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THE IMPERIAL MAGAZINE.
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
LORD VISCOUNT PALMERSTON, G. C. B.
(With a Portrait) This statesman, whose family name is Temple, is the third Viscount Palmerston in succession. He was born on the 20th October, 1784, and inherited the title from his father, Henry, the late Viscount, who died on the 17th of April, 1802.
The TEMPLES, from whom this noble family paternally, and the present ducal house of Buckingham and Chandos maternally, descend, are said to be of Saxon origin, and to spring lineally from the son and heir of Algar, earl of Mercia.
The Temple family became connected with Ireland in the reign of Elizabeth, when Sir William Temple was secretary to the Earl of Essex; and, being provost of Trinity College, Dublin, became the representative of that university in parliament. His son, Sir John Temple held high legal and official situations in Ireland during the reign of Charles I. and the protectorate. One of his sons, Sir William Temple, was the distinguished statesman, patriot, and miscellaneous writer, who adorned the reign of Charles II. The other, Sir John Temple, was speaker of the Irish House of Commons, and father of Henry Temple, Esq., who, on the 12th March, 1722, was created a peer of Ireland, by the titles of Baron Temple, and VISCOUNT PALMERSTON. Henry, the second viscount, succeeded his grandfather, in 1757, and, in 1783, married Mary, the daughter of B. Mee, Esq. by whom he left issue, Henry-John, the present peer; William, secretary of embassy to Russia, and two daughters.
VISCOUNT PALMERSTON, the subject of this memoir, was educated at Cambridge, and entered parliament about the time of Mr. Pitt's death, ranging himself on the ministerial side of the house, and aiding the measures of Government by his vote and influence. In 1809, during the administration of Spencer Percival, he obtained the office of secretary at war, which he continued to fill for nineteen years successively, namely, from October, 1809, to May, 1828, when he gave place to Sir Henry Hardinge, in consequence of the breaking up of Lord Goderich's cabinet.
The office which Lord Palmerston filled during this long period, extending through the successive administrations of Percival, Castlereagh, Liverpool, Canning, and Goderich, is one of acknowledged importance, and of no inconsiderable difficulty; and the best proof of his lordship’s compe2D. SERIES, NO. 47.-VOL. IV.
tency for discharging its functions, is to be found in his continuing to retain it undisturbed amid the conflict of parties, and the perpetual changes which, in other offices, were continually taking place. It is pretty evident that Lord Palmerston, for much of this time, must have avowed Tory politics, and given his support to them. But it is equally plain, that, of late years, he imbibed the liberal principles of Mr. Canuing, and, after that lamented statesman's death, he discovered an evident leaning towards the enlightened policy of Lord Goderich and Mr. Huskisson. Though, with the latter, he accepted office in the Wellington ministry, he took Mr. Huskisson's part in the fracas occasioned by that gentleman's vote on the East Retford question, and resigned his place on account of what he considered to be the arbitrary conduct of the Duke of Wellington on that occasion.
On the opening of the first session of parliament after the formation of the Wellington cabinet, in January 1828, the mover and seconder of the address, Mr. Jenkinson and Mr. Robert Grant, took care to expatiate upon the claims of ministers to the confidence of different parties. The mover could not refrain from informing the House, that the administration possessed the entire approbation of his brother, the late Lord Liverpool, who, then, was unhappily suffering under a stroke of paralysis, which had already deprived him of his mental powers, and was about speedily to terminate his life. The seconder alluded to the circumstance of both Mr. Huskisson and Lord Palmerston being together in the service of the crown. This mode of recommending the cabinet to the legislature and the public, offered an opportunity to the ever-ready sarcasm of Mr. Brougham.
“ The opinion of the noble viscount (Palmerston) was to be received,” he observed, “ as the opinion of a member of a former cabinet ; and, indeed, as the opinion of a member of every cabinet that had existed for the last twenty years, as though he were a sort of hereditary member !”
On the call of Sir Joseph Yorke for explanation, Lord Palmerston rose to reply; but, in defending the members of the cabinet generally, he waved
any allusion to himself, and very ably vindicated the hero of Waterloo from some splenetic observations which, with less good taste than party spirit, had fallen from Mr. Brougham. That adherence to party through right and wrong, which, in the language of public men, is termed political consistency,” was certainly not the distinguishing virtue of Lord Palmerston's career; but entering the arena of politics with conservative principles, when the strength of the Tories was beginning to decline, he possessed the rare faculty of knowing when and where honourably and advantageously to recede.
Mr. Percival came into office on the “No Popery” cry, and Lord Palmerston became one of his colleagues. The Peel and Wellington cabinet proposed the removal of the Catholic disabilities, and Lord Palmerston has shewn himself one of their most powerful advocates.
