Speech of Lord Derby in the House of Lords, July 22, 1861
My lords, I think it is a matter of regret that at this late period of the Session my noble friend should have thought it necessary to call attention to the case of the Duke of Modena; but I by no means desire to cast the slightest imputation or blame on my noble friend for having come forward in the manner he has to satisfy what appeared to him to be the claims of public justice, as well as of private friendship, inasmuch as the Duke of Modena has been in an extraordinary and unusual manner attacked by one of the Cabinet Ministers of this country. (Hear, hear.) It may be but of little importance to us what course the Duke of Modena pursued when he filled the position of a reigning prince, but it is of the greatest importance to the character of this country that a member of the Government should not avail himself of the facilities afforded to him by his official position and his seat in Parliament to throw out against a deposed Sovereign, on no sufficient evidence, a charge which it was impossible that the person accused should have an opportunity of meeting. (Hear, hear.) When the noble lord opposite (Lord Wodehouse) says he thinks it a most extraordinary thing that my noble lord should not have brought forward his defence of the Duke of Modena in the place where the accusation was made, he must know that my noble friend has no opportunity of making that defence in the House of Commons, or no opportunity of bringing the right honourable gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer face to face with him in this House. (Cheers.) What the noble marquis has done has not been to bring him face to face; but in the correspondence he has driven the right honourable gentleman from point to point, and obtained from him a reluctant, though in some respects certainly not a gracious, retractation [sic] of errors into which he has fallen. (Hear, hear.) I think a generous mind would naturally shrink with repugnance from taking advantage of the opportunity - even if forced upon him - of expressing in the House of Commons exultation and triumph over the fallen and putting forth slanders against the unfortunate (hear, hear); yet, without the slightest necessity, or any provocation to such a course, the right honourable gentleman has in his place in the House of Commons brought against an absent Sovereign charges of the most heinous character, and accusations which he has subsequently admitted that on investigation he was not able to substantiate. I have seen the letter from the Duke of Modena to my noble friend to which the noble marquis has made reference. I think my noble friend exercised a wise discretion in not reading that letter, which is very long; but if it could be laid before your lordships you would see that there is not a sentence in it that does not denote that it has emanated from a man conscious of the rectitude of his own conduct, and feeling that he has been unjustly accused by the Minister of a friendly Sovereign, availing himself of the opportunity which his position as a Minister and a member of Parliament afforded him of giving utterance to those charges, and stating them in such a manner as would convey the impression that they were founded on official documents to which he, as a member of the Government, had access. (Hear, hear.) And now, as to official documents, the noble lord opposite held in his hand a book which appeared to be very voluminous, and which, perhaps, the Duke of Modena, my noble friend, or none of us in this House has ever seen; but having heard one or two quotations from that book, we are called on to state whether in our opinion those documents are forged or not. (Hear, hear.) Not having seen them, it is impossible for us to say. This my noble friend said, that if some were authentic they had been obtained by the basest means and in the most unworthy manner. He further stated that papers had been left by the Duke of Modena in the confidence that hey contained nothing against his character or which a generous enemy could publish to his disadvantage. They were left in the archives of Modena. Whether what w have heard of them have been correctly published we do not know; if they have been they do not bear out the charges which Mr. Gladstone thought fit to bring against the Duke of Modena in the House of Commons. (Hear, hear.) The noble lord opposite enters on the discussion as to whether the Government of the Duke of Modena was an arbitrary one; and he appeals to the noble and learned lord on the woolsack to know what he should think if the Executive of this country were to call on the judges to revise their sentences, with a view to making them more severe. It is not necessary to tell us that the Duke of Modena's was not a constitutional Government; it is not necessary to tell us that he had an arbitrary power. It may be very objectionable that any Sovereign should have it in his discretion to exercise such a power, but that is not the question. (Hear, hear.) The question is whether the Duke of Modena is open to the specific charge of which Mr. Gladstone said he was guilty. He did not volunteer in the House of Commons to show the arbitrary character of the Government, but the arbitrary, cruel, and disgraceful manner in which, according to him, the Duke of Modena had exercised the power placed in his hands, in proof of which he stated that by an ex post facto edict he ordered the execution of a young man who did not come within those laws of the country which provided capital punishment. The charge of Mr. Gladstone was, that an edict for the execution of Granai was issued, and it was left to be inferred that the young man was executed. That is now retracted, I admit, but in what manner? Mr. Gladstone says, "I think my words conveyed something more that I was justified in saying, but there was an ex post facto edict which rendered the young man liable to be executed." My lords, that is a very different statement; but even that is clearly disproved by the evidence read by my noble friend. No young man under the age of twenty-one has ever been executed in Modena during the Duke's reign. That is an indisputable fact which defies all contradiction or question. It is true that after atrocious crimes had been committed a letter was sent from the Duke of Modena to his Minister, directing an alteration to be made in regard to laws. In that document the Duke does point out the inadequate sentence that had been passed on Granai under the existing law, and directs that the law shall be modified so as to include the case of deliberate murder, even though the