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THE GENERAL ELECTION.
necessary measures had been carried, the dissolution should at once take place; and ministers begged the members of the two Houses to abstain from throwing obstacles in the way of the appeal to the nation being made as speedily as possible. Some dissatisfaction was expressed at the silence of ministers on the subject of the vote which had been carried against them; but all the efforts of their opponents failed to elicit from them any other information than that the policy of the government with regard to China would continue to be what it always had been—a policy for the protection and promotion of British interests, and that the question of the continuance or recall of Sir J. Bowring as plenipotentiary at Hong-Kong was one that had been, and still was, under the grave consideration of the cabinet.
Of course the thoughts of all were now fixed on the coming electoral struggle. Members hurried down to the places they represented, or spoke not so much to the House as to their constituents; bills were pushed through or dropped as speedily as the forms of the House would allow; and Mr. Shaw Lefevre, the speaker of the moribund parliament, who now finally retired from the chair, was thanked and praised for his services, as he richly deserved to be; the leaders of the different parties in the House warmly enlogising him, and the members showing their respect by all remaining uncovered while he delivered his valedictory address. A provisional budget went rapidly through its various stages, all men helping it forward. Lord Derby took advantage of the second reading of the income-tax bill to deliver a manifesto, intended to place before the country a programme of the policy of the conservative party; and by Wednesday, the 18th of March, the necessary business of parliament had been so far completed, that the Commons were able to adjourn to Saturday, when a much greater number of members assembled than could have been expected, considering the proximity of the elections ; and then the two Houses were prorogued with the ordinary formalities by commission, with a message of more than usual brevity.
The issue on which the country was invited to give its decision by the general election was simply confidence, or want of confidence, in Lord Palmerston. He had earned much popularity and a high reputation by the vigour with which he had carried on the Crimean war, and by the terms on which he had brought it to a conclusion. If those terms had been very closely scanned, they might perhaps have been found not to have really accomplished as much as was supposed; but the people generally were willing to regard them as satisfactory, and were contented to know that Lord Palmerston had carried on the war with vigour and ability, had brought it to a speedy termination, and had firmly enforced the conditions he had obtained. Another circumstance that strongly biassed the constituencies in his favour was that accounts came pouring in of the frightful atrocities perpetrated by the Chinese—the poisoning of the wells, the poisoning of the bread by the bakers, the cold blooded murder of many Europeans, the horrible and disgusting details of the execution of between sixty and seventy thousand Chinese in the course of a few months.
The news of the conclusion of peace with Persia reached this country just too late to influence the division on the Chinese question ; but it arrived soon enough to swell the strong tide of popular feeling in favour of Lord Palmerston which was rising among the constituencies. The premier had also won golden opinions from the Evangelicals by his appointment of bishops who belonged to that party. He was eulogised by them as the true Protestant, the Christian premier,' the man of God.' Altogether the appeal to the country was made under a favourable conjunction of circumstances such as rarely, if ever, had occurred at any previous election; and the supporters of the government triumphed very largely, while that party which had brought about its defeat and the condemnation of its Chinese policy-the great party which had procured the repeal of the corn-laws, which had enabled Peel and Gladstone to carry out their excellent financial measures, which had most strenuously contended for retrenchment and reform- —was almost everywhere defeated. Cobden, Bright, Milner Gibson, Fox, were all rejected by the constituencies which had previously elected them by large majorities, and that too confessedly without any change of opinion on their part. They maintained consistently the principles they had always professed; but their constituents
MR. BRIGHT'S FAREWELL ADDRESS.
deliberately adopted the war-policy, of which Palmerston was the foremost representative, instead of the peacepolicy, of which the rejected statesmen were the zealous and consistent advocates. The election which of all others produced the greatest moral effect on the country was that for Manchester, hitherto represented by Messrs. Bright and Milner Gibson. The former gentleman was prevented from being present at the election by an illness brought on by the earnest diligence with which he had served his constituents and his country. His interests, however, did not seriously suffer by his absence; but the result of the poll showed how great had been the change in the views and sentiments of the electors. The numbers were :
Sir J. Potter, 8368; Mr. J. A. Turner, 7854; Mr. Gibson, 5588 ; Mr. Bright, 5458.
