Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

Royal Direction of Foreign Policy.

315

• a step which no subject ought to take, if he can • possibly avoid it; for the result of such a course must • be either fatal to him or injurious to the country. If • he should prove to be in the wrong, he would be irretrievably condemned; if the Sovereign should be proved to be in the wrong, the Monarchy would suffer.'

In commenting on these transactions, of course the questions are distinct as to whether the Sovereign has a right to bave personally submitted to him, at any cost of delay and trouble, all the 28,000 despatches received -as stated by Lord Palmerston, and admitted by the Prince Consort-during such a year as 1848, with a view to the correction, amendment, and further reconsideration of the replies to them; and whether, assuming the demand to be a proper one, non-compliance with it is a ground for dismissal. There is, no doubt, a current underlying assumption in some quarters that the Sovereign is entitled to interfere more actively and personally in foreign affairs than in other administrative matters. The incessant attention to them, and the real acquaintance with them, manifested by the late Prince Consort, the family relationships by which so many of the European monarchs are bound together, and the diplomatic usages of centuries, as well as the chronic inattention of the general public in ordinary times to matters outside the country, are causes which, in the aggregate, have no doubt tended largely to expand the sphere of the English Sovereign's action in foreign policy, as contrasted with what is recognised as allowable in Home or Colonial affairs. But the recent public

Life of Lord Palmerston, vcl. i. p. 329.

concern which has been stirred even in complicated questions, affecting not only peace and war, but the equilibrium of the European Powers, seems to indicate that the age of private diplomacy and irresponsible correspondence conducted by Sovereigns or their agents is passing away. Constitutionally considered, there can be no reason whatever alleged in favour of a larger amount of interference on the part of the Sovereign with Ministers responsible to Parliament in foreign matters than in the case of home matters. The one and the other equally depend for their ulterior management, as well as for the supply of all moneys needed to enforce a policy, not only on the concurrence but on the active superintendence of both Houses of Parliament. So long as the initiative of each political step rests with the responsible Government, Parliament retains in its own hands the power of generally guiding the policy, controlling expense, enforcing publicity as may seem expedient from time to time, and suspending or terminating negotiations when it chooses. But when, behind the responsible Ministers, there is a subtle, undefined, and therefore unlimited influence, constantly playing on the deliberate counsels of those who are bound to give an intelligible explanation of every step taken to Parliament and to the country, and when this influence is not of the mere formal consultative sort, which can be at once evaluated and therefore discounted, but, by the necessity of the case, takes all the innumerable shapes of suggestions, detailed schemes, minute criticisms, incidental observations, and the scarcely concealed show of far-sighted political aims not coincident with the policy either of the Cabinet, or of Parliament, or of the country,—or at least in many points The Queen's Letter to Lord Aberdeen. 317

divergent from that policy, there is a factor introduced for which no theory of the English Constitution in its present form can possibly find a place. It is, indeed, a factor which, so far as it operates, must to that extent be the very negation of the Constitution, and steadily tend to its destruction,

It has already been seen that on more than one occasion, especially during the Crimean war, the Prince Consort, who, on the most favourable hypothesis, must be looked upon as representing the Queen, exceeded even the bounds of advice, suggestion, or criticism, when corresponding with the Ministers of the Crown ; and, by endeavouring to exert a direct influence on the Ministers in relation to Parliament, hampered their independence and confused their sense of Parliamentary responsibility. The following letter, addressed by the Queen herself to the Prime Minister, Lord Aberdeen, when, at a critical moment of the Crimean war, his Lordship had thought it his duty to mitigate in the House of Lords Lord Lyndhurst's denunciation of the Russian encroachments, is the strongest known instance which the present reign supplies of intrusion on the part of the Sovereign on a field of free action which the Constitution has done its utmost to hedge about and protect from every sort of solicitation which is not of an open and directly accountable kind :

• The Queen is very glad to hear that Lord Aberdeen • will take an opportunity to-day of dispelling misap

prehensions which have arisen in the public mind in • consequence of his last speech in the House of Lords, and the effect of which has given the Queen very great uneasiness. She knows Lord Aberdeen so well, that she can fully enter into his feelings, and under

• stand what he means; but the public, particularly under strong excitement of patriotic feeling, is im

patient and annoyed to bear at this moment tbe First • Minister of the Crown enter into an impartial exami

nation of the Emperor of Russia's character and o conduct. The qualities in Lord Aberdeen's character • which the Queen values most highly, his candour and

his courage in expressing his opinions, even if opposed

to general feelings at the moment, are in this instance • dangerous to him, and the Queen hopes that in the • vindication of his own conduct to-day, which ought to • be triumphant, as it wants in fact no vindication, he • will not undertake the ungrateful and injurious task • of vindicating the Emperor of Russia from any of

the exaggerated charges brought against him and his * policy, at a time when there is enough in that policy to make us fight with all our might against it.'!

Of course it is well known that attempts have been made of late in some quarters to give a theoretical justification to these confessedly novel relations between the Sovereign and the Ministers of the Crown. A lengthy exposition of the true attitude which ought to be maintained by the English Sovereign is contained in some of the writings of the late Baron Stockmar, re-published in Mr. Theodore Martin's “Life of the • Prince Consort. This Life is published with the - sanction of the Queen ; and Mr. Martin, in characterising the most outspoken discourse on the subject, part of which forms the second of the subjoined extracts, speaks of it as "a vigorous corstitutional essay' and as a remarkable letter, in which the deepest student of

| Life of the Prince Consort, vol. iii. p. 77.

Stockmar's Theory of the English Monarchy. 319

our political history will find much to learn and profit by. In spite, however, of the sympathetic attention paid to all the utterances of the Baron by the Prince Copsort and by Mr. Theodore Martin, it is not necessary to impute to the Royal personages directly concerned either an unqualified approval of any of the doctrines asserted, or even any want of perception of the ignorance of English constitutional history which the Baron's statements disclose. It is sufficient to note that the doctrines in question bave as it were been floating in the air at Court for several years; that no distinct repudiation of any one of them is contained in the numerous published replies and letters of the Prince Consort; and that some conspicuous acts, both of the Prince Consort and of the Queen, are, to say the least of them, not inconsistent with the supposition that Baron Stockmar’s views were looked upon with favour. Recent utterances in the Houses of Parliament on the part of fulsome panegyrists of the Court, or idealistic adulators of the English Monarchy as likely to become ultimately the sole saviour of society, are entirely in harmony with Baron Stockmar’s conceptions, and give weight to the suspicion that an organised attempt has been, or is being, made to take advantage of a lull of party controversy and political enthusiasm to supersede the well-established notion of purely Parliamentary Government by an ill-defined and long-discarded notion of Government by Parliament with the assiduous aid of the Royal Prerogative, or by an irresponsible exercise of the Royal Prerogative alone. The particular passages in Baron Stockmar's letters above alluded to are as follows:

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »