[Transcribed by Megan Stevens — my paragraphing. DK]
Lord PALMERSTON, -
Sir, I should be the last man to blame anybody who should bring under the notice of this House any part of our administrative system, whether it be at home or abroad, which he may think has failed in performing any of its functions, and which he may think ought, therefore, in any way to be improved: but I do protest against the language which we have heard from the hon. member for Aylesbury, who, while he performs what he thinks a public duty, in pointing out what he considers to be defects in the management of the army, says we have disgraced our country, tells us that we ought to be the laughingstock of Europe, and mingles with his observations and recommendations what I must call vulgar declamation against the aristocracy of this country. (Hear, hear.)
I lament as deeply as any man the sufferings of our brave army in the Crimea. I am as ready as any man to admit that those sufferings have in part been aggravated by a want of arrangement, and a want of proper management on the part of those who have had the administration of the details by which the wants of the army ought to have been provided for, but I must, in passing, say that it is a great mistake to suppose that these things have been entirely confined to the British troops. Without speaking of our allies, who have certainly endured a great deal, I may say that I know, from pretty good authority, that in the camp of the Russians there are no less than 35,000 men in hospital, sick and wounded, in consequence of the results of the campaign. I say, then, that these sufferings, however they may have been increased by the want of arrangement and the want of proper management, have arisen in a great degree from causes — from visible causes in the power of no man to control ("Oh, oh.") — from the nature of the service in which the men have been engaged, and from the inclemency of the weather to which they have been exposed. (Hear, hear.)
So far from feeling that the country stands lower in the estimation of the world in consequence of what has passed in the prosecution of this war, when I look to the matchless bravery of the troops, when I look to the victories which they have gained, and when I look to the share which the gentry and aristocracy of the country have taken in those conflicts, I say that, instead of feeling ashamed that my country stands lower in the estimation of the world, I feel proud to events from the merit of which the hon. gentleman reeks to detract. (Hear, hear.) Tell me of the aristocracy of England! Why, look to the glorious charge of the cavalry at Balaklava — look to that charge, where the noblest and the wealthiest of the land rode foremost, followed by heroic men from the lowest classes of the community, each rivalling the other in bravery, neither the peer who led nor the trooper who followed being distinguished the one from the other. In that glorious band there were the sons of the gentry of England; leading were the noblest of the land, and following were the representatives of the people of the country. (Cheers.) If any instance be required to show that all classes of the country, from the highest to the lowest, enjoy in common those noblest qualities which dignify mankind, I would appeal to that single charge. (Cheers.)
Well, Sir, the hon gentleman has certainly followed a line of argument which has exceedingly surprised me. The hon. gentleman, I believe, has consented to be a member of the committee proposed by my hon. and learned friend (Mr. Roebuck), and he will of course vote for the appointment of that committee. But what was his line of argument? One of the lines of his argument was, that we, forsooth, are trifling with the interests of the country, and trifling with the sacred lives of the army, by sending out commissions to the Crimea with full powers to act, to set right and to reorganize. And what is it he recommends? He approves the appointment of a committee to examine witnesses and send forth their report in a blue-book, and in preference to sending out commissioners — some, indeed have already gone out — to apply a remedy at once to that which may be wrong the hon. gentleman proposes the example of the Committee of Safety of the French Revolution, and would have commissioners sent out with powers to execute summary justice. Why, you might take the hon. gentleman at his word, and if you were to add this instruction to the committee, that the members thereof proceed instantly to the Crimea and remain there during the rest of the session, perhaps that would be satisfactory. (Laughter.)
The hon. gentleman says we have in some instances abstained from obtaining supplies in Asia, which the French have been enabled to procure. I protest against this invidious distinction being drawn between two portions of the allied army, but I apprehend that Asia Minor may be found sufficiently large to furnish provisions for English and French. Indeed, as I stated on a former occasion, arrangements have already been made to secure supplies from Sinope for the army in the Crimea.
