The commencement, however, of what was virtually a new reign had given a new activity to the question. It was brought forward in different forms in the first months of 1812 by Lord Wellesley and Lord Donoughmore in one House, and by Lord Morpeth and Grattan in the other; and although it was still defeated, the diminished majorities, the evident signs of an increased Catholic party in the country, and the language of some of the most distinguished men in Parliament, clearly indicated the progress of the measure. Canning especially now strenuously urged that the time had come when the Catholic question must be fully dealt with. The assassination of Perceval on May 11, 1812, again changed the situation and led to a long series of feeble and abortive negotiations. An attempt was made to continue the existing Ministry under the lead of Lord Liverpool, with the addition of Canning and Lord Wellesley; but these statesmen declined the offer, on the ground that the other Ministers refused to carry Catholic emancipation, and Lord Wellesley on the additional ground of their languor in prosecuting the Spanish war. The Regent then authorised Lord Wellesley to construct a Ministry, with the assistance of Canning, and an offer was made to Lords Grey and Grenville to join it, promising an immediate consideration of the Catholic claims with a view to a conciliatory settlement; while, on the other hand, attempts were made to retain the services of the leading members of Perceval's Ministry. But the Whig leaders refused to take part in a coalition Ministry, in which they would probably be outvoted, and the former Cabinet was reconstructed, under the leadership of Lord Liverpool, but on the principle of leaving the Catholic question an open one. Liverpool himself was opposed to concession, but his opposition was by no means of the unqualified kind which had been shown by Perceval; and a large proportion of his colleagues, including Castlereagh, who led the House of Commons, were in favour of Catholic emancipation. If Canning had consented to join the Ministry, Lord Wellesley would probably have been Lord-Lieutenant in Ireland, and under these circumstances the Catholic side could scarcely have failed to acquire a decisive preponderance. If, on the other hand, Castlereagh had followed the example of Canning, and refused to take part in a Ministry which declined to settle the Catholic question, or if the Whigs had consented to co-operate with Canning, the settlement of this great question could scarcely have been deferred. Unfortunately, none of these things happened. Castlereagh remained the leader of the House. Canning refused to follow his leadership, and two years later accepted the embassy to Lisbon. The Whig leaders stood aloof from all Ministerial combinations. The Duke of Richmond, who was violently anti-Catholic, continued to be Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland; the post of Chief Secretary was given to Peel, and Ireland was destined to undergo fifteen more years of demoralising and disorganising agitation before the Catholic question was settled.
Canning, however, as an independent member, brought forward a resolution pledging the House to an early consideration of the laws affecting his Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects, with a view to their final conciliatory adjustment, and the conditions of the question had so profoundly changed that it was carried by a majority of 129; while a similar motion by Lord Wellesley in the House of Lords was met by the previous question, which was carried by a majority of only one.
Peel, though he had come into Parliament as a special follower of Perceval, had not yet pledged himself decisively against the Catholics. He had voted silently against Canning's motion in June, and although he had spoken against a previous motion of Grattan, he had done so mainly on the ground that the time was not opportune, and had expressly guarded himself against giving any positive pledge. He was now, however, obliged to take a more prominent part, and for the next six years he was the chief support of the anti-Catholic party in Parliament. His part was a very difficult one, for he had to encounter Grattan, Plunket, Canning, and the Whig leaders, and he had scarcely any real supporters. Saurin, the Attorney-General, it is true, was strongly opposed to all concession. He was a lawyer of high character and attainments, of Huguenot descent and strong Huguenot principles, and he had borne a distinguished part in opposition to the Union; but Saurin refused to go to London. Bushe, who was Solicitor-General, leaned to the Catholic side; and, to the great indignation and consternation of the Government, Wellesley Pole, who had preceded Peel as Chief Secretary and who was the brother of Lord Wellesley, now pronounced himself strongly in Parliament in favour of the Catholics. This speech was entirely unexpected, for Pole had hitherto been regarded as a staunch adherent of the Protestant party, and as late as the last day of 1811 he had sent a memorandum on the Catholic question to the Secretary of State in England, which was intended to be laid before the Cabinet, and which maintained the impossibility of safely satisfying the Catholic claims, and the expediency of the Prince Regent's taking a decided part against them. A general election had taken place in September, and it is evident from the letters of Lord Liverpool and Peel that they at this time looked upon Canning and his followers with even more hostility than the regular Opposition.
In the new Parliament the Catholic question at once assumed a great prominence. A motion for the immediate consideration of the laws affecting the Catholics was introduced by Grattan, supported by Castlereagh, opposed by Peel, and ultimately carried by a majority of 40. A resolution of Grattan's for removing laws imposing civil and military disabilities on the Catholics, with such regulations and exceptions as might provide for the security of the Protestant succession and of the Established Church, was next introduced. Peel opposed it bitterly, but was beaten by a majority of 67.
'We were terribly beaten,' he wrote to his Under-Secretary, 'but we are sad cowards, I am afraid; at least, we are shamefully used. Poor Duigenan could not get a hearing, and the general impression seemed against the Protestants. We will fight them out, however, to the last. I am sure it is better than to give way.' 'Your defence of the Protestant cause,' wrote Saurin, 'was not only by far the ablest and best, but the only one which did not seem to strengthen the cause of the adversary by some concession of principle. I really fear the Protestant cause is lost in the Commons. There can be no rally now but on the securities.'
