The Defeat of the Ministry (1852)

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 17 December 1852

Reproduced from the newspaper
First published in the New York Daily Tribune, No. 3659, January 6 (evening edition) and January 7 (morning edition), 1853
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 11 (pp.466-470), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1979
Collection(s): New York Tribune

London, Friday, December 17, 1852

I hasten to inform you of the result of last night's debate[1], which is the defeat of the Ministry.This general defeat of the Ministers was preceded by the disgraceful result of the single combat of their most audacious champion, Achilles-Beresford, the Secretary of War. The Commit-tee on the Derby Elections have made their report. That report confirms all the different facts already denounced in the petition of the Liberals, and concludes that the evidence proves that a wholesale system of bribery was carried on during the elections at Derby. The Committee, however, have forborne to follow up the evidence, and instead of directly involving Mr. Beresford in a charge of attempted bribery, they contented themselves with a severe stricture on his "reckless indifference and disregard of consequences." It remains to be seen if Parliament will accede to the views of this honest Committee and allow Mr. Beresford to retain his seat. Should that be the case, it would itself grant its ratification to the memorable words of Mr. Secretary Beresford, that "the people of England are the vilest rabble he ever saw in the world." Be this as it may be, his seat as a Minister Mr. Beresford cannot retain.

After this short digression I return to my original subject.

The members of the House of Commons having debated during four consecutive nights and the greater part of the fifth, the question whether the question should be taken upon the whole budget, or on the whole resolution, on principles or on facts, upon this or that point, the conclusion at which they arrived at last, was that the House had, at present, only to meddle with the increase of the house-tax, the extension of the area of direct taxation.

The House rejected this first proposition of Mr. Disraeli's budget, as follows:

Ayes . . . . . . . . . . 286
Noes . . . . . . . . . . 305

Majority against Ministers, 19. The House then adjourned till Monday next. The pressure of time forbids me to speak on the debate as extensively as I could wish. I shall, therefore, confine myself to discussing merely the most memorable passages of Mr. Disraeli's last speech, by far the most important of all.

Sir Charles Wood, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Sir James Graham, had directed their chief attacks against his proposed appropriation of the Public Works Loan Fund (£400,000 per annum) to balance the effects of the reduction in the shipping dues. Sir James Graham, especially, had contended most strenuously for the beneficial working of that Fund. What does Mr. Disraeli answer?[2]

"I will show the Committee what flagrant misappropriation there has been of the funds of this country, and how immense an amount of money has been squandered away, virtually without the cognizance and control of Parliament, and entirely by the machinery of this Public Works Loan Fund."

And then follows a detailed description of the scandalous financial management of the Whig administration with regard to these funds. Disraeli then proceeds to explain the principles of his budget:

"There was a very important question to settle, before we could decide even as to the first step we should take, and that was the question how far we should prevail upon the country to fix upon that sum of direct taxation which was necessary for any Ministry that attempted to enter into a career of financial Reform. [Hear!] I have been accused by the member for Halifax (Sir Charles Wood) of making a proposition which recklessly increases the direct taxation of the country. [Hear! hear!] I have been accused by the member for Carlisle (Sir J. Graham) of pushing direct taxation to rash extremes. In the first place, the proposition I made on the part of the Government, instead of recklessly increasing the amount of direct taxation, would not, if it passed, occasion so great an amount of direct taxation as prevailed under the superintendence of the finances by the right honorable gentleman, the member for Halifax, when he enjoyed not only the income- and property-tax, but the window-tax, which, in the last year of its existence, brought him nearly two millions of pounds sterling. [Cheers.] The right honorable gentleman who says, you must not recklessly increase the amount of direct taxation, reduced the amount which he received in his last year from the window-tax, and was content with the modest sum of seven hundred thousand pounds sterling by way of commutation for the window-tax. I cannot forget that the right honorable gentleman who recklessly charges me with increasing the amount of direct taxation proposed first a complete commutation which would have made his house-tax larger than the one I had proposed. [Loud cheers.] But is this all? Is this all that has been done by the right honorable gentleman who charges me with increasing recklessly the direct taxation of the country? Why, there is the Minister who with a property-tax you have now producing its full amount, with the window-tax that brought nearly two millions, came down to the House of Commons one day and proposed to a startled assembly to double nearly the property- and income-tax. [Great cheering.] I look on this conduct as indicating recklessness of consequences.... We hear of the duplication of the house-tax—an innocent amount; but if the right honorable gentleman had carried the duplication of the property- and income-tax, I think he might fairly have been charged with recklessly increasing the direct taxation of the country. [Loud cheers.] Talk of recklessness! Why, what in the history of finances is equal to the recklessness with which the right honorable gentleman acted? [Loud cheers.] And what was the ground on which he made this monstrous and enormous proposition; a proposition which only the safety of the State would have justified him in making? When he was beaten, baffled, humiliated, he came forward to say that he had sufficient revenue without resorting to that proposition. [Great and continued cheering.] The future historian will not be believed to be telling the truth when he says that the Minister came down to nearly double the income-tax, and the next day came down to say that the ways and means were ample." [Renewed cheering.]