The hon. gentleman, in his own argument, furnishes us with strong reasons against the conclusion to which he wishes the House to arrive. The hon. gentleman says, the Government ought to have stated to the House what are the terms which my noble friend the member for the city of London is about to propose in the negotiations about to take place at Vienna. Why, Sir, this is the first time I ever heard it asked that we should, before entering into negotiations, explain fully to the adverse parties all the conditions we may be willing to ask, and all the conditions which, under certain circumstances, we may be willing to accept. (“Hear, hear:” and laughter.) I think if that was to be the course of negotiations which the hon. gentleman might be appointed to conduct, I would much rather instruct them into the hands of my noble friend the member for the city of London.
But, Sir, the hon. gentleman says that I have, between Friday night and Monday afternoon, fallen greatly in the confidence of the country, and the hon. gentleman says that arises from the fact that I have not recommended to the Queen a Cabinet of a different complexion. He omitted to state exactly how the Cabinet ought to be composed (“Hear, hear,” and a laugh); but I hope he may have the goodness, in succession, to the members of the proposed committee, to add also the members of the proposed Cabinet. (Laughter and cheers.) The House would then be able to judge between the Cabinet which it has been my duty to propose to the House and the country. I am confident that when the people see a Government constituted upon the failure of two other attempts to form a Government, they will feel that the men who have thus undertaken the conduct of affairs have done so because they thought that the country ought not to be left without a Government. They will consider that those who have formed a Government have acted from a sense of public duty; they will believe that they have undertaken the conduct of affairs from honourable motives, and they will give the Government credit for a desire to perform their duties so as to advance the best interests of the country. It is hardly likely, for what may have been said betwixt Friday night and Monday morning, that the public would change their opinion, if it was an opinion such as the hon. member says existed only at the close of last week. (Hear, hear.)
The Government presented themselves to the country for the purpose of carrying on to the best of their means, with adequate energy and vigour, a war in which the country found itself called upon to engage. We presented ourselves to the country with an earnest and honest intention of availing ourselves of the opportunity — if the opportunity be real — which has now offered itself of terminating the war by a fair and honourable peace. We will not present to the country a peace which we do not think safe and honourable to the country, which we do not think calculated to secure this country from the recurrence of those events which have compelled us to draw the sword, and which the country would not be glad to accept from any Administration. If we are enabled to accomplish such an end, we shall rejoice at having been the instruments of saving the country from the further efforts and sacrifices which the continuance of war would demand. (Hear, hear.) But if, on the other hand, it should appear that the adversary with whom we are contending has not yet been brought to that temper of mind which will induce him to consent to those conditions which permanent peace can for the future be established, why then Sir, we shall appeal with confidence to the country for support in those greater exertions which a continuance of the contest may impose upon as a necessity (cheers); and, whatever may be said by the hon. member for Aylesbury, or by others who may rise after me in debate, I feel confident that this country will give its support to a Government which honourably and honestly stands forward to do its duty in a moment of emergency (loud cheer) — a Government which has not forced itself upon the country by any vote or motion in this house, or by any Parliamentary manœvre — a Government which has arisen in consequence of the failure of others who might, if they had chosen, have undertaken the work, but who shrank from doing it at the time when the offer was made to them.
I do not mention this as reflecting blame upon them, but simply as the fact which led to the formation of the present Government. Two endeavours having been made to form a Government, and those two endeavours having failed, I should have thought myself a degraded man if I had not undertaken the task. (Hear, hear.) I feel proud of the support which my hon. and noble friends have afforded me.
I throw myself with confidence upon the generosity of the country and of Parliament, and I am convinced that, if we do our duty — and we shall do our duty as long as we have the support of the country to enable us to do it, if we are enabled by the support of the country to do that which we conceive to be our duty, in spite of temporary reverses, in spite of the momentary aspect of affairs — we shall succeed in carrying matters to a successful issue, be it for peace now, or be it for peace hereafter; but, whether by negotiations now, or whether by force of arms afterwards, we shall be able to place this country upon that proud footing of future security which its greatness and its power so well entitle it to occupy. (Loud cheers.)