His masterly speeches on the Catholic question afford convincing evidence of what his sentiments were when the Wellington administration was formed, of which he was one. Yet nothing could be more remote from the intentions of the noble duke, at the moment of accepting the premiership, than to remove the Catholic disabilities in the manner it was afterwards effected. The repeal of the Test and Corporation acts was carried, despite of the Duke of Wellington and Mr. Peel-and that measure drew in its train the removal of the Catholic disabilities. As the heads of the government, at the time of forming the cabinet, had it not in contemplation to carry either of these important measures into effect, Lord Palmerston would appear to have given his consent, and yielded acquiescence, to a totally
different line of policy, and, as regards Ireland, opposite to his subsequently avowed principles.
When the subject of the breaking up of Lord Goderich's cabinet came under discussion in the House of Commons, on Monday, February 18th, Lord Palmerston said, “When a proposition was made to him to become a member of the new government, he had answered at once, that he wished first to know who were to be the members of that government: and when he found that it was to include Mr. Huskisson, Lord Dudley, and Mr. Charles Grant, he wanted no other pledge for the maintenance of those principles he had always supported !"
We confess that in all these circumstances we see nothing more than the gradual yielding of prejudices formed under tory discipline, to the slow but certain advance of more just and niore liberal principles. By habit, by connexions, and by position, many men are reluctant to admit truths that controvert their former impressions, but yet, becoming sensible that what they resist are actually moral and political truths, they gladly embrace those opportunities that render those truths expedient. We may trace these admissions rising into principles in the mind of Lord Palmerston, and endeavouring to stretch themselves beyond the policy of the party with whom he was acting.
There are speeches of the noble viscount while he was the colleague of the Duke of Wellington, which it would be unjust to his fair fame to pass over unnoticed. They breathe a tone of liberal politics, both as regards our own country and foreign nations. Viscount Palmerston opposed the repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts at the time that question was brought forward by Lord John Russell, April 1828 ; but he opposed it chiefly by his vote, which as a member of the Wellington administration, he was probably compelled to do, or to resign his office. His speech, which was the last that was delivered in the House of Commons on that occasion, prior to the division for going into committee, when ministers were left in a minority of 44, will sufficiently speak for itself, and shew that, though ostensibly levelled against the claims of the dissenters, it involves in all its reasonings a powerful plea in their favour. Thus his lordship spoke :
“ I can very sincerly assure the house, that, at this period of the night, and at this stage of the present debate, it is not my intention to detain them more than a
few minutes. I do declare to the House, that I am really most anxious to be permitted, however shortly, to state the grounds of the vote which I shall this night feel bound to give ; and I am the more desirous of doing this, as that vote will be adverse to the motion of the noble lord (Russell.) I am still further anxious to do so, for I should be extremely sorry, indeed, were the considerations which influence my intended vote for a moment misconstrued into the acknowledging myself favourable to a continuance of the laws now under consideration. I beg most distinctly to declare that I am a warm and zealous friend to religious liberty: that I am as strenuous a partisan of religious freedom as the noble lord himself, or any other honourable member of this house. I concur with him as far as he, or any other man, can wish, that restraints upon the consciences of men can never be advantageous. No good, no public benefit, can arise from them--much evil may possibly ensue from their operation. They convert into hypocrites men who would otherwise have been honest : they sow the spirit of disaffection among men who would otherwise have been loyal. They proceed upon a principle the most fallacious that can be conceived ; namely, that of assuming that peculiar religious opinions necessarily indicate the existence, in the same individual, of peculiar political opi
nions; for it is not for a moment contended, that those restraints were imposed for the purpose of putting down religious sentiments of a peculiar character. No such thing: it is fully understood that they were imposed for the purpose of guarding against political acts, which were expected to proceed from the political opinions attributed to those who held religious tenets like theirs against whom those statutes had been directed.
