Result of the Election (April 1857)

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 7 April 1857


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First published in the New-York Doily Tribune, No. 4994, April 22, 1857
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 15 (pp.247-250), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
Collection(s): New York Tribune

London, April 7, 1857

The electoral lists are being closed. Their clearest sum is Palmerston's triumph, a great change in the personnel of the House, involving about one-fourth of its members, and its unprecedented loss in intellectual character. The computations, however, of the English papers as to the numerical force of the Ministerial majority, their bickerings and squabbles about these computations, and still more, their classifications under exploded rubrics of the newly-returned members, are silly work altogether. While The Morning Post, for instance, glories in a Ministerial majority of 80 votes, the Disraeli Press estimates the loss of its own men at four in the boroughs and about 20 in the counties. According to The London Times, the exclusion of the Peelites and the Manchester men[1] and professional Protectionists has restored Parliament to its status quo ante[2], and delivered it back to its legitimate owners, the antediluvian parties of Whigs and Tories. It would fain persuade the world that

"the British people have gone hack to what they were some thirty years ago."[3]

The Disraeli Press is not very far from indorsing The Times's opinion. This optimist creed, with which the oligarchy may try to comfort themselves, is, however, no more absurd than that of the sham Radicals, such as The Examiner.

"A Reform Parliament," says it, "answers to Lord Palmerston's appeal."

He has asked for a lot of lackeys, and the enlightened country, that is to say, a small minority of privileged electors, returns his compliment by sending him a band of tribunes of the people! While roaring "Palmerston forever!" they are only playing a trick on the wily Viscount! If the new Parliament initiate a great movement, it will be certainly no fault of its own, and Great Britain, like Sinbad the Sailor, will find it more difficult to throw off the old man than to saddle him on her shoulders.[4]

In comparing the new House to its predecessors, it seems opportune to begin with the old parliamentary sections that have completely vanished during the electoral struggle—the Peelite fraction and the Manchester School.

In contradistinction to Whigs, Tories and the Manchester School, the Peelite fraction did not represent a class or fractions of a class. They were a mere Parliamentary clique, which, without the walls of both Houses, might number friends, but could never muster an army. Relics of a bygone administration; estranged from the Tories by the Corn-Law[5] treason of their late chief[6]; loth to dissolve in the Whig ranks from the memory of old feuds, and the conviction, cherished by themselves and accepted to a certain degree by the public, that the administrative talent of the country centered in them; prevented by their aristocratic connections from mixing into one mass with the Manchester School, sure of influencing Parliamentary debates from the rhetorical ability of some of their members,—this pretentious nucleus of self-styled statesmen fluctuated uncertain, impossible of classification, and representing under the form of a peculiar Parliamentary party the decomposition of all Parliamentary parties effected by Peel's free-trade legislation. This principle of dissolution to which they owed their origin, they worked out by helping to overthrow the Derby Ministry, and by giving their nominal chief[7] to the combination of parties known as the Coalition Cabinet or the Cabinet of all the talents[8]. On the visible precipitation of the Parliamentary dissolving process, on their band devolved the honor of hoisting the colors under which the mutual suicide of the old parties was to be consummated. While thus securing to themselves for a moment a supreme position, they were simultaneously destroying the only reason for their existence as a separate body. The joint stock power of the combined parties ended necessarily in their common impotence and their joint prostration before one man. The Peelites held the ladder on which Palmerston mounted.

Having already, in 1852, lost half of their forces on the electoral battle-field, the elections of 1857 have swept away their whole rank and file. The two Phillimores, Lord Hervey, Sir G. Clark, Sir Stafford Northcote, Lord W. Powlett, A. Gordon, Sutton, Harcourt, Lushington, Smythe, Sir J. W. Hogg of East Indian memory, Roundell Palmer, and lastly, Mr. Cardwell, are all gone. The last-named gentleman had, on Palmerston's accession to the Premiership, had the Chancellorship of the Exchequer offered to him, which he declined, however, on the advice of Gladstone, Graham & Co. Yet, in the dying session of the now buried House of Commons, hoping to take the wind out of Gladstone's sails, he seceded from his friends and voted on the Budget division with Palmerston. Finally, during the Canton debates, being apprehensive lest the tide should turn, he again shifted sides, returned to the Peelite circle, and countersigned Mr. Cobden's motion of censure. This gentleman is thus a true pattern of the curious association, distinctive of the Peelite clique, of moral nicety with unscrupulous place-hunting. The whole Peelite rank and file being now gone to the wall, there remain only its three generals, Mr. Gladstone, Sir James Graham and Mr. Herbert, three units unable to form a trinity, opposite as they are to one another by origin and predilections; Sir James Graham having started into public life from Radicalism, Mr. Gladstone from high Toryism, and Mr. Herbert as a nondescript.

