Robert Peel.

Sir Robert Peel. In early life, 1788-1812; as Irish secretary, 1812-1818; and as secretary of state, 1822-1827 online

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Online LibraryRobert PeelSir Robert Peel. In early life, 1788-1812; as Irish secretary, 1812-1818; and as secretary of state, 1822-1827 → online text (page 1 of 48)
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These volumes are published under the authority of Sir
Robert Peel's Trustees, the late Viscount Hardinge and the
Bight Hon. Viscount Peel.

The period dealt with extends from the death of
Canning in 1827 to the death of Peel in 1850.

It includes the Administrations of God^rich and of
Wellington; the passing of the Roman Catholic ReUef
Bill ; the revenge of its opponents in overthrowing the
Duke's Government ; the Administration of LordJSrey ;
the prolonged contest over the Reform Bill ; the ruinous
downfall of the To^es ; the slow and toilsome building up
of the Conservative party ; Peel's refusals to take office in
1832 and in 1839; his short Ministry in 1834-35; six
years more in opposition ; and lastly, his great Adminis-
tration (1841-46) and few closing years.

Of the three-and-twenty years comprised, three are
memorable for crises in his career reviewed in later life by
himself. On the gomgja Catholic Relief Biltihe prepared a
Memoir incorporating * all the documents that appeared
necessary or useful for the complete elucidation of the
events ' attending its origin and progress into law ; of his
first Ministry he left a Narrative with a few selected letters ;
on the^lepeal of the Corn Lawe^e also wrote a Memoir.
AU these were published soon after his death.

Hence arose a dilemma in editing his general corre-


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spondence. To reprint the most interesting letters of
those three years would overfill the book; to exclude
them altogether would impair its value as a continuous
record of Peel's public life from his own hand. It seemed
best to take a middle course. The Memoirs are briefly
cited, but so far only as may suffice to keep the biographical
interest unbroken.

One point needs special explanation. In his Corn
Law Memoir, Sir Robert Peel embodied letters of historical
importance which had passed between him and the Queen.
When the Memoir was pubUshed in 1857, these could not
be included ; the events were then too recent, and many
of the actors were still upon the stage. But now, by her
Majesty's gracious permission, the letters are given in full.
Readers will kindly allow for any difficulties caused by their
being disjoined from the original context.

The Trustees have ventured also to submit to her
Majesty a request for leave to insert similar letters
selected from the correspondence of other years with the
Queen and Prince. By Sir Robert Peel's instructions, no
public use could be made of any such communication
without her Majesty's express approval. This has been most
graciously accorded, enhancing the dramatic and personal
interest of the poUtical contests described.

The mass of papers (in all about ioo,0(X>) bequeathed
to the Trustees fiumished materials in formidable quantity
and of great value. But it was found necessary to draw
largely from other sources.

Among the fables doing duty (for want of facts) about
Sir Robert Peel is one that ' he kept a copy of every letter
he ever wrote.' Had that been true, an editor's task would
have been more simple. But it is not true.

In youth, as Irish Secretary, Peel had his letters
copied into quarto volumes m all the pomp of red morocco


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with gilt edges. In later life, as Secretary of State, Prime
Minister, or private Member of Parliament, for thirty years
he had no such system. Letters of great interest, dashed
ofif in haste to friends whom he could trust, as a rule were
not preserved in copies or in draft. * After 1827,* he says
himself, * when out of oflSce, I very rarely, if ever, took
copies of the letters which 1 wrote.' Mr. Croker writes,
' I keep all your letters for you.' Sir James Graham, at
Peel's request, supplied many for the Memoirs ; and those
written to other colleagues could often be o^ji^ined only
from inheritors of the original letters.

The Duke of Wellington most liberally granted every
facility for consulting the rich collection at Apsley House,
and with the kind assistance of Lieut.-Golonel Coxon a
large number of Peel's uncopied letters were found there.
He also wrote il.^^aelidy to Wellington's confidential friend
the Right ' ..on. Charles Arbuthnot. These letters — often
secret, r ^r copied — have been kept safe, and lent, by Mrs.
Arthur ..rbuthnot. The letters to Mr. Gladstone were lent,
some years ago, by him ; letters to Sir James Graham
have been furnished by his daughter, Mrs. Charles Baring ,
letters to Lord Aberdeen by his son, Lord Stanmore ; letters
to Lord Hardinge by his son, the late Lord Hardinge ;
letters to Mr. Goulburn by his grandson. Major Goulburn.
Warm thanks are due to all.

Peel's letters to Mr. Croker having been mostly published,
no appUcation was made for them, and none was made to the
general public, lest there should not be room for what might
be supplied. The papers of a great and busy statesman
for thirty-eight years soon fill three volumes.

