a
prime minister favourable to the Catholic claims ; but it was so formed
on the express condition that the question of those claims was to con-
tinue what is called an open one ; that is, a question on which the
ministers vote, not unitedly as a government, but each separately ac-
cording to his own individual opinions.

Lord Eldon retained the custody of the great seal nearly three
weeks after his tender of resignation, in order to dispose of some
cases that were waiting for his judgment. Lord Lyndhurst having
been appointed his successor, Lord Eldon wrote to congratulate him
and to make some arrangement for the change in the custody of the
seal. Lord Lyndhurst's answer was as follows:

"George Street, April 26th.
" My dear Lord,

" I thank your lordship for your kind congratulations with respect to the change of
the custody of the seal. Nothing more has been stated to me than a wish that it should
take place before the meeting of the House of Lords. I beg your lordship will, in every
particular, consult your own convenience, to which it will be my greatest pleasure to
conform. If your lordship will permit me, I will wait upon you after I have made
the necessary inquiries, and inform your lordship of the result. Believe me, my dear
lord (with the deepest sense of your uniform kindness to me), to remain, with un-
feigned respect, Your lordship's faithful servant,


(Lord Eldon to Lady F. J. Bankes.) (Extract.)

(April, 1827.)

"If I had all the livings in the kingdom vacant when I communicated my resigna-
tion, (for, what, since that, falls vacant, I have nothing to do with,) and they were cut
each into threescore livings, I could not do what is asked of me by letters received
every five minutes, full of eulogies upon my virtues, all of which will depart when
my resignation actually takes place, and all concluding with, ' Pray give me a living
before you go out.' "

Lord Eldon and the other retiring ministers, on Monday, the 30th
of April, 1827, resigned the seals of their respective offices into the
hands of the king.

The two Houses of Parliament had adjourned, in the second week
of April, for the Easter recess. When the House of Commons reas-
sembled on the 1st of May, Mr. Peel gave a statement of the grounds
upon which he had withdrawn from office, and Mr. Canning of the
circumstances under which the resignations of his late colleagues
had been sent in. "They were circumstances," he said, "forming
a coincidence, to which, however, he would not apply the name of


Mr. Peel, in an explanation of some length, defended himself and his colleagues
from the supposition of having acted in concert on this occasion. He stated that
Lord Eldon had intimated his intention of retirement to Mr. Canning on the night of
the 10th, and added that in a conversation with himself on this subject Lord Eldon
had said, "My time of life has made it necessary that I should resign. A new event
has occurred, that enables me to accomplish this wish. Whatever my opinions may
be on the Catholic question, it is hardly necessary for me now to restate them; for
the question is merely whether I must revoke an intention I had previously formed,
of tendering: my resignation, or go on acting with a minister who, upon that question,
is most decidedly opposed to me. I am disposed, however, to remain in office until I
shall have been enabled to deliver my judgments in the matters which have been
heard before me."

Mr. Canning stated, in reply to Mr. Peel, that, in his conversation with the lord
chancellor on the evening of the 10th, he had not understood that it was the learned
lord's intention to resign. He had, however, received the chancellor's resignation in
the chamber of the sovereign on the 1 1th of April, along with some other resignations
to which he had before adverted.

(Lord Eldon to Lady F. J. Bankes.) (Extract.)

" May 2d, 1827.

" My ever dear Fan,


" I took my final leave of office on Monday. The king, to me personally, behaved
with kindness and feeling. He sent for me on the Sunday, as he said he could not
prevail upon himself to part with me, having only the short interview, which the hurry
of Monday, when the whole change was to be made, would admit. His conversation
to me was very kind certainly, and it discovered a heart that had such affectionate
feelings as one cannot but deeply lament should, from intrigue and undue influence,
not be left to its own operations upon the head. Bessy will have told you of the
memorial of his feelings towards me, which he has sent me; and her pen I think
more likely to describe its beauties than mine would be, and so I leave that subject.

