The House of Commons has been content of late to view with apparent indifference — though we must hope not with real apathy — the threatening state of our affairs abroad and of public opinion at home. It has placed at the command of the Ministry between eighty and ninety millions of money, without exacting from them in return any account as to how that money is to be spent, or receiving any assurance that it will not be ingulfed in the same vortex of wasteful folly and boundless extravagance as the millions of the past year. It has suffered a Ministry to be appointed without exerting over their selection any of the influence which it might be supposed to possess over a body which only lives while in possession of its favour. That it had performed all the duties devolving on the supreme Legislature of this country we are forbidden to doubt by our allegiance to the Constitution, and are only thankful that the same allegiance does not call upon us to specify more distinctly what those duties are.
Now, however, we see some probability that a termination will be put to this listless and discreditable inaction. Mr LAYARD has given notice of a series of resolutions which, at any rate, raise the case distinctly between the past and the future, and afford to the British nation a choice as clearly defined as that of HERCULES. On the one side we have the glorious traditions of the purest Whig families; the fruits of that government by party, according to which Lord JOHN RUSSELL is content to worship the Constitution of this country; the family influences, which, as it appears, solely and entirely regulate the appointment to high political office, and weigh so heavily in the scale of preferment to more permanent situations; the routine which starves an army to death while it is writing out the receipts for its food; and, on the other, a system based upon principles of equity and justice, resting as its foundation on the resolution to find for every place of public trust the fittest occupant, without regard to the ties of family, the claims of party, or the tangled meshes of electioneering influence. No doubt, an attempt will be made to elude the effect of these incontrovertible propositions by a reference to the false position in which their mover placed himself in a late debate, and to the more serious error which he committed in adhering to accusations clearly shown to be untenable. But we apprehend that those who argue in this way forget the strong feeling to which Mr LAYARD appeals, and the universal conviction which his resolutions express. The cause will support the advocate even should the advocate not support the cause, and the House of Commons has no choice between giving expression to the deeply felt sentiment of the nation and making way for some other organ through which that sentiment can find articulate expression. Indeed, that organ has already presented itself. The most eminent merchants of the city of London meet together this day to record their solemn condemnation of the Government and of the system under which we are suffering. These are men, not only of metropolitan, but of national influence. Their wealth, their intelligence, their social position, their access to the most reliable sources of intelligence, all give them the best right to speak, and the most perfect assurance that what they say will not be spoken in vain. The cup has been filled to the overflowing, and we have drained it to the very dregs of its bitterness. If any one wishes to know what a proud and high-spirited nation has suffered, let him compare his own feelings this time last year with his feelings at this moment. Then we had still some confidence in our public men, and we had not learnt to believe that the system on which our affairs are managed was unable to bear the slightest tension, or to surmount the most ordinary difficulties. Where is this confidence now? Who is there so sanguine that, when he casts his eyes over the portion of this paper where the latest intelligence is contained, does not do so in fear and trembling, lest the intelligence of the day should add another item to the long catalogue of mismanagement and disaster?
Who is there that does not thoroughly understand the causes of these things? We have failed in everything because we have jobbed everything. In almost all our recent appointments, civil and military, we have promoted men without reference to merit, and refused to remove them without regard to failure. Our COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF missed the opportunity of taking Sebastopol when almost undefended, suffered himself to be surprised on a spot the weakness of which had been again and again pointed out to him; neglected his commissariat, disregarded his communications, and sat quietly at home while his army was perishing. But he was appointed by the Whigs and politically connected with the Tories, so he remains our Commander-in-Chief still. Our QUARTERMASTER-GENERAL has good interest at the Horse Guards, and so he receives and retains an appointment for which no one believes him to be qualified. Our cavalry is sacrificed to the discord of two noblemen, neither fitted for command, but both possessing influence. Our Transport Service is placed under an officer whom an extraordinary amount of concurring testimony convicts of being utterly incompetent for the duty. We make a man a War Minister because he is a Duke, and we make another a War Secretary because he is that Duke’s cousin. We hand over one public office — that of the Woods and Forests — entirely to the connexions of one noble personage, and we have learnt to acquiesce in seeing the government of England parcelled out more like an estate left to be equally divided among the relatives of half a dozen noble families than a great public trust to be exercised for the benefit of the people. Never was case more complete. Here we have cause, and there effect — here the mismanagement, there the calamity — here the disregard of public interest, there the consequent sacrifice — system adhered to rigorously so far as it checks the required freedom of action, but disregarded boldly so far as it fetters the unbridled license of jobbery. The questions which Mr LAYARD’S resolutions put to the country is whether these things are to continue for ever? There are certain conditions which all men find themselves bound to observe in private undertakings under pain of failure or ruin. The simple object of these resolutions is to impose compliance with these same conditions on the public service. We, in our private affairs, invariably employ the most suitable agent we can find, — we look neither to his manners nor his appearance, his family nor his connexions. If we do not want to convert this country from a first-rate empire into a second-rate kingdom, we must do the same in public. In our private affairs we resort to every contrivance which can economize labour, by dividing it, by a system of efficient inspection, by adequate remuneration, and by promotion of, and encouragement to, merit. There is not a well regulated household that is not consciously or unconsciously administered on these principles, but to them the public service of the country seems as yet almost a stranger. In all private establishments, should these rules have become relaxed during a season of prosperity, the first symptoms of adversity effectually secure a recurrence to them, while in our public affairs the more imperiously the disastrous course of events has called for integrity, energy, and self-denial, the more assiduously have our public men addicted themselves to their old courses; and the more the opinion of the nation has flowed in one direction, the more steadily have our Ministers pressed forward in the other. Such questions as these rise as far above party politics as the nation is larger than the parts of which it is composed. In a body like the present House of Commons, now wedded to its third Ministry, we cannot presume to conjecture what acceptance the resolutions must expect, but we well know that in the country at large, among the thinking and reading classes, among those who do and ought to influence the opinion of the masses, they will be received with hardly a dissentient voice. Lord PALMERSTON, like RICHARD II, might have led this movement, and it would have carried him to honour and to power. He has preferred to follow it and to be its victim rather than its leader. He should have yielded to it, because it is just, because it is intelligent, because it is unanimous, but he has preferred to brave it and resist it. He has now to learn that a community of keen and intelligent commercial men will no longer suffer their affairs to be mismanaged or their patronage misapplied, or the government of a great people to be entailed like a heirloom on the families of a few of its nobility.