The Derby Ministry. Palmerston's Sham Resignation

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 26 February 1858


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First published in the New York Daily Tribune, No. 5272, March 15, 1858 as a leading article
Reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1337, March 19, 1858, under the title "The End of Palmerston"
Reproduced from the New York Daily Tribune
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 15 (pp.468-471), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
Collection(s): New York Tribune

The title is given according to the entry of February 26, 1858 in Marx's Notebook: "Derby Ministry. Palmerston's sham resignation".

If Orsini did not kill Louis Napoleon[1], he certainly killed Palmerston. Made dictator of England by a Chinese Mandarin at Canton[2], it is historically appropriate that this political gamester should finally be ruined by an Italian Carbonaro at Paris[3]. But that he should be succeeded by Lord Derby is something above the range of mere historical propriety, and approaches the dignity of a historical law. It is in accordance with the traditional working of the British Constitution. Pitt was followed by Fox; Fox by Perceval, a weaker Pitt; Wellington by Grey, A weaker Fox; Grey by wellington; Wellington by Melbourne, a weaker Grey; Mel-bourne by wellington again, under the name of Peel; Peel by Melbourne again, under the name of Russell; Russell by Derby, the substitute of Peel; Derby again by Russell. Why should not Palmerston, the usurper of Russell's place, be followed by Derby in his turn?

If there be in England any new force able to put an end to the ancient routine exemplified by this last change of places between right honorable gentlemen on one side of the House and right honorable gentlemen on the other side; if there be any man or body of men able to confront and supplant the traditional governing class, the world has not yet found it out. But of one thing there can be no doubt; and that is, that a Tory Administration is far more favorable to every kind of progress than any other. For the last fifty years, all popular movements have either been initiated or consummated under Tory rule, It was a Tory Ministry which passed the Catholic Emancipation bill[4]. It was under a Tory Ministry that the Reform movement grew irresistible[5]. The imposition of an Income tax, which, however incongruous in its present state, contains the germs of proportional taxation, is the work of a Tory Ministry. The Anti-Corn—Law League[6], weak and timid under the Whig Administration, assumed revolutionary dimensions under the Tories; and while Russell, in his most audacious flights, never ventured beyond the limit of a fixed duty, as moderate as himself, Peel could not but consign the Corn Laws to the grave of all the Capulets[7]. So, too, it is the Tories who have, so to say, popularized the aristocracy by bringing plebeian vigor and talent to re-enforce its energies. Through the Tories, Canning, the son of an actress[8], lorded it over the old landed aristocracy of England; so did Peel, the son of a parvenu cotton spinner[9], who had originally been a hand-loom weaver; so does Disraeli, the son of a simple literary man[10], and a Jew into the bargain. Lord Derby himself converted the son of a small hopkeeper[11] of Lewes into a Lord High Chancellor of Enland, under the name of Lord St. Leonards. The Whigs, on the other hand, have always proved strong enough to bury their plebeian tools in vain decorations, or to drop them by dint of haughty insult. Brougham, the soul of the Reform movement, was nullified by being made over to the Lords; and Cobden, the chief of the Anti-Corn-Law League, was offered the place of Vice President of the Board of Trade by the very Whigs he had reinstalled in office.[12]

In point of mere intellectual ability, the new Cabinet can easily bear comparison with its predecessor. Men like Disraeli, Stanley, and Ellenborough, suffer no harm when matched against people of the stamp of Mr. Vernon Smith, !ate of the Board of Control[13], of Lord Panmure, a War Minister, whom nothing but his "Take care of Dowb,"[14] can ever make immortal, and of Sir G. C. Lewis of Edinburgh Review dullness, or even against such moral grandeurs as Clanricarde of the Privy Seal. In fact Palmerston had not only replaced the Ministry of all parties by a Ministry of no party, but also the Cabinet of all the talents[15] by a Cabinet of no talent except his own.