criminal is under age. Is the alteration therein suggested a very unjust one? I should like to know whether in this country a man under the age of twenty-one years is not liable to execution for deliberate murder. The law of this country recognises no such distinction as that which would exclude a person because he was under age. The Duke of Modena thinks there ought not to be such a distinction in his country, and he sends a direction to his Minister, who is drawing up a new code of law, and says, "Make under the new law premeditated murder, even when committed by persons under the age of twenty-one, punishable by capital punishment." Why, that is the law here; but any one reading Mr. Gladstone's charge would have said that this young man, Granai, had been executed under an ex post facto law. (Hear, hear.) Even under this direction - for it was not an edict, but a direction to a Minister to prepare an edict making an alteration in the law - there was no such intention as that alleged in the charge. No one pretends to say that the edict was ever carried into effect. In point of fact it never was an edict at all; but in the letter quoted by my noble friend, the Duke of Modena distinctly and emphatically declares that even this direction was not intended to apply to the case of Granai, or to any other that had occurred; and, moreover, he declares, in the language of an honest man, that if he had intended to give a retrospective operation to the proposed law such an intention would have been most reprehensible. (Hear, hear.) As an indication of the animus which dictated this charge, I may observe that Mr. Gladstone stated that the Duke of Modena had directed this edict to be acted on by a commission composed of Austrian officers, and that this commission was directed not to refuse the evidence of soldiers. The not refusing the evidence of soldiers, where the population was in insurrection and the place was in a state of siege, was made one of the gravamina of the charges against the administration of the law under the Duke of Modena. But my noble friend has shown conclusively that whereas the Duke of Modena was charged with causing Granai to be executed, the fact was that he never was executed. He was charged with having passed an ex post facto enactment authorising him to be executed - it was shown that no such ex post facto legislation was passed; he was charged with having caused him to be tried by a commission of Austrian officers - it was proved that for eighteen months there had not been an Austrian officer in hi dominions (hear, hear); he was charged with having enforced an ex post facto law, by which persons under twenty-one years of age were executed - it was proved that there were only five persons executed under that law, each of whom had committed offences punishable with death under the civil law of the country, and not a single person under twenty-one years of age was punished with death then or at any other time. (Hear, hear.) These are the charges that were made against an absent and unfortunate Sovereign (cheers); and when these questions come to be discussed in the House of Lords, their lordships feeling the injury which has been done to the character of the country by one of the Ministers of the Crown availing himself of his position to put forth groundless and unfounded charges, and then refusing to offer a frank and fair refutation and retractation [sic] of charges such as I should have thought an honourable man would have been only too eager to make - then, forsooth, we are met with the pleas that he is not here to defend himself, and that we are bringing an accusation against him in his absence. (Cheers.) Why, the accusation against the Duke of Modena was not only made in his absence, but was circulated all over Europe in the columns of The Times, and went forth as having been made in the freest assembly in the world by a Minister of the Crown, with all the authority of the Government to back it up; and that allegation must have been received as true unless some person, prompted by the honourable motives which have actuated the noble marquis, and possessing his means of information, had come forward to contradict the charge and to scatter to the winds the accusations made by Her Majesty's Chancellor of the Exchequer. (Loud cheers.) My noble friend says, if you wish for information relative to the years in which those transactions are said to have occurred, you have the means of furnishing the House with them, and those very documents, thought they are not brought forward, have been quoted from this evening. [Earl Granville made a gesture, apparently of dissent.] Why, I see them now in the noble lord's hand. (Cheers.) We have never seen them, and we cannot act upon them. I always thought the rule was that the Minister, if he did not feel himself at liberty to lay papers upon the table of the House, should abstain from quoting from them. (Hear, hear.) My noble friend says, if you wish to have authentic information as to the proceedings in Modena, as to the conduct of the Government and the relations between the government and the people, the estimation in which the Duke was held, and as to the general condition of the country, you will lay on the table those reports which you received from your agents during the last three years; and we shall then be able to see whether there is in them anything which justifies the charges of misconduct and criminality brought by the Chancellor of the Exchequer against the Duke of Modena. (Cheers.) I think it is a matter of perfect indifference to my noble friend whether these documents are produced or not. Of this I am quite sure, that if they could substantiate the charges made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, there would be no repugnance or difficulty on the part of his colleagues about laying them on the table. If they are refused, I presume the fair inference will be, to say the least, that they do not support those charges. I certainly have a very strong suspicion on my own mind that they contain abundant matter for repudiating them. (Hear, hear.) I should by no means recommend him to press for their production against the wish of Her Majesty's Government. I think he may feel perfectly satisfied with what has taken place. And I trust what has passed in this House will afford some reparation to that unfortunate and injured Sovereign - into the merits of whose government I will not enter - for the grievous wrong and injustice which have been perpetrated upon him in the other House of Parliament. (Loud cheers.)
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