Having thus retaliated upon Sir Charles Wood, he continues:

"We had to assert that there is a difference between property and income, a difference between precarious and certain income. We had next to vindicate a principle which we believed, and do believe, is a just one, and which, if not now, must ultimately be recognized and adopted—namely, that the basis of direct taxation should be enlarged. [Ministerial cheers.] If it be sought to establish as a permanent feature of our social system that there shall be created classes who are to exercise political power by means of throwing an undue weight of direct taxation upon the wealthier portion of the community, and an undue weight of indirect taxation on the working classes, I cannot imagine a circumstance more fatal to this country, or one more pregnant with disastrous consequences. [Cheers.] But of this I feel convinced, that those who will first experience the disastrous consequences will be the privileged class."

Turning round upon the free traders Disraeli says:

"The great opponents of colonial imposts here we find them all arrayed in favor of high taxation for the producer, and here we find them, with taunts to us, using all the fallacies which we at least have had the courage honorably to give up. [Tremendous cheering.] Tell me protection is dead! Tell me, there is no Protectionist party! Why, 'tis rampant and 'tis there. [Pointing to the opposition benches.] They have taken up our principles with our benches, and I believe they will be quite as unsuccessful." [Cheers.]

In conclusion, Disraeli replies to the benevolent suggestion of Sir Charles Wood to withdraw his budget, in the following words:

"I have been told to withdraw my budget. I was told that Mr. Pitt withdrew his budget, and that more recently other persons" (the Whigs and especially Sir Ch. Wood) "had done so too. [Laughter.] Now, I do not aspire to the fame of Mr. Pitt, but I will not submit to the degradation of others. [Loud cheers.] No, Sir; I have seen the consequence of a government not being able to pass their measures—con¬sequences not honorable to the government, not advantageous to the country, and not, in my opinion, conducive to the reputation of this House, which is most dear to me. [Loud cheers.] I remember a budget which was withdrawn, and re-withdrawn, and withdrawn again [laughter] in 1848. What was the consequence of the government existing upon sufferance? What was the consequence to the finances of this country? Why, that ignoble transaction respecting the commutation of the window and house duty, which now I am obliged to attempt to readjust. [Cheers.] The grievance is deeper than mere questions of party consideration.... Yes, I know what I have to face. I have to face a coalition. [Cheers.] This combination may be successful. A coalition has before this been successful. But coalitions, although successful, have always found this, that their triumph has been very brief. This I know, that England has not loved coalitions. [Cheers.] I appeal from the coalition to that public opinion which governs this country; to that public opinion whose wise and irresistible influence can control even the decrees of parliament, and without whose support the most august and ancient institutions are but the baseless fabric of a vision. [The Right Honorable gentleman resumed his seat amid deafening and prolonged cheering.]"

What now is the opinion of the daily press respecting the results of this ministerial defeat!

The Morning Chronicle (Peelite) and The Morning Advertiser (Radical) regard the retreat of the Ministry as a certainty. The Times is likewise of opinion that Ministers will retreat, doubting, however, the possibility of the Opposition of making as easily a new Administration as they have unmade the old one. The Daily News (Manchester School) assumes the possibility of a reconstitu¬tion of the fallen Ministry in combination with Lord Palmerston. The Morning Post (Palmerston) considers this recomposition as a matter of course. Lastly, The Morning Herald (Derby-Disraeli) declares that if Ministers tender their resignation to-day, the Queen[3] will be obliged to send for them again on the next day.

One thing is certain: Ministers have been defeated on the ground of a Free Trade resolution, the extension of direct taxa¬tion. At all events, they have this satisfaction, that, if they resisted successfully the first Parliamentary attack by denying their own principles, the Opposition have beaten them in the second battle only by the negation of theirs.

Thus, what I formerly said with regard to the position of the Parliamentary parties[4], has been confirmed entirely in this debate. The coalesced Opposition possesses, compared with the compactness of 286 Tories, only a majority of 19 votes. Let them form a new Government, and it will fall on the first opportunity. Should the Opposition Government dissolve the House of Commons, the new elections will return, under the old conditions, the same result, viz., another House of Commons, in which the different parties will again paralyse themselves, when the old game has to be recommenced, and England's politics are plunged once more in a cercle vicieux.

I, therefore, insist on the old dilemma: either Continuation of the Tory Government, or Parliamentary Reform.

  1. The debate in the House of Commons on December 16, 1852.— Ed.
  2. Disraeli's speech in the House of Commons on December 16, 1852 is quoted from The Times, No. 21301, December 17, 1852.— Ed.
  3. Victoria.— Ed.
  4. See Political Parties and Prospects