The book is indebted to Mr. Murray for some im-
portant papers preserved by his late father ; to the Dean
of Salisbury for a letter praising the administration of
criminal law in Scotland ; to Viscount Peel, to Mr. Murray,


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and to Mr. James K. Thursfield for the care with which
they have read the proofs, and for valuable suggestions ;
to Mr. Hallam Murray for pains taken in preparing the

Aid has been obtained from several published works —
Mr. Thursfield's excellent short Life of Peel, Mr. Shaw-
Lefevre's ' Peel and O'Connell,* Mr. Fitzpatrick's ' Letters
of O'Connell,' ' Lord EUenborough's Letters ' edited by
Lo^^ Colchester, and the Life of Sir George Pollock by
Mr. LowTXJjhe Prince Consort by Sir Theodore Martin,
of Cobden by Bfev Morley, and of Lord George Bentinck
by Mr. Disraeli. TO these must be added the *Greville
Memoirs,' and Mr. Wdifiole's 'History of England from
1815,' a book most valuable fer reference, and to be admired
for careful verification of facts.^^ .

Lastly, the Editor is under spcCictI :b!'fi;ations to the
Right Hon. Sir Frederick Peel, K.C.M.G., ^'>r accurate
information on points of which he could speak fro personal
knowledge, and for consenting to the publicatioi of the
interesting letters addressed to himself and to his mother,
Lady Peel, upon his father's death, and by Lady Peel to
the Queen, and to a few of her husband's dearest friends.
Without some such expressions of submissive grief and
Christian consolation, the correspondence must have been
brought to a more sudden and painful close.

It remains to say what has and what has not been here

In the instructions to his Trustees Sir Eobert Peel thus
indicates his general purpose :

* Considering that this collection includes the whole of
my confidential correspondence for a period extending from
the year 1 8 1 2 to the time of my decease ; that dm-ing a
considerable portion of that period I was engaged in the
service of the Crown ; and that when not so employed I took


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an active part in parliamentary business ; it is highly pro-
bable that much of that correspondence will be interesting,
and calculated to throw light upon the conduct and cha-
racter of public men, and upon the events of the time.'

He meant to leave materials for history, and that in
using them full justice should be done to those who acted
with him. Much space has therefore been assigned to
letters that throw light upon the characters and conduct of
his colleagues. •

One correspondence recorded is unique as having been
carried on for twenty years between the two Conservative
chiefs, a great civiUan, and a great soldier, leading their
party, the one in the popular, the other in the hereditary
House of Parliament. It shows with how much general-
ship these leaders managed to put o£f the final conflict
when, as they feared, the Lords would be deprived, if not
of nominal, at least of real power, and could no longer
check by an appeal to the electorate any rash act of a
temporary majority in one all-powerful Chamber. That
service was rendered by Wellington and Peel.

Next, if not equal, in importance, and therefore in the
space assigned to it, is the correspondence with Sir James
Graham. His letters here given have not before been
published. In style they are worthy to be read by public
men who care to write good English. In substance they
record the good work done together by Peel and Graham
for Ireland and in Home affairs, and thus do justice, as
Sir Eobert Peel desired, to his most attached and most
efficient colleague.

A third correspondence of singular interest was with
Hardinge. It exhibits two devoted friends, soldier and
civilian, separated by many thousand miles, each playing
the chief part in a desperate but victorious contest, the
one with foes abroad, the other with faction at home, yet



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each finding time to watch with warmest sympathy the
other's action, and to exchange assurances of mutaal
confidence and unalterable affection. Again such a series
of letters is unique. There are also letters to and from
Lord Ellenborough. Few know how large a part Sir
Eobert Peel took in the Government of India, so far as
it was controlled from home. This subject fills four

Another chapter records the conflict in Scotland between
Church and State. Englishmen are apt to treat that
controversy as to them devoid of interest, and even of
meaning. But it was due to the High Church party and
to Sir Eobert Peel to show what were the questions raised
between them, and where he drew the line ; that as regards
Crown and other lay patronage he would have given to
congregations full liberty of objecting to presentees, and
to the Church courts unlimited power of deciding on all
objections judicially without appeal ; that he recognised the
absolute supremacy of the Church in things spiritual, but
not in dealing with civil rights of patrons or of presentees,
secured by statute law, or in changing at will the constitu-
tion of her courts established by the State.

