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Real Irresponsibility of Ministers.
them, in nine-tenths of the things which he has to do, is virtually absolute in his own department. A number of cases come before him daily in which he must act at once and upon his own judgment and responsibility. Most of these may be routine matters, or may appear unimportant; but each decision may carry with it fearful consequences. Parliament gives or refuses to each minister certain funds for special purposes, but there its action and control cease; the funds are spent as the minister thinks best. The Commander-in-Chief has the appointment of generals in various quarters: he may appoint a plausible fool or a superannuated friend, and the result is and has been sad reverses, fearful slaughter, perilous discomfiture. From indolence, prejudice, or incapacity, he may so mismanage the internal organization of the army, that when an emergency arises we have scarcely a regiment fit for efficient service; he may retain flint guns when every other nation has adopted percussion-caps; he may stick close to miserable muskets when everywhere else they have been superseded by improved rifles; he may allow our ordnance to fall so far behind the age as to become our own dread and our enemy's laughing-stock; he may dress our soldiers so that they cannot march, and mount our cavalry so that they cannot charge. All this has been done; much of it is said to be done now. Nay more, he not only may commit many of these errors, it is probable that he will. Inaction is always easier and often safer than activity; changes are troublesome, unwelcome, and costly; and it requires some nerve to face a Parliamentary debate on an increased item in the estimates. Thus, without the public knowing, without Parliament vituperating, our army may fall into utter inefficiency, while appearances are well kept up; and the nation may be suddenly awakened from its apathy to trace, when it is too late, defeat and discredit to administrative incapacity, and to find itself called upon at a tremendous cost to redeem the consequences of having trusted a lazy or incompetent commander. It would be invidious to specify too closely; but recent history and present circumstances may supply to every one the needed commentary and confirmation.- Again, the first Lord of the Admiralty, and his chief Secretary, decide what stores shall be laid in, and how and whence; what ships shall be built and cominissioned, how they shall be manned and armed, who shall command them, and where they shall be sent. If this is done, as we know it often is done, without discernment or discretion, consequences may ensue which it will require years of care and millions of money to obliterate. Not only may the public money be infamously and unavailingly squandered, but public servants may be drowned or poisoned by wholesale. An ill-appointed vessel, under an incompetent commander, may go down with a
whole regiment of soldiers on board. A reckless or hot-headed captain, whose character the Admiralty ought to have known, may involve us in a dangerous quarrel-possibly in a costly war. Mismanagement or misplacement of our naval strength may expose our own shores to imminent and deadly risk, inay compromise our long established maritime supremacy, and compel us to submit to insult which at the moment we are unprepared to resist. Hundreds of thousands of pounds, which might have commissioned a dozen ships, and raised the wages and satisfied the wishes of whole crews of deserving seamen, may be frittered away in building ships that will not sail, and then cutting them into two again; in constructing iron steamers which will not stand round shot, and are therefore wholly useless; or in making vessels too large for their engines, and ordering engines too heavy for the ships. Hundreds of thousands more may be wasted from the want of a simple system of checks and vouchers, such as every private establishment possesses, but such as Mr. Ward's celebrated circular betrayed the absence of in the navy. All this may be directly traceable to the negligence, ignorance, or incapacity of the principal officials; yet the country may know nothing of it for years, and when informed of it, can do nothing but dismiss the offenders and appoint others who may be to the full as incapable. All this, too, our recent annals may amply illustrate. The Colonial Secretary has, if possible, still greater power of irresponsible, unchecked, and undiscoverable mischief. He governs, nearly autocratically, forty dependencies, some of them larger than the mother-country, whose dearest interests he may irreparably damage, whose safety he may jeopardize, and whose affections he may alienate by an injudicious despatch, a careless decision, or a bad appointment. He may destroy the property of hundreds, he may undermine the commerce of a district, he may produce or prolong wars of the most irritating and unprofitable kind, as in New Zealand and at the Cape; he may act over again on a small scale, the complicated blunders and sad catastrophes of 1776; and the country which he is ruining can neither detect nor control him. His power of mischief is almost equal to that of the father of evil. All this, again, the annals of Canada, Australasia, and Jamaica, shew to be no mere, no speculative possibility, but in some degree, in some form, in some quarter, a matter of yearly occurrence.-The same remarks will apply with almost equal force to the Governor-General of India, on whose judgment the most momentous questions as to war and peace in our Eastern empire almost hourly depend. How much depends on the soundness of this judgment, let Burmah, Scinde, Cabul, and the Punjab, testify.-At home, indeed, we can watch the Home Secretary more closely, and check him
Ministerial Power of Mischief.
somewhat more promptly, yet, in nearly everything that relates to the administration of justice and the disposal of criminals, what a mass of vital arrangements depends upon his secret and absolute fiat! What shall be done with condemned offenders; whether and whither they shall be transported, or in what hulks they shall be confined; what system of prison discipline shall be adopted, and to whom the carrying out of experiments on which so much depends shall be confided; what criminals shall be left for execution, and whose sentences shall be remitted or commuted ;—all these things are decided, not by Parliament, nor by the country, but by one man and his subordinates, who act as they think proper, and whose capacity and wisdom are therefore questions of national importance, second certainly to none.—And, to conclude, what fearful contingencies often hang upon the right or wrong decision, the tact, the forbearance, the firmness, the temper, the discretion of the Foreign Secretary, whose line of conduct is fixed upon in the secrecy of his own cabinet, and whose proceedings are seldoin known to the country till many months after they have been in operation, and till their results, however inischievous, have long been wholly irremediable. A European war—the extent, the termination, and the significance of which no prophet can foresee—may depend, and has ere now depended, on the conduct, temper, and opinions of the single man whom we place at the head of this particular department. And shall we be satisfied to have only a few mediocre and untried men to select him from ?