This result had been obtained by a coalition of Conservatives and Palmerstonian Whigs against the more advanced Liberal party. Mr. Bright took leave of the electors of the great city which he had so ably represented in the following address :
"To the Electors of the City of Manchester. . Gentlemen, I have received a telegraphic despatch informing me of the result of the election-contest in which you have just been engaged. That result has not greatly surprised me, and as far as I am personally concerned inasmuch as it liberates me from public life in a manner that involves on my part no shrinking from my duty-I cannot seriously regret it. I lament it on public grounds, because it tells the world that many amongst you have abandoned the opinions you professed to hold in the year 1847, and even so recently as the year 1852. I believe that slander itself has not dared to charge me with having forsaken any of the principles on the honest support of which I offered myself twice, and was twice accepted, as your representative. The charge against me has rather been that I have too warmly and too faithfully defended the political views which found so much favour with you at two previous elections.
If the change in your opinion of me has arisen from my course on questions of the war with Russia, I can only say that, on a calm review of all the circumstances of the case—and during the past twelve months I have had ample time for such a review-I would not unsay or retract any one of the speeches I have spoken, or erase from the records of parliament any one of the votes I have given upon it, if I could thereby reverse the decision to which you
have come, or secure any other distinction which it is in the power of my countrymen to confer. I am free and will remain free, from any share in the needless and guilty bloodshed in that melancholy chapter in the annals of my country. I cannot, however, forget that the leaders of the opposition in the recent contest have not been influenced by my conduct on this question. They were less successful, but not less bitter in their hostility in 1852, and even in 1847, when my own public merit or demerit consisted in my labours in the cause of free trade. On each occasion calling themselves Liberals, and calling their candidates liberal also, they have coalesced with Conservatives, whilst now doubtless they have assailed Mr. Gibson and myself on the ground of a pretended coalition with Conservatives in the House of Commons.
I have esteemed it a high honour to be one of your representatives, and have given more of mental and physical labour to your service than is just to myself: I feel it scarcely less an honour to suffer in the cause of peace, and on behalf of what I believe to be the true interests of my country, though I could have wished that the blow had come from other hands, at a time when I could have met face to face those who dealt it.
' In taking leave of you and of public life, let me assure you that I can never forget the many—the innumerable kindnesses I have received from my friends among you. No one will rejoice more than I shall in all that brings you prosperity and honour; and I am not without a hope that, when a calmer hour shall come, you will say of Mr. Gibson and of me, that, as colleagues in your representation for ten years, we have not sacrificed our principles to gain popularity, or bartered our independence for the emoluments of office or the favours of the great. I feel that we have stood for the rights and interests and freedom of the people, and that we have not tarnished the honour or lessened the renown of your eminent city.
John BRIGHT. • Florence, March 31, 1857.'
ELECTION FOR THE CITY OF LONDON.
The calm dignity with which Mr. Bright relinquished public life, as it then seemed for ever, excited a profound sensation and a deep sympathy for him even amongst the more generous of his opponents. They could not but feel that unswerving consistency and honest and highly able services had met with a very undeserved recompense. As far as he himself was personally concerned, the decision of his constituents was probably a fortunate one ; for he was at the time of his rejection suffering from a severe illness, which the anxiety about the discharge of his duties as the representative of such a constituency as Manchester would hare seriously and perhaps fatally aggravated. As it was, he was enabled to enjoy that complete rest and perfect exemption from all care and anxiety that were the almost indispensable conditions of his recovery. And scarcely less sympathy was felt for Mr. Cobden, who had been defeated, though by a very much smaller majority, at Huddersfield.
Naturally the election for the city of London excited great attention, and the more so because the contest was severe, and because one of the candidates was Lord John Russell, whose candidature gave to this contest, to a considerable extent, the character of a struggle in the metropolitan constituency of the empire in favour of or against reform ; a question respecting which the sentiments of Lord Palmerston were, to say the least, doubtful; and the election of Lord J. Russell, who stood third on the poll, might be regarded as a declaration in favour of the section of the Whig party which advocated farther parliamentary reforms, and against that which was supposed to be indifferent or hostile to great organic changes. Indeed, though the constituencies had, as we have seen, by great majorities supported and approved the foreign policy of Lord Palmerston, and rejected some of the most advanced and thorough-going reformers, they had on the whole supported men who on this question were disposed to go farther than Lord Palmerston, whom Mr. Disraeli
, with something of truth, described as 'the Tory chief of a Radical Cabinet;' so that the question of parliamentary reform seemed likely to be a greater difficulty in the new parliament than it had been in the old, unless the premier should show more willingness than he had hitherto done seriously to entertain the question.
From these political struggles we may turn for a moment