There can be no question that Palmerston had no idea of the finality of his ruin. He believed Lord Derby would decline the Premiership now as he had done during the Crimean war. Russell would then have been summoned to the Queen[16]; but with the bulk of his own troops serving under Palmerston, and the bulk of the hostile army arrayed under Disraeli, he would have despaired of forming a Cabinet, especially as he, a Whig, could not resort to the "ultimate reason" of dissolving a Parliament elected under the Whig banners. Palmerston's return to office, after a week's oscillation, would thus have become inevitable. This fine bit of calculation has been nullified by Derby's acceptance. The Tory Ministry may hold office for a longer or shorter period. They may go on for several months before they are compelled to resort to a dissolution—a measure they are sure to employ before they finally resign their power. But we may be certain of two things, namely: that their career will be marked by the introduction of exceedingly liberal measures in regard to social reforms (Lord Stanley's course thus far, and Sir John Pakington's education bill, are a pledge of this); and above all, that in foreign policy they bring with them a most beneficial and cheering change. It is true, many shallow thinkers and writers argue that Palmerston's fall is not a damaging blow to Louis Napoleon, because several of the new Tory Ministry are personally on good terms with the French despot, and England [is] in no condition to wage war with a giant Continental power. But it is precisely because England is in no state to embark in a new war that we deem the answer given by Great Britain to the bullying menaces and exactions of Louis Napoleon's satraps most significant. It was not because Malmesbury and Disraeli were to come into the Ministry that the independent Liberals in Parliament, reflecting the undoubted and emphatic sentiment of the Nation, answered the dispatch of Walewski[17] by throwing out Palmerston's Conspiracy bill[18]. Lord Derby may stumble and fall, but the vote which carried Milner Gibson's amendment[19] will live and bear fruit, nevertheless.

We do not believe in any cordial and lasting alliance between British Toryism and French Bonapartism. The instincts, traditions, aspirations of both parties revolt at it. We do not believe it possible that the new Cabinet will take up and press Palmerston's Conspiracy bill, as the Paris journals so confidently anticipate. If they do, it will not be till after they shall have answered Walewski and De Morny, and answered them in the spirit of Pitt and Castlereagh. Toryism, with all its faults, must have changed its nature to be ready to change the laws of England at the beck of a Bonaparte.

But the significance of the late vote is unaffected by any presumption of speedy feud between the two Governments. It is as a proclamation to Europe that Britain has ceased to play second to French Imperialism that we deem it most important. Thus it is understood at Brussels, at Turin, and even at Vienna; thus it will soon be understood at Berlin, at Madrid, at St. Petersburg. England, so long the jailer of the first Napoleon, has pointedly refused to be longer the jackal of his successor.[20]