“Now, sir, I fully agree with those who think that in their operation, if they were in operation at all, they must prove nugatory for the objects of their framers, and most unjust as respects those against whose consciences they were directed. If we refer to times of internal dissension, when breaches of law were frequent, and even treason did not fear to shew itself, I am perfectly ready to admit, and I take much pleasure in referring to the fact, that the dissenters were not open to any accusation; and as a sincere, though humble advocate of religious freedom, I take leave to say, that no particular set of theological opinions has been found to distinguish those who have ranged themselves against the existing government, and the preservation of social order. It is asked, do those precautionary tests afford a sufficient safeguard for the interests of the established church? I think they do not : in that point of view I attach no value or importance to them. In my humble opinion, no rational man can set the slightest value upon them for such a purpose. The safety of the church depends upon the number and character of those who are included within its pale; depends upon its doctrines, its opinions, and its practical morality. But when it seeks to sustain its existence (and I deny that its friends in the present case propose so to do) by means of imposing, upon others, tests contrary to their consciences, it only rouses into activity that principle of human nature which makes men instinctively revolt from any shackles on the freedom of thought :-which makes them hold with increased tenacity those very opinions which persecution would in vain seek to eradicate. No, sir, I think that, in the present day, the established church of this country derives no advantages from such safeguards, if safeguards they at all can be considered. In these times, the safety of the established church is founded upon the piety and learning of its prelates and clergy, and still more upon their practical morality. Its safety is, in these times, ensured, not by the pains and disabilities imposed upon other denominations of Christians, but by the reverence which it has inspired, and continues to inspire, amongst the bulk of the people. So long as it is acknowledged, that learning pre-eminentthat morality spotless—and that general reverence, unabated, attaches to the Establishment,-it may disdain any attempts at external hostility.
“ If then, I consider these laws unjust in the abstract—if I think them inexpedient even now—if I disregard them as securities to the established church-it will naturally be asked on what grounds I propose to justify my voting against the motion of the noble lord ? Now, sir, I must, in the first place, be permitted to say, that in spite of the refined legal arguments this night so ingeniously placed before the House—in spite of all the hypothetical cases suggested with such ability-I must contend, that, of late years, these acts have been, to all intents and purposes, practically repealed. It is utterly vain to deny that they have been virtually suspended, and that there is not now—that there has not been for years—the slightest possible grievance affecting the dissenters. It must be fully in the recollection of the House, that there are two great classes in this country, who complain of labouring under religious disabilities—I mean the Catholics, and the Dissenters. Now, I am unwilling that the jealousy of the latter should be excited towards the former -I am unwilling that the lesser evil should be removed, before the greater becomes the object of legislative interference-I wish to bring the one up to the level of the other; or, rather, I do not wish to be guilty of the partiality of relieving the Dissenter from that which is merely nominal, while the Catholic labours under real and substantial disabilities, and has, in fact, great grievances to complain of. It is upon these grounds, sir, that I am unwilling to accede to the motion of the noble lord--just as the measure may be, in the abstract-expedient as it may be, under any circumstances—and indifferent as it may be to the interests of the established church ;-I am unwilling, I say, sir, to be so unjust towards the Catholics as to remove from others, or mitigate, I might say, an imaginary grievance, while real inflictions press upon them. While their fetrers yet remain to be struck off, I can never consent to the demands of the Dissenters."
The ground taken by the noble viscount, in this instance, is precisely that which was assumed by the late Mr. Canning ; but, happily for the country, a majority of the House of Commons thought it untenable; and Mr. Peel and the Duke of Wellington found it necessary to yield to the public voice, and abolish the Corporation and Test acts before the Catholic relief bill came under consideration. It is due to Lord Palmerston, however, to add, that no sooner was the bill carried against his own vote and speech, than he rejoiced that an object was consummated, which would established a good understanding between the established church and the dissenters.
The removal of the Catholic disabilities, however, travelled quickly on the heels of the repeal of the Corporation and Test acts. It was only in March, 1829, that Mr. Secretary Peel brought forward that important measure, in which he proposed to do away with the votes of the forty-shilling freeholders in Ireland, and raise the elective franchise to £10 householders. Lord Palmerston, though in office, opposed this alteration, in a short speech, worthy of the statesman who in a few years was to take part in a Reform Administration.
Lord Palmerston said, that however unwilling he might be to oppose a measure which was said to be ultimately connected with the great measure which was intended to give tranquillity to Ireland, he was induced by insurmountable feelings of dislike to this bill to meet it with his opposition. The House had been told that the bill for granting Catholic emancipation, and the present measure, were inseparably connected. He denied that parliament had made any such bargain with the Government. The price required for Catholic emancipation was the immediate suppression of the Catholic Association; and that price having been paid, it was impossible, in the event of the bill before the House being defeated, for the Government to turn round, and refuse to fulfil its part of the bargain. It was absurd to suppose that Government could withhold emancipation. No ministry could
The house had been told that the measures of Government were proposed in the spirit of peace; but to him it appeared that the present bill was conceived in something like the spirit of vengeance. But the only offence of the persons against whom the bill was directed was, that they had exercised their privilege honestly and independently, and according to the dictates of their conscience. One of the other arguments in support of the bill was, that the forty-shilling freeholders were influenced by the priests, and that it was dangerous to leave them in possession of the power they now held. If the bill were passed on that ground, how could it be said that Catholics were admitted to an equality of political privileges ? The one measure proposed by Government would defeat the other, and a Catholic