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Lord Palmerston and the Coup d'Etat. 285
carried, which declared it high treason in an existing President to take any steps to secure his re-election,immediately to bave arrested within the walls and on the spot such of the Ministers as were members, among whom was the Minister of War, and to have also endeavoured to send the President to Vincennes. In an interview with Count Walewski on the 3rd, Lord Palmerston stated in the course of conversation the view which he held as to the necessity and advantage for France and Europe of the decisive steps taken by the President; and Count Walewski at once communicated to the French Foreign Office the tenor of what Lord Palmerston had said to him. On the 5th of December Lord Palmerston sent a formal despatch from the Foreign Office to Lord Normanby, the British Representative in Paris, in which he reported that he had received and laid before the Queen a despatch from Lord Normanby of the 3rd, requesting to be furnished with instructions for his guidance in the present state of affairs in France. “I am commanded,' wrote Lord Palmerston, 'by Her Majesty, to instruct your Excellency
to make no change in your relations with the French • Government. It is Her Majesty's desire that nothing should be done by her Ambassador in Paris which
could wear the appearance of an act of interference of sany kind in the internal affairs of France. On the receipt of this despatch, Lord Normanby hastened to M. Turgot, the French Minister for Foreigu Affairs, in order to communicate to him the purport of this despatch. M. Turgot, somewhat piqued, as it would seem, by the general unfriendly language towards Louis Napoleon used by Lord Normanby, replied that the communication was unnecessary, as M. Walewski had
already informed him that Lord Palmerston entirely approved of what the President had done. Lord Normanby reported this statement home, in a despatch of the 6th; and recurred to the subject in another despatch on the 15th, in which he complained as follows: "If • the language held in Downing Street is more favour• able to the existing order of things in France than the
instructions on which I am directed to guide myself * on the spot, it must be obvious that by that act of your • Lordship’s I become subject to misrepresentation and • suspicion in merely doing my duty according to the • official orders received through your Lordship from Her • Majesty.
The events which followed upon this correspondence, the different views taken of them by Lord Palmerston and by Lord John Russell, and the nature of the constitutional question at issue in respect to the duties of a Secretary of State towards the Prime Minister and towards the Sovereign, will be fully understood from the following brief extract from a letter of Lord Palmerston's to his brother, which is given in Mr. Ashley's biography, and from some quotations from the speeches which were made in the House of Commons on the reassembling of Parliament in February
Writing on the 22nd of January, 1852, to his brother, Lord Palmerston recalled the circumstances of the correspondence, and said that Lord John Russell had written to him to say that he hoped he should be able to contradict the report of what he had said to Count Walewski. "To this I replied that the particular • expressions ascribed to me were rather a highly coloured • version of what I had said, but that it must be remem• bered that Normanby reported what Turgot had said
Letter of Lord Palmerston.
• to him verbally; that Turgot stated from memory • what Walewski had written in a despatch or letter • received two days before; and that Walewski gave the
impression which he had derived from our conversa* tion, but not the particular words which I had used. • But I stated to John Russell, at considerable length, my reasons for thinking that what had been done was
the best thing for France and for Europe. To this • John Russell replied, that I mistook the point at issue • between us. That the question was not whether the * President was or was not justified in doing what he • has done, but whether I was justified in expressing • any opinion thereupon to Walewski without having “first taken the opinion of the Cabinet on the matter. “To this I answered that his doctrine, so laid down, was new and not practical. That there is a well known and perfectly understood distinction in diplomatic in• tercourse between conversations which are official and
which bind Governments, and conversations which are • unofficial and which do not bind Governments. That 'my conversation with Walewski was of the latter de
scription, and that I said nothing to him which would in 6 any degree or way fetter the action of the Government; 6 and that if it was to be held that a Secretary of State 6 could never express any opinion to a foreign Minister • on passing events, except as the organ of a previously • consulted Cabinet, trere would be an end of that easy • and familiar intercourse which tends essentially to • promote good understanding between Ministers and • Governments. John Russell replied to this that my • letter left him no alternative but to advise the Queen • to place the Foreign Office in other hands. In the following passage in the same letter, Lord Palmerston
further defends his conduct on the ground that Count Walewski had talked freely with Lord John Russell and with other Ministers about the same time in reference to the same events, and that they had all discussed the matter without restraint. At a party at Lord Palmerston's house on the 4th, Lord John Russell and Walewski were present, and they had a conversation on the • coup d'état, in which Johnny expressed his opinion,
which Walewski tells me was in substance and result • pretty nearly the same as what I had said the day * before, though, as he observed, John Russell is not so
expansif as I am ; but further, on Friday, the 6th, • Walewski dined at John Russell's, and there met • Lansdowne and Charles Wood; and in the course of * that evening John Russell, Lansdowne, and Charles • Wood all expressed their opinions on the coup d'étut, 6 and those opinions were if anything rather more • strongly favourable than mine had been.'!
In the debate in the House of Commons on the 3rd of February, 1852, Lord John Russell rested his case as against Lord Palmerston not so much on the discrepancy between Lord Palmerston's official communication to Lord Normanby and his extra-official conversation with Count Walewski, as upon a wholly different ground, that of a want of strict compliance with the requirements of the Queen herself, as already somewhat peremptorily expressed in a communication from Her Majesty made in August, 1850. It will be convenient to consider this part of the subject a little later on, in connection with the general relations of the Sovereign to the Ministers of the Crown. So far as the historical
"Life of Lord Palmerston, vol. i. chap, vii.
Grounds of Lord Palmerston's Dismissal. 289
circumstances here related, which resulted in the dismissal of Lord Palmerston, illustrate the duties of a head of a department towards his chief, it must be admitted that Lord Palmerston made good his case. Unless there is ground for general want of confidence, or such a diversity of political opinion as would itself suffice to separate a Minister from the Cabinet, it would be wholly unworthy of the independence and dignity of a Minister, and most of all of a Minister who must be presumed to possess such special qualifications and exceptional experience as a Foreign Secretary, to allow his language or actions to be further fettered than they are of necessity by the formal communications which he prepares and addresses, either at the direct bidding of the Cabinet, or with the intention of expressing their well-known policy. Of course, in such a case as the above, an undue sympathy with Louis Napoleon in his consummation of the coup d'état might in certain political crises have been held of itself a sufficient exhibition of divergent political sympathy to justify a Prime Minister in expostulating with, or even dismissing, a Secretary of State. But in the actual case described, the complaint was not of the importance of the discrepancy of opinion between the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, but only of the latitude of private speech which it was imputed to Lord Palmerston that he had permitted to himself. Lord Palmerston might well allege in his speech in the House of Commons that the restriction attempted to be imposed would have the anomalous, not to say ludicrous, result, that every member of the • Cabinet, whatever his political avocations may have • been, however much bis attention may have been de