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OPENING OF PARLIAMENT.-CATHOLIC ASSOCIATION.
State of Parties-The Whigs-Causes which have led to their Declension as a Party-The Tories-Causes which have secured the Ascendency they at present enjoy-Liberality of the present Administration-State of the Country at the Commencement of the Year-Opening of Parliament—King's Speech— Long and animated Debates on the Address.
In order to form a correct judgment of the relative situation of parties, and the political condition of this country in 1825, it may be necessary, before commencing the history of that year, to take a retrospective review of certain changes which have been gradually operated in the course of events, and to endeavour to appreciate the effects of which these changes have been productive, in as far as concerns the foreign relations and the internal prosperity of the empire. Nor will this preliminary inquiry be deemed inexpedient or misplaced, if it shall be found to conduct us, by an easy gradation, and with a due intelligence of the subject, to those important proceedings and discussions which it is our especial office to put upon record, for the information and guidance of the future historian.
Although in Parliament the different great interests of the state have all
of them their respective representatives and defenders, who may be expected to take peculiar and even prejudiced views of measures, by which those interests are conceived likely to be affected, and who, consequently, must sometimes assume the appearance of a distinct party, acting on distinct principles; yet as, in all questions of general policy, we recognise only one broad line of demarcation separating those who support from those who oppose ministers, it will be convenient to overlook all minor shades or difference, and to arrange our observations so as to define, with some degree of precision, the actual state and influence of the party in power, and of that in opposition. And, to begin with the latter, we may remark, that owing to their long exclusion from office, (for it would hardly be fair to fix upon the short-lived administration of 1806 and 1807 as a criterion,) their principles
have not, in the memory of nine-tenths of the present generation, .been submitted to the best of experience; and, therefore, in judging of them as a party, we must confine ourselves to hypothetical reasoning, from the professions they make, the tenets they avow, and the line of conduct they pursue, while acting in opposition to the government. This, we think, is the only ground that is fairly open to us; and by proceeding upon these data, availing ourselves of the partial insight into their character, disclosed during the short period they were in power, and taking into the account events of more recent occurrence, it will not be difficult, we imagine, to explain satisfactorily the causes that have led to the decline of the party, and reduced it to its present state of comparative insignificance and imbecility.
So long as the war was productive of nothing but disaster, and one calamity followed hard at the heels of another, the Whigs, who have an edifying alaerity in prophesying evil, enjoyed a vast credit for wisdom and foresight; and as, notwithstanding the unnatural stimulus given to industry by a war expenditure, the enormous accumulation of taxes began to press heavily on all the sources of public wealth, a persuasion became pretty generally prevalent among the people, that their predictions, in many instances partially confirmed, would ultimately receive a dreadful verification in the disgrace and ruin of the country. From the time, indeed, when they were turned out of office, in 1807, till the invasion of Russia by Napoleon Buonaparte, in 1812, their credit with the country had, for the reason already assigned, been gradually increasing. Some heavy misfortunes had befallen our arms, which Lord Wellington's first doubt ful successes in Spain were by no means calculated to obliterate from the public mind; and as, in the case of defeat,
the accuser is listened to, while the defence passes unregarded, so the very men who had employed Whitelocke, and planned the expedition to Egypt in 1807, were looked up to as oracles of wisdom and foresight, when they denounced the authors of the ill-starred enterprise against Walcheren, and the disastrous campaign under General Moore. Experience has proved, however, that the most hazardous of all professions is that of a political prophet. At the period of the invasion of Russia, the authority and influence of the Whigs were at a maximum, because misfortune had hitherto been constant. Emboldened by the accidental confirmation of former predictions, they, therefore, took upon themselves, without scruple, to foretell the result of that most monstrous aggression they declared that the passage of the Niemen was tantamount to the subjugation of Russia; that after a short, perhaps a desperate, struggle, she would be compelled to receive the law from the conqueror, and, by her spoils, to adorn a new triumph for the man who had humbled Austria to the dust, and almost expunged Prussia from the map of Europe. Nor was this an augury, which, in all the circumstances, ought very much to surprise us. Leaving altogether out of view the unparalleled train of victory which had enabled the French emperor to trample on the necks of so many kings, to make playthings of thrones, and to stock the continent with upstart princes of his own race, the transcendent military talents of that extraordinary man, and, above all, the overwhelming force of veteran troops,-many of them inured to victory under his command, all blindly confiding in the ascendant of his genius,-with which he marched to attack Russia, seemed, it must be confessed, to place the issue of the contest beyond the caprice of fortune. It is easy to be wise after
the event. These calculations, which no one at the time had the hardihood to dispute, were destined soon to be signally and gloriously falsified. The burning of Moscow, the retreat and destruction of the French grand army, the desertion of Napoleon by Austria and Prussia, the advance of the allies into Germany, the rising en masse of the Germans, the battle of Leipsic, the invasion of France by Europe in arms, and, finally, after a desperate but fruitless struggle, the abdication of Buonaparte, these mighty events followed one another with an astounding celerity unparalleled in the history of nations or conquerors. With the unthinking herd of mankind, the reputation of the seers was utterly ruined. The return of Buonaparte from Elba, and the extraordinary phenomenon of his re-possessing himself of power, revived for a short space their drooping spirits, but it was only to plunge them in deeper dismay, by the unwelcome glories of Waterloo, and the political extinction of that erratic being, whose disturbing force had wellnigh unsphered the regular orbs of the European system, leaving him to revolve in solitary splendour, amidst the havoc he had wrought.
As a salvo to the pride of the Whigs, we have already admitted that their conjectures as to the result of the Russian invasion were far from being improbable. It was not, certainly, to be anticipated, that the Russians would make such dreadful sacrifices, and, least of all, that they would destroy their ancient capital, which they regarded with a feeling of religious reverence: it was not to be anticipated that premature winter would come as a resistless auxiliary to their aid; that sluggish Germany would rise as one man to overwhelm her oppressor; that Europe would march in arms to dethrone the imperial Jacobin who had tried to bind her in fetters to his car of conquest; or
that, after re-possessing himself of power, the glory should be reservedto England, of giving him the coup de grace, and arresting his career for ever. So much may be fairly conceded; but the public, almost always unjust to the losing party, thought only of the hardy predictions so memorably belied, and withdrew their confidence from the Whigs.
But this was not their only, or even their greatest misfortune. During the short period they were in office in 1806, they had found, by experience, that peace could not be concluded with France except at the sacrifice of the national honour; and, to do them justice, it ought not to be believed that they would have purchased it at such a price. It is, therefore, reasonable to presume, that, had they continued in power, they would have done precisely what their successors did; that is, they would have prosecuted the war with vigour. But it is now matter of history that, but for the monstrous extravagance of their pretensions, joined, as they allege, to the wanton treachery of one of their own number, (Sheridan,) they might have come into power on the death of Mr Percivalon the very eve, as it were, of those prodigious events which agitated the whole civilized world; and, consequently, might have enjoyed the credit, which now belongs to their rivals, of having achieved the overthrow of Buo naparte, and the deliverance of Europe. By huckstering and higgling about matters at once insignificant and contemptible, they lost a glorious opportunity, such as the revolution of centuries may not again offer to their choice, and being necessitated to continue in opposition, and, as usual, to prophesy misfortune and disgrace, they forfeited their credit with the country, and have, to all appearance, perpetuated their exclusion from power.
Another cause which has mainly