"To-night I presume we shall have some account to give of our conduct in the
House of Lords, as Peel did last night of his in the Commons, in a speech you will of
course see in the papers. We, who are to account to-night, are Wellington, Bathurst,
Melville, Westmoreland and myself.* Mine will be short, but I hope satisfactory to
those whom I should wish should be satisfied with my conduct.

" I have now taken my farewell of office. Johnson, in the ' Rambler' or 'Idler,' I
forget which, in his concluding essay, speaks of every person's being affected, by what
is ' the last,' by the finishing of his labours. Is the mind so constituted that it cannot
be otherwise than that, for a short season, the change from a station of vast labour
and importance to a state of comparatively no labour and no importance, must feel
strange? I bless God, however, that he has enabled me, in that state of change! to
look back to a period of nearly half a century, spent in professional and judicial situa-
tions and stations, with a conviction that the remembrance of the past will gild the
future years which his Providence may allow to me, not merely with content, but with
that satisfaction and comfort, and with much happiness, of which the world cannot
deprive me."

On the evening of this 2d of May, Lord Eldon in pursuance of the
intention announced in the foregoing letter, gave his own explanation
in the House of Lords. Lord Grosvenor having presented two peti-
tions in favour of the Roman Catholic claims, accompanied with a
speech of his own wherein he maintained, that as capital should flow
into Ireland the conversion of the Roman Catholics would follow,
Lord Ellenborough, who spoke next, suggested, that those noble
lords, lately in the ministry, who had been so grossly assailed for
their resignations, might fitly take this occasion for vindicating their

The Earl of Eldon then rose.

* Lord Sidmouth quitted the cabinet with the six above-named members of it; but
he had held no office, and gave no explanation to the House of Lords.


He said, that his majesty's late servants had been charged with having acted in
concert, and that too for the unpardonable object of dictating to the sovereign what
choice he should make in the selection of his constitutional advisers. After having
been so long a member of that House, and so long the steady advocate of principles
directly opposed to a doctrine so unconstitutional, he hoped he might be permitted to
assure their lordships that his charge was a base and infamous calumny,so far as he
himself was concerned, or so far as it might be supposed to apply to those distinguished
persons who had retired with him from office. That it could be supposed that he,
who had, for so many years, discharged the duties of his office with an honest sin-
cerity of purpose, through evil report and through good report, should have been
guilty of the offence of dictating to his sovereign what persons he should choose to
form his government, subject, of course, to the constitutional control of both Houses
of Parliament, was what he never could hear without telling those who made the
charge that it was a base and gross falsehood. [Loud cheers. Lord Eldon here became
sensibly affected.] He had felt it right, for the sake of the sovereign whom he had
served he had felt it right as well out of duty to that sovereign himself, as also out
of duty to his royal father whom he had also served to state, that he never disguised
from him his real sentiments on any proposition that might have been made to him in
the relation in which he stood to the crown. As to his resignation, he would state it
in the presence of those who knew that he was speaking the truth, that with him the
thought of resigning was not a new one. He had, for years back, felt it his duty to
consider whether he ought not to have quitted office long before, and, if he had still
retained it in opposition to his own inclination, it was only because he had been urged
and importuned to do so. Upon this question he had no personal feelings as to the
individual who might happen to be placed at the head of the government. But, if his
majesty had a constitutional and uncontrollable right to choose his ministers, no man
would honestly discharge his duty without considering whether, under the selection
which his majesty had made, he could usefully serve him. [Hear, hear.'] He might
be right, or he might be wrong; but, supposing him to be wrong as to the view he
took of the great importance of the Catholic question, he would now say, that it ought
not to be postponed any longer, but that some decision ought to be corne to upon it.
He was aware that he himself had, on more than one occasion, been instrumental
in postponing it. But he thought the time had now arrived when some decisive
measure ought to be adopted. He must observe that he had intended to resign, even
if this question had not created any difference of opinion in his majesty's councils.
Though he found it possible for him to serve in administration with such a man at
the head of it as Lord Liverpool, yet with an administration with the present prime
minister (and he wished to speak with respect of that gentleman, giving him full
credit for the sincerity of his opinion,) when the question was with him, whether he
should relinquish his purpose of resigning and go on with the administration, he found
that he could not do it. Pie thought it his duty to state to some members of that
House, towards whom he had every sentiment of regard, and who he knew entertained
a contrary opinion to what he did, his own opinion; which was, that if the question
of the Catholic claims should be carried, there was an end to the religious liberties
of this country, and that with the destruction of those religious liberties, the civil
liberties must cease also; and to his dying day he should support that opinion. He
could not, therefore, after having formed such an opinion, conscientiously give in to
those views, which must be the views of the prime minister, of granting the claims
of the Catholics, whether those views were to be carried into immediate execution, or
whether they were to be suspended, for the purpose for which they only could be sus-
pended, of more effectually securing the success of that question. Under such cir-
cumstances, it was impossible for him to be part of ihe government. As for himself,
it had been stated that he had concerted with another person in sending in his resig-
nation. The person alluded to was a gentleman for whom he entertained the sincerest
regard and esteem ; and he thought it no less than his duty to say, that that gentleman
knew nothing at all about his sending in his resignation. He believed the same to be
the case with respect to the other persons who had sent in their resignations. He
had understood that the writs were to have been moved on the Thursday before the
holidays, and he had made up his mind, if that measure should take place, then to
send in his resignation. His intention had been long formed upon the subject. The
letter which informed him who it was that was to be prime minister stated, in one
single word, that the administration had been formed upon the principles of the ad-
ministration of Lord Liverpool. He never could agree that the administration was
formed upon similar principles. Lord Liverpool's administration was formed upon.


