A Superannuated Administration. Prospects of the coalition ministry, &c.

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 11 January 1853


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Reproduced from the New York Daily Tribune
First published in the New York Daily Tribune, No. 3677, January 28, 1853;
reprinted in the Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 803, February 4,
and the New York Weekly Tribune, No. 595, February 5, 1853
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 11 (pp.471-476), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1979
Collection(s): New York Tribune

London, Tuesday, January 11, 1853

"We have now arrived at the commencement of the political millennium in which party spirit is to fly from the earth, and genius, experience, industry and patriotism are to be the sole qualifications for office. We have got a Ministry which seems to command the approval and support of men of every class of opinion. Its principles command universal assent and support."

Such are the words with which The Times, in their first excitement and enthusiasm, have ushered in the Aberdeen Administration[1]. From their tenor one would imagine that England is henceforth to be blessed with the spectacle of a Ministry composed entirely of new, young, and promising characters, and the world will certainly be not a little puzzled when it shall have learned that the new era in the history of Great Britain is to be inaugurated by all but used-up decrepit octogenarians. Aberdeen, an octogenarian; Lansdowne, with a foot already in the grave; Palmerston, Russell, fast approaching a similar state; Graham, the bureaucrat, who served under almost every Administration since the close of the last century; other members of the Cabinet twice dead of age and exhaustion and only resuscitated into an artificial existence; on the whole a half score of centenarians, such is the stock of which, by a simple sum of addition, the new millennium appears to have been made up by the writer in The Times.

In this millennium then we are promised the total disappear¬ance of party warfare, nay even of parties themselves. What is the meaning of The Times? Because certain portions of the Aristocracy have hitherto enjoyed the privilege of assuming the appearance of national or parliamentary parties, and have now come to the conclusion that the farce cannot be continued for the future, because, on the ground of that conviction and in virtue of the hard experiences lately undergone, these aristocratic côteries mean now to give up their little quibbles and to combine into one compact mass for the preservation of their common privileges—is the existence of all parties to cease from this hour? Or is not the very fact of such a "coalition" the most explicit indication that the time has arrived when the actually grown-up and yet partially unrepresented fundamental classes of modern society, the industrial bourgeoisie and the working class, are about to vindicate to themselves the position of the only political parties in the nation?

The Tories, under the Administration of Lord Derby, have once for ever denegated their old Protectionist doctrine and professed themselves Free Traders. The Earl of Derby, on announcing the resignation of his Cabinet, said:

"I, My Lords, remember, and probably your Lordships will remember. that the noble Earl (Aberdeen) has, upon more than one occasion, declared in this house that, the question of Free Trade excepted, he knew of none upon which there was any difference between himself and the present Government".[2]

Lord Aberdeen, in confirming this statement, goes still further in his remarks: "He was ready to unite with the noble Earl (Derby) in resisting the encroachments of Democracy, but he was at a loss to see where this Democracy existed." On both sides it is granted that there is no longer any difference between Peelites and Tories. But this is not all. With regard to the foreign policy, the Earl of Aberdeen observes:

"For thirty years, though there have been differences in execution, the principle of the foreign policy of the country has never varied."[3]

Accordingly, the whole struggle between Aberdeen and Palmer¬ston, from 1830 till 1850, when the former insisted on the alliance with the Northern Powers, and the latter on the "entente cordiale" with France, when the one was against and the other for Louis Philippe, the one against and the other in favor of intervention[4]; all their quarrels and disputes, even their late common indignation at Lord Malmesbury's "disgraceful" conduct of the foreign affairs all this is confessed to have been mere humbug. And yet, is there anything in the political relations of England that has undergone a more radical change than her foreign policy? Up to 1830—alliance with the Northern Powers; since 1830—union with France (quadruple alliance)[5]; since 1848—complete isolation of England from the whole Continent.

Lord Derby having first assured us that there exists no difference between Tories and Peelites, the Earl of Aberdeen further assures us that there is also no difference between Peelites and Whigs, Conservatives and Liberals. In his opinion:

"The country is tired of distinctions without meaning, and which have no real effect on the conduct or principles of public men. No Government is possible except a Conservative Government, and it is equally true that none is possible except a Liberal Government."

"These terms have no very definite meaning. The country is sick of these distinctions without meaning."

