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AFFAIRS AT HOME


Two days after the arrival of the news of the disaster at Isandlwana, Parliament met. The reverse in Zululand naturally engrossed all thoughts. Questions  innumerable were addressed to Government, as to the strength of reinforcements to be sent out as to the further necessity for war at all-as to the so-called highhanded action of Sir Bartle Frere, and the so-called blunders of  Lord Chelmsford. Scapegoats were wanted, and, as a natural consequence, the two most energetic and hard-worked of the Queen's servants were attacked.

A political pitched battle was imminent. The Ministers declined to withdraw  their confidence from the Lord High Commissioner, though they passed on him censure for his hasty and independent proceedings. That the members of Government had a high appreciation of his great experience, ability, and energy  was apparent, for they declared they had "no desire to withdraw in the present crisis of affairs the confidence hitherto reposed in him, the continuance of which was now more than ever needed to conduct our difficulties in  South Africa to a successful termination." On the 19th of March 1879 the Secretary of the Colonies wrote to Sir Bartle Frere, to the effect that Ministers were unable to find, on the documents placed before them, "that evidence of urgent  necessity for immediate action which alone would justify him in taking, without their full knowledge and sanction, a course almost certain to result in a war."

The day for discussion of South African affairs in the Upper House arrived.

Lord Lansdowne moved, on the 11th of March, "That this House, while willing to support her Majesty's Government in all necessary measures for defending the possessions of her Majesty in South Africa, regrets  that the ultimatum, which was calculated to produce immediate war, should have been presented to the Zulu king without authority from the responsible advisers of the Crown, and that an offensive war should have been  commenced without imperative and pressing necessity or adequate preparation; and the House regrets that, after the censure passed upon the High Commissioner by her Majesty's Government, in the despatch of March 19,1879, the conduct of affairs in South Africa should be retained in his hands."

A keen debate ensued. The Opposition clamoured for the recall of Sir Bartle  Frere, as the example of independent action set by him might be followed by other and more distant representatives of the Crown. The war was ascribed to Lord Carnarvon's impatience for South African confederation and his  "incurable greed" for extending the limits of the Colonies, and the annexation of the Transvaal was declared to be a mistake, unless the Government was prepared to send out a large military force to South Africa.

The Government combated these arguments. They denied they had censured Sir Bartle Frere, and stated that they had' passed no opinion on his policy, but merely asserted as a principle that Her Majesty's advisers, and they only,  must decide the grave issues of peace and war."

It was argued that war with Cetchwayo was inevitable sooner or later, and that the Lord High Commissioner had thought it advisable to be prompt in the matter. His conduct,  it was true, had not the entire approval of the Ministry; but every one knew it was unwise to change horses in crossing a stream, and his action had not been such as to outweigh the many considerations which required the  continuance of his service in South Africa.

Lord Beaconsfield, addressing the House, defended Sir Bartle Frere, and expressed opinions on the policy of confederation as opposed to that of annexation, opinions which afford so  much instruction in regard to our relations with the Transvaal that they are best repeated in their entirety.

"I generally find," he said, "there is one advantage at the end of a debate, besides the relief  which is afforded by its termination, and that is that both sides of the House seem pretty well agreed as to the particular point that really is at issue; but the rich humour of the noble duke (Duke of Somerset) has again  diverted us from the consideration of the motion really before the House. If the noble duke and his friends were desirous of knowing what was the policy which her Majesty's Government were prepared generally to pursue in South  Africa, if they were prepared to challenge the policy of Sir Bartle Frere in all its details, I should have thought they would have produced a very different motion from that which is now lying on your lordships' table; for  that is a motion of a most limited character, and, according to the strict rules of parliamentary discussion, precludes you from most of the subjects which have lately been introduced to our consideration, and which principally  have emanated from noble lords opposite. We have not been summoned here to-day to consider the policy of the acquisition of the Transvaal. These are subjects on which I am sure the Government would be prepared to address your  lordships, if their conduct were clearly and fairly impugned. And with regard to the annexation of the province, which has certainly very much filled the mouths of men of late, I can easily conceive that that would have been a  subject for fair discussion in this House, and we should have heard, as we have heard to-night, though in a manner somewhat unexpected, from the nature of the resolution before us, from the noble lord who was recently the  Secretary of State for the Colonies, the principal reasons which induced the Government to sanction that policy-a policy which I believe can be defended, but which has not been impugned to-night in any formal manner.

"What has been impugned to-night is the conduct of the Government in sanctioning, not the policy of Sir Bartle Frere, but his taking a most important step without consulting them, which on such subjects is the usual  practice with all Governments. But the noble lord Opposite who introduced the subject does not even impugn the policy of the Lord High Commissioner; and it was left to the noble duke who has just addressed us, and who ought to  have brought forward this question if his views are so strongly entertained by him on the matter, not in supporting a resolution such as now lies on your lordships' table, but one which would have involved a discussion of the  policy of the Government and that of the high officer who is particularly interested in it.

"My noble friend, the noble marquis (Lord Salisbury), who very recently addressed the House, touched the real question which is  before us, and it is a very important question, although it is not of the expansive character of the one which would have been justified by the comments of the noble lords opposite. What we have to decide to-night is  this-whether her Majesty's Government shall have the power of recommending to the sovereign the employment of a high officer to fulfil duties of the utmost importance, or whether that exercise of the prerogative, on their  advice, shall be successfully impugned, and that appointment superseded by noble lords opposite. That course is perfectly constitutional, if they are prepared to take the consequences. But let it be understood what the issue  is. It is this, that a censure upon the Government is called for, because they have selected the individual who, on the whole, they think is the best qualified successfully to fulfil the duties of High Commissioner. The noble  lords opposite made that proposition, and if they succeed they will succeed in that which has hitherto been considered one of the most difficult tasks of the executive Government; that is to say, they will supersede the  individual whom the sovereign, in the exercise of her prerogative, under the advice of her Ministers, has selected for an important post. I cannot agree in the general remark made by the noble a duke, that because an individual  has committed an error, and even a considerable error, for that reason, without any reference either to his past services or his present qualifications, immediately a change should be recommended, and he should be recalled from  the scene of his duties.

