Thursday, January 19, 2023

Speech of Lord John Russell, Saturday, October 12, 1861

Gentlemen, it is with feelings of the deepest gratitude that I rise to acknowledge the toast which has now been drunk. It has been my fate to have taken part in many political measures, and during a tolerably long political life, I take this approbation of a set of men so enlightened as a testimony that I have not dishonored my principles; that I have done nothing to impair the honour, and so injure the interests of my county. (Loud cheers.) Gentlemen, If I have been successful in any of the measures that have been proposed, it has been that I have proposed, in more fortunate times, measures which had the approbation of great men, who have gone before me. I have endeavoured to follow in the footsteps of Lord Grey, Lord Holland, Sir Samuel Romilly, and Lord Durham. (Loud cheers.) My noble friend near me has justly and correctly alluded to that which happened in 1830. Lord Grey at that time being in the councils of his sovereign, resolved to introduce a measure founded on those principles of reform of which he had through life been the advocate;  and let me say that there can be no more gratifying—no more noble aspect in the history of the public life of a statesman, than to see Lord Grey, who, in adverse times, had been content to give his opinion, and had then allowed rivals of far less well-founded principles than himself—to carry on the government of the country and enjoy power without envy on his part. It was a great spectacle to see this man, when the opinions of the people came round to him, resume, without passion and without resentment, those plans for the benefit of his country of which he had always been the distinguished advocate. (Applause.) Lord Grey, as my Noble Friend has said, called to his assistance his Noble Brother, Lord Durham. (Loud cheers.) It was my happiness to be associated in that work with Lord Durham. We labored together to the same end in perfect harmony and agreement as to measures that we though necessary for the reform of the representations. (Cheers) With us was joined a person whose absence I deeply deplore to-day, who would have been here to-day if his health had allowed him, and whose talents have been the greatest service to this country. I mean Sir J. Graham. (Cheers.) With these two was associated Lord Dungannon, who was specially acquainted with many parts of our representative system. We framed the plan of reform—(cheers)—and that reform, as you all know, was not only carried, but has now been nearly thirty years in operation. (Cheers.) That it has operated beneficially I cannot doubt—(cheers)—and that it has led the way to many other great measures which never could have been carried in an unreformed Parliament. (Cheers.) And, Gentlemen, let me say, when I embarked in public life I embarked with the view of carrying great measures into effect and having great public objects before me. It appears to me that public life is only honourable when it is directed to such measures—(applause)—and that the pedlar who sells his pins and pincushions  for sixpence has a better, because an honester, trade, than the man who devotes his talents to public life, only for the sake of seeking his own emolument. (Applause.) Gentlemen, many of the measures which I have noticed have been successful. We need not now refer to them all; but there is one point which, perhaps, I may refer to, because it respects a principle which I think runs through many of our measures of late times, and shows an improvement in the general principles of government. What I mean is this—that in favour of religious liberty; first, the Protestant Dissenters, then the Roman Catholics, and lastly and recently the Jews,—and all our measures with regard to free-trade have been measures not introducing new plans, not formed upon skillfully devised schemes, but have been merely unloosing the fetters which statutes and laws had placed on the dear liberty of the subject. It is the business of the government to maintain internal peace, to settle the civil relations which should prevail among the community, to defend the independence of the country abroad; but governments had sought to do more than this—they had sought to lay down rules of faith, to which they have asked men, under pain and penalty of punishment, to adhere, quite ignorant that they, the government, were utterly unable to frame rules of faith which should better the conscience. (Applause.) To take the other instance to which I am alluding, namely, that of free trade, what struggles we have had now going on for nearly forty years, in order to enable men to do that which is perfectly innocent in itself, namely, to exchange the products of their industry against the products of the industry of others, which were objects of use, of comfort, or of enjoyment. (Applause.) I remember the beginning of these contests, when certainly the principles of free trade were not understood as they now are, a petition being presented to the House of Commons, setting forth that your petitioners made gloves, which were inferior to the gloves of France, and therefore they prayed, what do you suppose, not that people might be allowed to wear the gloves of France, which were cheaper and better, but the gloves of France might be utterly excluded, in order that they might furnish bad and dear gloves. (Laughter and cheers.) Why, gentleman, this is the whole history of protection and free trade. (Hear, hear, and cheers.) Parliaments and legislatures have presumed they should direct the industry of their fellow subjects into the channels that should be profitable to the country at large, not seeing that if you leave men their freedom they would find out themselves what were the occupations which would be most profitable, and what were the goods which they could produce to the best advantage. It is, therefore, not only that we have passed some very excellent measures, but that we have enlarged and enlightened the whole machinery of government. We say there are certain things in which government ought not to interfere, upon which the man himself—the subject—is the best judge, and to him must be left the choice of his occupation. (Cheers.) Above all, I am happy to say we have it not in this country; but in many countries people consider that it is a part of the duty of a government to fetter and bind the talents and abilities of men, and that upon no subject of politics, upon no subject of morals, upon no subject of literature even should men use the talents with which God had endowed them, without the control and permission of the officers of Government. (Cheers.) Such, gentlemen, then, have been the general principles upon which these measures to which general principles upon these measures to which I allude have been passed. They have been sound principles; and, as I have said, I trust they will be applied in future times in any other cases of a similar kind. (Cheers.) Now, Gentlemen, I will state in a few words what has been my course since I have been entrusted with the seals of the foreign department. That course has been to respect the independence of foreign nations, and to endeavour to induce others to do the same. (Hear, hear, and applause.) There is one of those countries with which we have had much to do, and of which we have heard much of late years. I mean Italy. We have all seen with pleasure—I see that a very distinguished man (Mr. Henley) says there is no one