The three factions of the Aristocracy, Tories, Peelites and Whigs, consequently agree, that they possess no real marks of distinction. But there is still another subject on which they agree. Disraeli had declared that it was his intention to carry out the principle of Free Trade. Lord Aberdeen says:

"The great object of the Queen's present ministers, and the great characteristic of their Government would be the maintenance and prudent extension of Free Trade. That was the mission with which they were peculiarly entrusted."

In a word, the entire Aristocracy agree, that the Government has to be conducted for the benefit, and according to the interests of the middle-class, but they are determined that the bourgeoisie are not to be themselves the governors of this affair; and for this object all that the old Oligarchy possess of talent, influence and authority are combined, in a last effort, into one Administration, which has for its task [to keep] the bourgeoisie, as long as possible, from the direct enjoyment of governing the nation. The coälized Aristocracy of England intend, with regard to the bourgeoisie, to act on the same principle upon which Napoleon I professed to act in reference to the people: "Tout pour le peuple, rien par le peuple".[6]

"There must, however," as Ernest Jones observes in The People's Paper, "be some disguise to the evident object of excluding the middle-class, and this, they (the Ministers) hope, is afforded by an admixture in subordinate and uninfluential places of aristocratic Liberals, like Sir William Molesworth, Bernal Osborne, &c. But let them not imagine that this dandified Mayfair liberalism will satisfy the stern men of the Manchester School. They mean business, and nothing less. They mean pounds, shillings, pence—place, office, and the gigantic revenues of the largest empire of the world, placed with all its resources subservient to the disposal of their one class-interest."[7]

Indeed, a glance at The Daily News, The Advertiser, and more particularly The Manchester Times[8], that direct organ of Mr. Bright, is sufficient to convince any one, that the men of the Manchester School, in provisionally promising their support to the Coalition Government, intend only to observe the same policy on which the Peelites and Whigs had acted in reference to the late Derby Cabinet; i.e. to give ministers a fair trial. What the meaning of a "fair trial" may be, Mr. Disraeli has recently had occasion to learn.

The defeat of the Tory Cabinet having been decided by the Irish Brigade[9], the new Coalition Government, of course, considered it necessary to take steps for securing the Parliamen¬tary support of that party. Mr. Sadleir, the broker of the brigade, was soon seduced by a Lordship of Treasury. Mr. Keogh had the offer of the Irish Solicitor-Generalship, while Mr. Monsell was made Clerk of Ordnance.

"And by these three purchases," says The Morning Herald, "the brigade is supposed to be gained."

However, there is ample reason for doubting the effectuality of these three purchases in securing the adhesion of the entire brigade, and in The Irish Freeman's Journal[10] we actually read:

"This is the critical moment for Tenant Right and Religious Liberty. The success or failure of these questions depend not now on Ministers, but on the Irish members. Nineteen votes have overthrown the Derby Administration. Ten men, by walking from one side to the other, would have altered the event. In this state of parties the Irish members are omnipotent."

At the conclusion of my last letter I had stated it as my opinion, that there was no other alternative but that of a Tory Government or a Parliamentary Reform[11]. It will interest your readers to become acquainted with Lord Aberdeen's views on the same subject. He says:

"The improvement of the condition of the people could not exclude (sic!) the amendment of the representative system; for unquestionably, the events of the last election had not been such as to render any man enamoured of it."

And at the elections consequent on their acceptance of office, Lord Aberdeen's colleagues declared unanimously, that reforms in the representative system were called for; but in every instance they gave their audiences to understand, that such reforms must be "moderate or rational reforms, and made not rashly, but deliberately and with caution." Consequently the more rotten the present representative system turns out and is acknowledged to be, the more desirable is it that it should be altered neither rashly nor radically.

On the occasion of the late re-elections of Ministers there has been made a first trial of a new invention for public men to preserve their character under all circumstances, whether out or in. The invention consists in a hitherto unpracticed application of the "open question". Osborne and Villiers had pledged themselves on former occasions upon the ballot. They now declare the ballot an open question. Molesworth had pledged himself to Colonial Reform open question. Keogh, Sadleir, etc., were pledged on Tenant Right open question. In a word, all the points which they had always treated as settled, in their quality of members, have become questionable to them as Ministers.