principles totally different from those upon which the present one was formed. The
Earl of Liverpool, he recollected, was as zealous, honest, and candid an opponent of
the Catholic claims, as he gave full credit to the right hon. gentleman who was now
prime minister, for being a zealous, honest and candid supporter of those claims.
He had only to say that the communications made by those noble personages to whom
he had before alluded were made without any concert with him. He knew nothing
of them whatever; and, under such circumstances, he thought every candid man
would admit that there was an end of the charge of concert, as far as he was con-
cerned. There was, in his opinion, no censure too harsh for the man who should
presume to dictate to his majesty as to the choice of his ministers; but at the same
lime he must say, that if that man were asked by his majesty for his advice on the
subject, no censure would be too harsh for him, if he refused to tender to his sove-
reign his honest and sincere advice. If there were any persons who advocated a
contrary opinion, he was proud to say that he was not to be found in their number;
nay, he would add further, that more unpardonable conduct had been falsely attri-
buted to him than had ever been exhibited by any individual towards his sovereign.
If their lordships gave him any credit for sincerity, they would believe the statement
which he had just made to them. He assured their lordships that there was no con-
sideration which would induce him to withhold his efforts to preserve the constitution,
as settled at the Revolution, for the sake of our religion, our laws and our liberties
our civil and religious liberties which must co-exist, or perish together. He could
not lay aside the benefit of that experience which we had gained previously to that
settlement, a settlement which, when originally made, received the sanction of those
individuals whose descendants were now most anxious to overturn it. His whole
life had been devoted to the defence of that constitution, and to the resistance of the
concessions now proposed to be given to the Catholics ; because he had been con-
vinced from his youth upwards that ecclesiastical tyranny produced civil tyranny
likewise; and because he was satisfied, that unless ecclesiastical liberty was pre-
served, civil liberty was endangered, a fact which had been proved to demonstration
by the events of the four last years. In the opinions which he had formed upon this
question he might be wrong; indeed, he would not pretend to say that he was further
right than this that his own light had governed his own conduct, and that he had

Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 25 of 65)