in the country who has not seen with pleasure the Italians casting off their old chains, and exercising the powers of government for themselves, in that way gaining there distinction distinction which in old times belonged to them only. We all rejoice to see them assert that independence, and we shall all rejoice if they establish a free government, and thus effect the happiness, the self-respect, and the elevation of one of the finest countries and one of the most talented nations of the globe. (Great applause.) But, gentlemen, of late a difficulty has arisen, to which great attention has been given. Italians say, and they say with great apparent justice, that the independence of Italy cannot be fully consummated unless Rome, the capital, is in their hands. (Loud cheers.) I may say that the people of Naples will be willing to found in that city an Italian government, as that is a part of Italy associated with ancient institutions; but as Italy has not Rome, they cannot regard it as a kingdom. Well, on the other hand, the Roman Catholics of Europe say that they require that the independence of the Pope should be respected, and many say that it cannot be respected without territorial government. That it is a discussion which has been going on for some time; and I observed in what I was reading this morning—an essay by one of the most learned ecclesiastics of Italy, that the opinion is now gaining ground that whether the temporal power ought to become the right of the King of Italy or not, the spiritual power will be more felt, it will be more respected, and will be exercised more fairly, if it is separated from the temporal. In the conclusion of the discourse to which I have alluded, the author says that is what is wished by the people of Italy, and that is what is wished by the people of Italy, and that is in the world. (Applause.) This, as I have said, is not a question upon which we can take the initiative; but this I will say, that I think that what that learned ecclesiastic has proposed, and which is in accordance which the opinions given has proposed, and which is in accordance which the opinions given by that great man now so much regretted—Count Cavour, will furnish a solution to the Italian difficulty, and that it will be a great means of securing the independence and happiness of Italy. Gentlemen, let us look for a moment at another part of the world—at another country which, for my part, I have always observed with the greatest interest—the United States of America. It appears to me that it would be a great misfortune to the world if that experiment in free government which, though not carried on in exactly the same principles as our own—principles which had been devised with great wisdom—it would be a very great misfortune if anything were to happen to divide that state. (Cheers.) I am very sorry to say that those events have happened, and we now see two parties contending together—not upon the question of slavery, though that I believe is the original cause of the conflict—not contending with the respect to free trade and protection, but contending as so may States of the old world have contended—the one side for empire and the other for power. Far be it from us to set ourselves up as judges in this matter, but I cannot help asking myself, as affairs progress in the contest, to what good end can it lead? Supposing the contest ended by the re-union of its different part, that the South should agree to enter again with all the rights of the constitution, should we not again have that fatal subject of slavery brought in along with them—(Cheers)—that subject of slavery which caused, no doubt, the disruption, we all agree must, sooner or later, cease from the face of the earth? (Cheers.) Well, then, gentlemen, as you will see, if this quarrel could be made up, should we not have those who differed with Mr. Lincoln at the last election carried; and that the quarrel would recommence, and perhaps a long civil war follow? On the other hand, supposing the United States completely to conquer and subdue the Southern States—supposing that should be the result of a long military conflict—supposing that should be the result of some years of civil war, should we not have the material property of that country in a great degree destroyed? Should we see that respect for liberty which as so long distinguished our North American brethren? (Cheers.) Should we not see those Southern men yielding to a force, and would not the north be necessitated to keep  in subjection those who had been conquered, and would not that very materially interfere with the freedom of the nation? (Cheers.) If that should be the unhappy result to which we at present look forward, if by means such as this the reunion of the States should be brought about, is it not the duty of those men who have embraced the precepts of Christianity, to see whether this conflict cannot be avoided? Gentlemen, I have made these observations to you upon matters, as I have said, deeply affecting us all, but not upon matters upon which the Government of this country has any immediate power or interest. Had they been cases of that kind, it would not have been consistent with my duty as Foreign Secretary to have spoken to you in detail upon the subject. In these cases, it is the duty of the head of the Government of this country to watch closely as to what happens with respect the independence of all foreign nations, but not to let go any part of that caution and vigilance which becomes ministers of England at this time, not to impair any part of the influence of this country, because that influence may be used in the cause of freedom and of humanity—(Hear, Hear, and cheers)—not to lower in any respect the power of this country, because that power may be absolutely necessary to preserve the freedom of Europe, to vindicate the independence of nations, and to guard our own dignity and freedom. (Cheers.) Much has been said on the continent of Europe in disparagement of my Noble Friend who is now at the head of the Government, but on examining those strictures, I have never been able to make out more than this, that he was believed to be too susceptible with regard to the interests of this country. (Cheers.) I shall be at little pains to vindicate him from such an attack. (Hear, hear.) On the contrary, I own that my Noble Friend constantly devotes his attention to keep clear and unsullied the honour of England—(Applause)—to keep uninjured and unimpaired the interests to help him in that great task. (Cheers.) It is my privilege to help him in that great task. (Cheers.) I do not feel that to be entrusted with such a task by the people of so great and so free a country as this, is something that makes public life worth having—(cheers)—that lightens its labour—that lightens its anxiety—(cheers)—and, I may add, that while that task is thus rendered honourable, while it is one which a man may be proud to undertake, it is no small addition to feel that he has acted upon the whole for the benefit of his country; and that whatever errors and mistakes he may have made at times, he will meet from such an assembly as the present the king and indulgent acceptance of his efforts, and that, at all events, they will give him credit for the firm intention to do for “old England” all that he could.

SOURCE: “The Banquet,” Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, Tuesday, October 15, 1861, p. 5

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