One revelation made by Mr. Herbert on the hustings to his South Wilts constituents is characteristic of the manner in which Palmerston did the Peelites. Nothing had made them so unpopular as the conduct of the Russian war, and especially the sparing of Odessa[9], which was accounted for by Mr. Herbert being the nephew of Prince Woronzoff. Foremost in spreading the envenomed calumny were Palmerston's myrmidons, such as The Morning Post, The Sun, and The Morning Advertiser. Now, Mr. Herbert told his electors that he had actually signed an order to attack Odessa, and that on his secession from office Lord Palmerston issued the order to spare the place[10]. This ranks on one line with Lord John Russell's revelation on the City of London hustings[11]. He notoriously broke down in consequence of his Vienna Embassy[12]. During the election turmoil, the beery Morning Advertiser, the licensed victualers' own paper and Palmerston's mob-organ—he has organs of all sorts and for all tastes, from the fashionable saloon to the tap-room—almost drowned its hoary voice in the cry of Russell's great Vienna treason. Provoked by these impudent tactics, Russell found at last the courage to tell the world that Lord Clarendon had refused him the permission to publish the instructions drawn up by Palmerston himself, written in his own handwriting, and dictating that very Vienna policy for which he (Russell) had once lost his popularity. A Greek philosopher said that his compatriots, the poets, had invented worse stories about the Hellenic gods than any man would dare tell of his deadliest enemy. Modern France and England exalt as their gods Bonapartes and Palmerstons, who want no poets to blacken them.

From what has been said, it is evident that the few Peelite generals who have outlived their army will reappear in Parliament no longer in their corporate, but in their individual capacity only. As an individual, Mr. Gladstone, now cleared from the obstructions of a coterie, roused by passion, and undoubtedly the greatest orator in the new Commons, may play a more conspicuous part than ever before. During their protracted Parliamentary duel, Gladstone and Disraeli, as occurs sometimes in ardent encounters, have from time to time dropped each his own weapons to seize those of his adversary. To a certain degree Gladstone has laid hold on Disraeli's polemical pungency, while Disraeli has caught Gladstone's pompous unction—Disraeli being hardly the winner in this exchange.

In taking leave of' the Peelites, we may still point out the satire of history which, dating the birth of that fraction from the decomposition by the Anti-Corn-Law League of the old Parliamentary parties, registers its death simultaneously with the Parliamentary extinction of the Manchester School.

  1. The Peelites—adherents of Robert Peel, who favoured concessions to the trading and industrial bourgeoisie in the sphere of economics and the continued political supremacy of the big landowners and financial magnates. In 1846 Peel secured the repeal of the Corn Laws in the interests of the industrial bourgeoisie; this aroused great discontent among the Protectionist Tories and led to a split in the Tory Party and the formation of an independent group by the Peelites. After Peel's death in 1850, the Peelites had no definite programme. At the end of the 1850s and the beginning of the 1860s they joined the Liberal Party, which was then being formed.

    In February 1852 the Peelites seconded Palmerston's amendment to the militia Bill, which led to the resignation of Lord Russell's Government. In December of that year they opposed the budget suggested by Derby. Derby's cabinet was also forced to resign. In February 1855, Aberdeen's Ministry also fell. The Peelites helped Palmerston come to power by agreeing to enter his cabinet. However, when their leaders, William Gladstone, Sidney Herbert and James Graham, resigned shortly afterwards, Palmerston immediately replaced them by Whig representatives.

    The Manchester men - The Free Traders advocated removal of protective tariffs and non-intervention by the government in economic life. They were supporters of the Manchester School—a trend in economic thinking which reflected the interests of the industrial bourgeoisie. The centre of the Free Traders' agitation was Manchester, where the movement was headed by two textile manufacturers, Richard Cobden and John Bright, who founded the Anti-Corn Law League in 1838. In the 1840s and 1850s the Free Traders were a separate political group, which later formed the Left wing of the Liberal Party.
  2. Former state.—Ed.
  3. The Times, No. 22648, April 7, 1857, leading article.—Ed.
  4. Tausend und eine Nacht. Geschichte Sinbads des Seefahrers. Fünfte Reise.—Ed.
  5. In 1774 Baron A. R. J. Turgot, who became controller general of finances, introduced free trade in corn and flour. This measure and his subsequent reforms roused strong opposition on the part of the Court, high priesthood, nobility and officialdom. In 1776 Louis XVI signed his resignation.

    The Anti-Corn Law League was founded in 1838 by the Manchester textile manufacturers and free traders Richard Cobden and John Bright. It campaigned for the repeal of the high import tariffs on corn established in 1815 and for unrestricted free trade. The League ceased to exist after the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. The Corn Laws (first introduced in the fifteenth century) imposed high import duties on agricultural produce in the interests of landowners in order to maintain high prices for these products on the home market. The struggle between the industrial bourgeoisie and the landed aristocracy over the Corn Laws ended in 1846 with their repeal.
  6. Robert Peel.—Ed.
  7. George Aberdeen.—Ed.
  8. A reference to Aberdeen's coalition ministry of 1852-55. The "Cabinet of All the Talents" included Whigs, Peelites and representatives of the Irish faction in the British Parliament.
  9. A reference to the bombardment of Odessa by the British and French fleets on April 10 (22), 1854, during the Crimean war.

    The ruling party of Peelites was criticised by the Parliamentary opposition for irresolute military actions.
  10. S. Herbert's speech before the electors of the Southern division of Wiltshire on April 1, 1857, The Times, No. 22644, April 2, 1857.—Ed.
  11. J. Russell's speech before the electors of the City of London on March 27, 1857, The Times, No. 22640, March 28, 1857.—Ed.
  12. A reference to the talks, sponsored by Emperor Francis Joseph, between the British, French and Russian Ambassadors and Austrian Minister Buol, which opened in December 1854. Their official purpose was to work out a basis for peace negotiations between the belligerents in the Crimean war.

    In mid-March 1855 representatives of Austria, Britain, France, Turkey and Russia met at a higher level at the Vienna Conference (Britain was represented by Special Envoy Lord John Russell). The conference produced no results.