The Ministerial Crisis of 1851

G.H.L. LeMay documents the dramatic fall and resurrection of Lord John Russell's government.

Late on Friday night, 21st February, 1851, the news travelled round the London salons that Lord John Russell’s Government had resigned. Ten days later Lord John, “damaged, weak and unpopular” (as Greville accurately put it), picked up his office exactly where he had laid it down, because no one else could form an administration. The episode is one of the most curious lacunae in nineteenth, century English politics.

Earlier that Friday evening, as the House of Commons was preparing to fling further criticisms at Sir Charles Wood’s budget, Lord John had announced that the Committee of Ways and Means would be postponed until Monday. There was nothing surprising in that; few people liked the budget, and it was assumed that it was to be revised in Cabinet. No one could have gathered from Lord John’s demeanour that the Cabinet no longer existed. The Prime Minister had already hastily summoned such of his colleagues who were not ill or out of town, brushed aside the objections of those, like Lord Palmerston, who saw no reason to surrender office, and advised the Queen to send for Lord Stanley.

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