  1. On January 14, 1858 the Italian revolutionary Felice Orsini made an attempt on the life of Napoleon III, thus hoping to provoke revolutionary actions in Europe and intense struggle for the national unification of Italy. His attempt failed, and Orsini was executed on March 13, 1858.
  2. Yeh Ming-chin.—Ed.
  3. As a result of the Anglo-Chinese conflict, which arose in October 1856 (*) and marked the beginning of the Second "Opium" War (the main role in the conflict was played by Yeh Ming-Chin, Governor-General of Kwantung and Kwangsi, who objected to the unlawful demands by the British), and the debate over it in the House of Commons of February 26-March 3, 1857, the Palmerston Government was given a vote of no confidence by 263 against 247. Making use of this, Palmerston dissolved the Parliament. The new elections brought victory to the government candidates even in the bulwark of the Opposition—Manchester and secured a majority in the House for the champions of aggression against China. Carbonari—members of secret political societies in Italy and France in the first half of the nineteenth century. In Italy they fought for national independence, the unification of the country and liberal constitutional reforms. In France the movement was above all directed against the restored monarchy of the Bourbons (1815-30). In the first half of the nineteenth century the word "Carbonari" was synonymous with "revolutionary". (*) This refers to the incident which sparked off the Second Opium War: the seizure by the Chinese authorities of the British lorcha Arrow carrying contraband opium in Canton in 1856. The British Government retaliated by sending a corps of 5,000 men to China under the command of Lord Elgin. Canton was brutally bombarded in October-November 1856 by the fleet commanded by Admiral Seymour and on December 29, 1857 it was captured by the British.
  4. The Emancipation of the Catholics—in 1829 the British Parliament, under pressure of a mass movement in Ireland, lifted some of the restrictions curtailing the political rights of the Catholic population. Catholics were granted the right to be elected to Parliament and to hold certain government posts. Simultaneously the property qualification for electors increased fivefold. With the aid of this manoeuvre the British ruling classes hoped to win over to their side the upper crust of the Irish bourgeoisie and Catholic landowners and thus split the Irish national movement.
  5. A reference to the campaign for an electoral reform carried out by the British Government in 1832.
  6. 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.
  7. Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet.—Ed.
  8. Mary Anne Castello.—Ed.
  9. Robert Peel.—Ed.
  10. Isaac D'Israeli.—Ed.
  11. Richard Sugden.—Ed.
  12. Richard Cobden's campaign in 1845 for the repeal of the Corn Laws facilitated the fall of the Peel Cabinet. Lord John Russell, the leader of the Whig Party, who was charged to form a new Cabinet, offered Cobden the post of Vice-President of the Board of Trade, but the latter declined on the ground that he would be more efficient as the out-of-doors advocate of Free Trade than in an official capacity. Owing to internal dissensions among the Whig chiefs, the Cabinet was not formed, and on December 20 Peel returned to office.
  13. The Board of Control was instituted under the 1784 Act for the better regulation and management of the affairs of the East India Company, and of the British possessions in India. The Board of Control consisted of six members appointed by the King from among the members of the Privy Council. The President of the Board of Control was a Cabinet Minister, and, in effect, the Secretary of State for India and India's supreme ruler. The decisions of the Board of Control, which sat in London, were conveyed to India by the Secret Committee, which consisted of three East India Company directors. In this way the 1784 Act established a dual system of government in India—the Board of Control (British Government) and the Court of Directors (East India Company). The Board of Control was dissolved in 1858.
  14. The phrase "Take care of Dowb" was used by British Secretary at War . Panmure in a dispatch to General Simpson, appointed commander-in-chief in the Crimea in June 1855. It became widely known in England and was considered as proof that Panmure cared more for his nephew, a young officer named Dowbiggin, than for the whole British army.
  15. 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.
  16. Victoria.—Ed.
  17. A. Walewski's dispatch to the French Ambassador in London of January 20, 1858, Le Constitutionnel, No. 41, February 10, 1858.—Ed.
  18. After Orsini's attempt on the life of Napoleon III, Count Walewski, the French Foreign Minister, sent a dispatch to the British Government on January. 20, 1858 expressing dissatisfaction that England should be giving asylum to French political refugees. The dispatch served as a pretext for Palmerston to move a new Alien Bill (also called Conspiracy to Murder Bill) on February 8, 1858. It stipulated that any Englishman or foreigner living in the United Kingdom who became party to a conspiracy to murder a person in Britain or any other country, was to be tried by an English court and severely punished. During the second reading of the new Alien Bill on February 19, 1858 the radicals Milner Gibson and John Bright moved an amendment censuring the Palmerston Government for not giving a fitting reply to Walewski's dispatch. By a majority vote, the House of Commons adopted the amendment and rejected the Bill. The Palmerston Government was compelled to resign.
  19. After Orsini's attempt on the life of Napoleon III, Count Walewski, the French Foreign Minister, sent a dispatch to the British Government on January 20, 1858 expressing dissatisfaction that England should be giving asylum to French political refugees. The dispatch served as a pretext for Palmerston to move a new Alien Bill (also called Conspiracy to Murder Bill) on February 8, 1858. It stipulated that any Englishman or foreigner living in the United Kingdom who became party to a conspiracy to murder a person in Britain or any other country, was to be tried by an English court and severely punished. During the second reading of the new Alien Bill on February 19, 1858 the radicals Milner Gibson and John Bright moved an amendment censuring the Palmerston Government for not giving a fitting reply to Walewski's dispatch. By a majority vote, the House of Commons adopted the amendment and rejected the Bill. The Palmerston Government was compelled to resign.
  20. In the New York Daily Tribune the article ended with the text added by the editors: "Every capital of Europe breathes more freely in consequence; every Liberal feels sure that the triumphant uprising of the People is much nearer than it was a month ago. We cite in confirmation a single passage from the speech of England's foremost orator, and one of her most promising statesmen—Mr. Gladstone, long the bosom friend of Sir Robert Peel, the representative of the University of Oxford—who, in the great debate which hurled Palmerston from office, said: "'These times are grave for liberty. We live in the nineteenth century. We talk of progress; we believe that we are advancing; but can any man of observation who has watched the events of the last few years in Europe have failed to perceive that there is a movement, indeed, but a downward and backward movement? There are a few spots in which institutions that claim our sympathy still exist and flourish. They are secondary places, nay, they are almost the holes and corners of Europe, so far as mere material greatness is concerned, although their moral greatness will, I trust, insure them long prosperity and happiness. But in these times more than ever does responsibility center upon England; and if it does center upon England, upon her principles, upon her laws, and upon her governors, then I say that a measure passed by this House of Commons—the chief hope of freedom—which attempts to establish a moral complicity between us and those who seek safety in repressive measures, will be a blow and a discouragement to that sacred cause in every country in the world.' [Loud cheers.] "Bear in mind that Mr. Gladstone was urged by Lord Derby to accept a very high place in his Cabinet, and that there has not recently been, and is not likely soon to be, a Premier who would not gladly share with him the gravest responsibility."