"I remember myself a case not altogether different from the present one," continued Lord Beaconsfield, alluding to Sir James Hudson, who, when Minister at Turin, had been charged with having  expressed himself unguardedly upon the subject of Italian nationality. "It happened some years ago, when I was in the other House. Then a very high official, a diplomatist of great eminence, a member of the Liberal party,  had committed what was deemed a great indiscretion by several members of his own party; and the Government were asked in a formal manner by a Liberal member, whether that distinguished diplomatist had been in consequence  recalled. But the person who was then responsible for the conduct of public affairs in that House, the humble individual who is now addressing your lordships, made this answer, with the full concurrence, of his  colleagues-denied that that distinguished diplomatist was recalled, and said that great services are not cancel/ed by one act or one single error however it may be regretted at the moment. That is what I said then, with regard  to Sir James Hudson, and what I say now with regard. to Sir Bartle Frere. But do not wish to rest on that. I confess that, so keen is my sense of responsibility, and that of my colleagues, and I am sure also that of noble lords  opposite, that we would not allow our decisions in such matters to be unduly influenced by personal considerations of any kind. What we had to determine is this, Was it wise that such an act on the part of Sir Bartle Frere as,  in fact, commencing war without consulting the Government at home, and without their sanction, should be passed unnoticed? Ought it not to be noticed in a manner which should convey to that eminent person a clear conviction of  the feelings of her Majesty's Government; and at the same time was it not their duty to consider, were he superseded; whether they could place in his position an individual equally qualified to fulfil the great duties and  responsibilities resting on him? That is what we had to consider. We considered it entirely with reference to the public interest, and the public interest alone; and we arrived at the conviction that on the whole the retention  of Sir Bartle Frere in that position was our duty, notwithstanding the inconvenient observations and criticisms to which we were, of course, conscious it might subject us. And, that being our conviction, we have acted upon it.  It is a very easy thing for a Government to make a scapegoat; but that is conduct which I hope no gentleman on this side, and I believe no gentleman sitting opposite, would easily adopt. If Sir Bartle Frere had been recalled-if  he had been recalled in deference to the panic, the thoughtless panic of the hour, in deference to those who have no responsibility in the matter, and who have not weighed well and deeply investigated all the circumstances and  all the arguments which can be brought forward, and which must be appealed to influence our opinions on such questions-no doubt a certain degree of odium might have been diverted from the heads of her Majesty's Ministers, and  the world would have been delighted, as it always is, to find a victim. That was not the course which we pursued, and it is one which I trust no British Government ever will pursue. We had but one object in view, and that was  to take care that at this most critical period the affairs of her Majesty in South Africa should be directed by one not only qualified to direct them, but who was superior to any other individual whom we could have selected for  that purpose. The sole question that we really have to decide to-night is, Was it the duty of her Majesty's Government to recall Sir Bartle Frere in consequence of his having declared war without our consent? We did not think  it our duty to take that course, and we do not think it our duty to take that course now. Whether we are right in the determination at which we have arrived is the sole question which the House has to determine upon the motion  before it.

"The noble duke opposite (the Duke of Somerset) has told us that he should not be contented without being made acquainted with the whole policy which her Majesty's Government are prepared to pursue in South  Africa. If the noble duke will introduce that subject we shall be happy to discuss it with him. No one could introduce it in a more interesting, and, indeed, in a more entertaining manner than the noble duke, who possesses that  sarcastic faculty that so well qualifies him to express his opinion on such a matter. I think, however, that we ought to have had rather longer notice before we were called upon to discuss so large a theme, which has now been  brought suddenly before us. If the noble marquis who introduced this subject had given us notice of a motion of this character, we should not have hesitated for a moment to meet it. I have, however, no desire to avoid  discussing the subject of our future policy in South Africa, even on so general a notice as we have in reference to it from the noble duke. Sir Bartle Frere was selected by the noble lord (Lord Carnarvon), who formerly occupied  the position of Secretary to the Colonies, chiefly to secure one great end-namely, to carry out that policy of confederation in South Africa which the noble lord had successfully carried out on a previous occasion with regard  to the North American Colonies.

"If there is any policy which, in my mind, is opposed to the policy of annexation, it is that of confederation. By pursuing the policy of confederation we bind States together, we  consolidate their resources, and we enable them to establish a strong frontier; and where we have a strong frontier. That is the best security against annexation. I myself regard a policy of annexation with great distrust. I  believe that the reasons of State which induced us to annex the Transvaal were not, on the whole, perfectly sound. But what were the circumstances under which that annexation was effected? The Transvaal was a territory, which  was no longer defended by its occupiers. The noble lord opposite (Lord Kimberley), who formerly had the Colonies under his management, spoke of the conduct of Sir Theophilus Shepstone as though he had not taken due precautions  to effect the annexation of that province, and said that he was not justified in concealing that he had not successfully consummated his object. The noble lord said he had not assembled troops enough in the province to carry  out properly the policy of annexation. But Sir Theophilus Shepstone particularly refers to the very fact to show, that so unanimous and so united was the sentiment in the province in favour of annexation, that it was  unnecessary to send any large force there to bring it about. The annexation of that province was a necessity-a geographical necessity."