In conclusion I have to mention another curiosity, resulting from the coalition of Peelites, Whigs, Radicals and Irishmen. Each of their respective notabilities has been turned out of that department for which alone they were supposed to possess some talent or qualification, and they have been appointed to places wondrously ill-suiting them. Palmerston, the renowned Minister of Foreign Affairs, is appointed to the Home Department, from which Russell has been removed, although grown old in that office, to take the direction of Foreign Affairs. Gladstone, the Escobar of Puseyiteism[12], is nominated Chancellor of the Exche¬quer. Molesworth, who possessed a certain reputation for his having copied or adopted Mr. Wakefield's[13] absurd colonization system, is appointed Commissioner of Public Works. Sir Charles Wood, who as a Minister of Finance, enjoyed the privilege of being upset either with a deficit or a surplus in the treasury, is entrusted with the Presidentship of the Board of Control of Indian Affairs. Monsell, who hardly knows how to distinguish a rifle from a musket, is made Clerk of Ordnance. The only personage who has found his proper place, is Sir James Graham, the same who, in the capacity of First Lord of the Admiralty, has already on a former occasion, gained much credit for having first introduced the rotten worm into the British Navy.

  1. The reference is to the leading article in The Times, No. 21316, January 4, 1853.—Ed.
  2. Speech in the House of Lords on December 20, 1852, The Times, No b . 21304, December 21, 1852.—Ed.
  3. Here and in what follows the quotations are from Aberdeen's speech in the House of Lords on December 27, 1852, as published in The Times, No. 21310, December 28, 1852.—Ed.
  4. This refers to Palrerston's attitude to the Belgian question in connection with the revolution in Belgium in August 1830 and its separation from the Kingdom of the Netherlands in which it had been incorporated in 1815 by decision of the Vienna Congress. The northern states (Russia, Prussia and Austria) insisted on Belgium's return under the rule of the King of the Netherlands. The ruling circles of the July monarchy in France supported the Belgians while secretly planning to incorporate Belgium in France. To counterbalance certain conservative elements in Britain, Palmerston acted in alliance with the French diplomats (the Belgian question was a pretext for a temporary Anglo-French rapprochement in the sphere of foreign policy known in history as entente cordiale), but at the same time he resolutely opposed their plans to annex Belgium to France. The efforts of Britain and France were successful: in 1831 the European powers concluded in London a treaty on the independence and neutrality of the Kingdom of Belgium, and the King of the Netherlands' refusal to recognise this treaty and to withdraw the Netherlands garrison from Antwerp led in 1832 to Anglo-French armed intervention in the war. French troops entered Belgium and besieged Antwerp by land, and the English ships by sea, forcing the Dutch to capitulate. In 1833 the King of the Netherlands was compelled to recognise Belgium's independence.
  5. The relations established between Great Britain and France after the July revolution of 1830 and known in history as entente cordiale were confirmed by treaty only in April 1834, when the so-called Quadruple Alliance was concluded between Great Britain, France, Spain and Portugal. But when this treaty was being concluded contradictions between Britain and France became apparent and they subsequently led to the aggravation of relations between the two countries. Formally directed against the absolutist "northern states" (Russia, Prussia and Austria), the treaty in fact allowed Britain to strengthen her position in Spain and Portugal under the pretext of rendering armed assistance to both governments in their struggle against the pretenders to the throne (Don Carlos in Spain and Dom Miguel in Portugal).
  6. "Everything for the people, nothing through the people".—Ed.
  7. Ernest Jones, "The New Mixture", The People's Paper, No. 35, January 1, 1853.—Ed.
  8. The reference is to the Examiner and Times.—Ed.
  9. The Irish Brigade —the Irish faction in the British Parliament in the 1830s-1850s. Until 1847 it was led by Daniel O'Connell, who adopted in the main the tactics of parliamentary manoeuvre to secure concessions for the big Irish bourgeoisie from the British Government. Early in the 1850s, a number of deputies belonging to this faction entered into an alliance with the radical Irish Tenant-Right League and formed in the House of Commons an Independent Opposition. However, the leaders of the Irish Brigade soon came to terms with the British ruling circles and refused to support the League's demands, which led to the demoralisation and final dissolution of the Independent Opposition in 1859.
  10. Of December 18, 1852.—Ed.
  11. See Capital Punishment. Mr. Cobden’s Pamphlet. Regulations of the Bank of England
  12. Puseyism —a trend in the Anglican Church from the 1830s to the 1860s, named after one of its founders, Edward Pusey, an Oxford University theologian. He advocated the restoration of Catholic rites and dogma in the Anglican Church. Many of the Puseyites were converted to Catholicism.
  13. A criticism of Wakefield's theory of colonisation was later given by Marx in Volume I of Capital (MECW, Vol. 31).