[Footnote 257: Lord Campbell, in his autobiography, puts the transaction, in the phase at which it had now arrived, in a very serious light: “Next came a proceeding which placed me in a most difficult position; and the public never knew the danger which then existed of a convulsion unexampled in our history. The sheriffs sued out a writ of habeas corpus, directed to the Sergeant-at-arms, commanding him to produce before the Court of Queen’s Bench the sheriffs of Middlesex, alleged to be illegally in custody, with the cause of their detention. Wilde, the Solicitor-general, was strong for refusing to make any return to the writ, and for setting the Court of Queen’s Bench at defiance. Had I concurred in this opinion it would certainty have been acted on. The consequences would have been that the Sergeant-at-arms, even with the mace in his hand, would have been sent to Newgate by the Court of Queen’s Bench. The House must have retaliated by committing the judges. The crown would then have had to determine on which side the army should be employed, and for a time we must have lived under a military government” (ii., 129). The noble and learned autobiographer does not explain why it should have been indispensable to employ the army on either side.]
Sir Robert Peel becomes Prime-minister.—Commercial Reforms.— Free-trade.—Religious Toleration.—Maynooth.—The Queen’s University.—Post-office Regulations.—The Opening of Letters.— Naturalization of Aliens.—Recall of Lord Ellenborough.—Reversal of the Vote on the Sugar Duties.—Refusal of the Crown to Sanction a Bill.—The Question of Increase in the Number of Spiritual Peers.—Repeal of the Corn-laws.—Revolution in France, and Agitation on the Continent.—Death of Sir Robert Peel.—Indifference of the Country to Reform.—Repeal of the Navigation Laws.—Resolutions in Favor of Free-trade.—The Great Exhibition of 1851.
The transactions mentioned in the last chapter were among the last events of Lord Melbourne’s ministry. He had for some time been aware of his impending defeat in the House of Commons, and, greatly to his credit, had endeavored to make the return to office easier to his successors by the friendly counsels he had given to the Queen on the subject. A dissolution of Parliament in the summer of 1841 only weakened his party, and in September he resigned, and was succeeded by Sir Robert Peel, who, comparatively short as was his tenure of office, found it long enough to establish for himself a reputation as the greatest financier of Europe since the days of Pitt. It may be worth remarking that, in the “Memoirs of the Prince Consort,” it is mentioned that in the course of his administration Peel found reason to change his judgment on the question of which House of Parliament it was the more desirable for the Prime-minister to be a member. Canning had more than once asserted