With Lord Aberdeen Peel's intercourse was not less affec-
tionate and unreserved than with Graham or Hardinge ;
and if Lord Aberdeen did not, like them, attend Peel's
deathbed, he is addressed by Lady Peel in her hours of
deepest mourning for her husband as * the friend whom he
most valued.' But to the letters exchanged with him.
Lord Stanley, Mr. Goulburn, and Mr. Gladstone, with
limited space, less justice could be done. For readers un-
familiar with foreign, colonial, and financial questions, ex-
planations would have been required. Moreover, many of
Lord Aberdeen's and of Mr. Gladstone's papers will ere long
be made public; those of Lord Stanley would be more


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fitly edited by his family ; and some of Mr. Goulbum's
were placed out of reach by the absence of his grandson
on the expedition to Khartoum.

Sir Robert Peel himself is here portrayed not in private
life — as the loving husband, son, or father; the country
gentleman, fond of farming and of field sports ; the friend
of science, literature, and art ; the good citizen, the loyal
Churchman, the consistent Christian. Of all this there .
are glimpses, but the central subject is, his conduct as ^
public man. ^

On that point much has been written. He has been
condemned as having broken that great political command-/
ment : Thou shalt love thy party with all thy soul. Thoii
Bhalt not rise to power with one set of men anq
principles, and then use it for other principles and othei
men. That being the unpardonable sin imputed to him
— especially at last when he g ave up the Corn Laws —
one object has been to show how much he sacrificed to
party, and with ^at forbearance he applied the sound
general principles of Free Trade, long since adopted and
avowed by him, ^nti l at l ast he^jQund^^ygoselLiiosipfiUed
bydjtj^to break wit h int efests opposed to those of the
nation. What force3it on mrn^s^a^questlrnHfiaTrndved
him deeply in 1842 and again in 1845 — the question of a
people's food in time of grinding poverty, or, still more, J
of impending famine.

Had not potatoes failed in Ireland, he had intended, in

1846, before the General Election, to purge himself and

mSose who followed him from any old pledges, by a direct

appeal to his party and to the country to giv^^up the Corn'


As it was, he risked his whole political credit and hi87
personal character on the clear dictate of his conscience/
that to avert starvation it was right to sacrifice the lowers


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to the higher, the old policy of his party to new necessi-
ties, and to the true interests, as he saw them, of the
party itself and of the country.

On the point of honour, no man was more sensitive.
Conscious of pure motives, he felt keenly the ungenerous
disbelief of former followers, and of a candid friend
who, in letters now published,^ ascribed his conduct to
the most ignoble causes — deliberate treachery, and abject
fear, disguised by * the humbug of the Irish famine.' Job's
three friends hardly matched Peel's one. Peel might have
answered as did Job : * God forbid that I should justify
you. Till I die, I will not remove my integrity from me.'

Those who know how he was treated, will respect his
strong desire that history should judge him fairly.

y^sulted by suggestions that his political conduct
was inspired by self-regarding motives, when he with-
drew from oflSce he would accept no customary reward.
Even to his Sovereign with much delicacy and tact he
made this known. While soliciting, as a favour, that
a promised portrait of her Majesty and the Prince
should include one of the Prince of Wales, he added that
this, together with the kind regard they had expressed for
him, was * the highest reward it was in her Majesty's power
to bestow.'

Hfe refused a peerage, he refused the Garter, he refused
a national testimonial. His family, by his instructions,
declined for him a public funeral, and for themselves here-
ditary honours. He left the nation in his debt.

Forty years of devotion to the service of his country

/and Queen; then dismissal, with as much h umiliati on

f Y ■ ■ I II "■ " »

as his opponents could inflict. These stand on one side of
the account ; what shall stand on the other ?

Two things he asked : that in the dwellings of the poor,

* The Crokcr Papers, iii. 51, 67-69.


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whose lot he had helped to raise, his name might be some-
times remembered with goodwill ; and that posterity should
do him justice.

He asked no more; he was content to wait. Has
justice yet been done to him in full ?

The men are gone who spoke of Peel as 'renegade,*
* apostate,' ' traitor.* But have they left no trace of their
ill will, the mud that sticks where plenty is thrown ?

Small personal criticisms might pass, but for the
hold they take on feeble minds. His manner, it is true,
was apt to be constrained and frigid. * I plead guilty,* he
writes, * to the charge of coldness ; particularly in reference
to Irish candidates for ofl5ce. I had early experience in
that country of the danger of saying a civil word.' With
favours to distribute, and secrets of the State to keep, it is
not easy to cast aside reserve.

But fictions that his heart was cold, his feelings feigned,
his friendships tepid, his thoughts too full of self, should
be confronted with his letters to Graham and Hardinge, to
Wellington and Aberdeen, and many humbler friends.

*In private intercourse he exhibited a warmer and^
stronger feeling of affectionate regard towards his friends
than is usual in that relation when contracted in public
life. He threw off reserve, and was free in his communi-
cations, beyond what is generally the case with political

He is^arged with * want of foresight,* perhaps chiefly \
on three grounds. He opposed the Eoman Cathohc claims ;
he opposed the Whig Eeform Bill ; he supported moderate
protection of home-grown corn. His defence on each
point may be read in his letters or Memoirs.