When such are the tremendous—and though not irresponsible yet certainly uncontrolled-powers which we place in the hands of those who administer our national affairs, when every
decision which they take involves the welfare and happiness of thousands, when the country may be called upon to expiate, with its dearest lives and its richest treasure, every blunder they inay commit through imperfect knowledge or inadequate capacity, who shall say that we do not require in our public men the most commanding ability-powers the most special and the most rare ? The magnitude of the interests at stake cannot be exaggerated; the talents required for the task can scarcely be estimated by too high a standard. The wellbeing of a nation, and of that portion of human progress which it influences and decides, has to be provided for. How cautious, and how deliberately tested ought to be the choice of those to whom it is confided;-how rich, numerous, varied, and select, should be the list of candidates out of whom our election must be made! These considerations may lead us to perceive the dangers which threaten us from the paucity and poverty of administrative materials which we have explained above: it remains to inquire into a few of the causes
whence this poverty has arisen, and into the quarter in which a remedy for it is to be sought.
It is customary to attribute this scanty supply of public men in a great measure to the aristocratic exclusiveness of the two great parties which have hitherto divided the power and management of the State between them. The Whigs, in particular, it is alleged, have always been notorious for unwillingness to admit to a real bona fide participation in either the honours or emoluments of office any but those who were connected with their chiefs by family ties, or who had the privilege of moving in their polished and fastidious circles. They have shrunk still more than the Tories from genuine and liberal alliances with men of no family or rank, even when these men had rendered them the most signal aid in their political contests, and were far superior to themselves in administrative and parliamentary ability. They have always been noted for breeding in and in; and the usual consequences of such exclusiveness have followed. Even Burke, it is remembered, the great political philosopher of his day, and long the ornament and the strength of the Whig party-a man whose name will live in reverence when all his colleagues and contemporaries are forgotten-was never admitted to a seat in the cabinet, but, when his party caine into power, was unworthily delegated to one of those offices of secondary influence and emolument reserved for able and indispensable, but untitled allies. Since that time, Poulett Thomson and Huskisson are, we believe, the only unconnected plebeians (out of the legal profession) who have ever attained the dignity of cabinet ministers among the Whigs; and the first of these reached that post only by slow degrees, and through the personal friendship of a simple-minded and honourable man, (Lord Althorp,) and held it only for a short period. Whenever a popular leader has attained such eminence in Parliament that he cannot safely or decently be passed over, it has been customary to offer him some minor post, the acceptance of which, though it might ultimately lead to further advancement, would impose upon its holder the duty of defending the measures of his principals, and sharing in the disgrace attached to their impropriety, clumsiness, or failure, without conferring upon him the smallest share in the previous discussion or concoction of them. Such posts are very properly offered to rising men of promise; but on such they are rarely bestowed by the Whigs. Such posts can scarcely be proposed to men whose character is high, whose position is made, whose talents have already won for them wide influence and independent power, without something approaching to insult. Mr. Cobden, for example, was perhaps too young and too inexperienced, in 1846, for an office of first-rate dignity and power, though fifteen years older than Mr. Pitt when he
was Prime Minister, and than Mr. Peel when Secretary for Ireland ;--yet how would it have been dignified or decent for him, with his position as a party leader, his vast influence in the country, and a high character to lose or to confirin, to have accepted the offered vice-presidency of the Board of Trade, with no seat in the cabinet, and consequently with no control over the proceedings of a ministry who might drag him through any dirt and cover him with any obloquy? Till our great political chiefs recognise and bend to the necessity of enlisting in their service, on honourable and generous terms, and thus training in time for future eminence, all rising politicians, of whatever rank, who display promising capacity—till they can stoop to renew their worn-out blood from that middle class which is so rich in strong and practical ability-our supply of statesmen can scarcely be otherwise than scanty.
There is considerable truth in this complaint, though, perhaps, something exaggerated. It is certainly much to be desired, that the ministers who are to rule the couniry should be chosen from as wide a basis as possible, and that neither wealth, rank, nor connexions, should be regarded as indispensable pre-requisites for high office—wherever middle-class men have in them the materials of statesmen they should be appointed as freely as any others. But does the fault lie altogether with those who have the disposal of official places? Have the middle classes sent up to Parliament men trained and qualified for statesmanship? Have the sober wisdom, the cautious views, the comprehensive knowledge, the wide and liberal instruction, the capacity for seeing all sides of a question, and for looking beyond superficial appearances and immediate and transitory consequences---have these, the peculiar qualities which mark a man out as fit for office, been also the qualities specially sought for by the middle classes, and peculiarly honoured in their representatives ?-Have not, on the contrary, the shallow, the noisy, the violent, the flashy, the men of narrow vision and imperfect education, the men who echoed, rather than the men who opposed, the passions and prejudices of the place and hour, been chosen by preference for Parliament? How many members have been sent up by the middle classes, from among their own ranks, out of whom statesmen could be made-to whom ministers, without rashness, and without guilt, could intrust the headship of any department? Is it the “stump-orator" from the Tower Hamlets?' Is it the medical, or the fashionable, member for Finsbury? Is it the gentleman who sits for Bolton, so modest, and so highly educated? Or the gentleman who sits for Ashton, so renowned for his sincerity? Is it the dethroned Railway King who represents Sunderland? Or the golden calf who represents one of the
VOL. XVII. NO. XXXIII.