In Ireland some statesmen — Grattan, Plunket, Canning ^
—imagined that^ they could give civil equality to the

« The Right Hon. E. CardweU to Mr. Goldwin Smith.


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Eoman Catholic majority without endangering either the
Protestant Establishment or the Legislative Union. Peel
judged otherwise. T^escape civil war, he granted civil
equality ; to save the Church and Union, he limited the
county franchise. In 1868 this policy was reversed.
The franchise was enlarged, and the Church was disesta-
blished. In 1885 the franchise was again enlarged, and
Ministers proposed Home Rule.
y In Parliamentary Reform, Grey, Russell, Stanley,
Graham, proposed to vest power in the middle class, ex-
cluding those engaged in manual labour. They would
stave off manhood suffrage, ballot, short Parliaments, paid
members, equal electoral districts. For the Commons they
would retain a property qualification ; for the Lords equal
legislative rights. Again, Peeljiid-ft^t think this possible.
Their Bill would end, he said, in full democracy. He did
all he could to stay its coming, but it came. Household
suffrage, lodger franchise, ballot came, and property qua-
lifications went. Ministers proposed short Parliaments,
paid members, and abolition, or mutilation, of the Second
Chamber. And now the party cry * One man, one vote,' and
the counter-cry * One vote, one value,' smack strongly of
manhood suffrage and equal electoral districts.

Peel did notjgve disestablishment, or democracy. But
^he foresaw them.
/ As regards the Corn Laws, his position was different
^ fromTthat of Villiers or of Cobden. He had in charge the
welfare of the whole nation. He had the authority of
Adam Smith for dealing gently with existing interests by
gradual change to a sounder system. He had also to reckon
with his party. He was educating them, faster than
they liked, for full Free Trade. He was about to recom-
mend that policy to them for the next General Election,
when all at once potato^siaited. What that meant. Peel



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and Graham were the first to see. They could not make
some of their colleagues see, and rather than mamtain
the tax on com m famine they resigned.

In 1 841 Cobden had informed large public meetings that
Peel could, when he chose, rep eal the Co m Laws. In 1845
Peel chose to repeal them, but c ould noti nor would Bussell
attempt it, with Peel's promised aid.

Then at last, under the double incentive of a personal
appeal from the Queen and of famine (though invisible to
many) staring him in the face, Bo^LfiSSSiL himself for
desperate action, and was once more, , f^

when the waves ran high, <
A daring pilot in extremity.

Abandoning Whig and Tory laggards, he re-enlisted
first Wellington, and all his old Cabinet save Stanley,
and by prodigious personal efforts, combined with his un-
rivalled skill in handling Legislative Assemblies, he freed
the people's bread for ever from unjust taxation.

A statesman's foresight is best proved in action.
Let that test be applied to Peel's well-known Beforms^
On his Currency and Bank Acts, his Police, his CHiirch
Commission, on his later Irish policy — Bequests Act, May-
nooth Act, Academical Institutions Act, Devon Commission,
py^fnyWit^^ pftti-f^i^fi^i^ ^.p^Yft^ft^^T^^^^ViniiAQ^ &c. — on his

Income Tax, and on his Free T rfti^^ Tn^nffa^ he staked high.
On ipany of these he was pertinaciously oppose d — on
Income Tax by Bussell and Cobden, on Sugar duties by
Sandon and Ashley, on Corn Laws b vStanlev and Disraeli.
On Maynooth, Gladstone resigned. Feel carried all these
measures. Which of them have failed ?

One year before the French Eevolution of 1830 he/
pas^ad^e Boman Catholic Belief Bill. One year before
the worst of the Irish Famine, and eighteen months before

n a

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the Enropean revrfutions of 1848 — *by a lucky accident,
of course ' — he rej^aled the Com Laws.

In i%6 his Bill for protecting life in Ireland was
thrown out, and he resigned. But what followed? The
Whigs who helped to throw it out, and so became respon-
sible for governing Ireland, applied for similar powers, and
with his help obtained them.

J So much in mitigation of the charge that Peel had little
^foresi^t. It is more true that what he did foresee he
kept to himself and a few friends sometimes perhaps too
long. Besolved, in a half-democratic age, to govern not as
others but as he thought best, he had often a difficult course
to steer. He kept the helm in his own hand, and twice by

Online LibraryRobert PeelSir Robert Peel. In early life, 1788-1812; as Irish secretary, 1812-1818; and as secretary of state, 1822-1827 → online text (page 1 of 48)