Grattan at once brought in a Bill in accordance with the terms of the Resolution that had been carried; but the Protestant party now rallied around a motion of Sir John Hippisley, for a committee to inquire into the state and tenets of the Roman Catholics, and the laws affecting them. Canning pointed out with great force that a committee of inquiry was exactly what the Protestant party had for so many years strenuously resisted; but, as Peel wrote to the Duke of Richmond, there was no inconsistency in their conduct: 'When the question was whether we should consider the claims of the Catholics and the laws affecting them, or should resist their claims, we voted for resistance without inquiry; the question now is, whether we shall consider or concede, and we prefer inquiry to concession.'
The motion for delay, however, was defeated by 187 to 235, and the second reading of Grattan's Bill was carried by 245 to 203. But a sudden change now occurred in the prospects of the cause. Canning and Castlereagh, with the full assent of Grattan, introduced clauses for the securities which had been before intimated, giving the Crown a control over the nomination of the Catholic bishops. But the bishops unanimously condemned the proposal, and the large majority of the Catholic Board supported them. It became evident that the Bill before Parliament would fail to satisfy the Catholics, and after a long discussion the clause admitting Catholics to Parliament was rejected by 251 to 247.
Peel had triumphed. The profound division which had broken out among the supporters of Catholic emancipation threw back for many years a cause which had been almost gained, though in 1817 an Act was passed without opposition throwing open to the Catholics the military and naval positions which Grenville had vainly attempted to open in 1807. Few things could have been eventually more disastrous both to Ireland and to the Empire than the defeat of the influence represented by Grattan and by the Catholic gentry, and the growing ascendancy of O'Connell and the democratic and sacerdotal party in Irish popular politics. Grattan had long predicted that, if concession was not speedily and wisely made, population in Ireland would drift away from the guiding and moderating influence of property; that seditious and anarchical men would gain an ascendancy which would make the whole problem of Irish Government incalculably difficult; that a priesthood unconnected with the English Government would lead to a 'Catholic laity discorporated from the people of England.' In the Irish Parliament the strong bias of Conservatism in his policy had been repeatedly displayed, and it was equally apparent in the Imperial Parliament. In 1807 he had supported the Insurrection Act, in opposition to many of his friends, on the ground that there was a real and dangerous French party in Ireland, which the common law was insufficient to suppress. In 1814 he expressed his full approval of the proclamation suppressing the Catholic Board. He steadily and earnestly maintained that, although it was vitally necessary that Catholic emancipation should be speedily carried, it should be accompanied by measures for securing, as far as possible, the loyalty of the higher Catholic clergy, and uniting them in interest and sentiment with the British Government. He looked with bitter hostility on the rise and policy of O'Connell. He accused him of 'setting afloat the bad passions of the people,' making grievances instruments of power without any honest wish to redress them, treating politics as a trade to serve a desperate and interested purpose.
But the influence of Grattan was now manifestly declining, and Peel watched the decline with a short-sighted and not very generous pleasure. In Parliament, though numbers were against the Catholics, the overwhelming preponderance of ability was still in favour of the principle of emancipation, and it was in leading the anti-Catholic party that Peel chiefly acquired his almost unrivalled parliamentary skill. He had, indeed, all the qualities of a great debater: courage, fluency, self-possession, complete command of every subject he treated, unfailing lucidity both in statement and reasoning; admirable skill in marshalling and disentangling great masses of facts, in meeting, evading, or retorting arguments, and detecting the weak points of the case of an opponent, in veiling, by plausible language, extreme or unpalatable views, in extricating himself by subtle distinctions and qualifications from embarrassing situations. He can scarcely, it is true, be called a great orator. His style was formal, cumbrous, extremely verbose, without sparkle and without fire. He had little or no power of moving the passions, nothing of the flexibility that can adapt itself to very different audiences, nothing of the philosophic insight that can impart a perennial interest to transient discussions. But few men have ever understood the House of Commons like him, or have possessed in so high a degree the qualities that are most fitted to command and influence it. The great mass of anti-Catholic sentiment in the country rallied around him as its most powerful champion, and in 1817 he attained one of the chief objects of his ambition in being elected member for Oxford University. It is well known that his older and more brilliant rival had long aspired to this honour. It was mainly through the Catholic question that Canning missed and Peel won the prize.
The nickname 'Orange Peel,' which was given to him in Ireland, was not wholly deserved. His letters abundantly show that he had no sympathy with the ribbons, the anniversaries, the party tunes, the insulting processions and insulting language of the Orangemen; and, although he believed that in Ireland anti-Catholicism and loyalty were very closely connected, he viewed with much dislike the growth of any political confederacies unconnected with the Government. Declamation and boastfulness and needless provocation were, indeed, wholly alien to his nature; and even when defending extreme causes he rarely or never used the language of a fanatic. He resisted Catholic concession mainly on the ground that the admission of the Catholics to political power would prove incompatible with the existence of the Established Church in Ireland, with the security of property in a country where property was mainly in Protestant hands, and ultimately with the connection between the two countries. His arguments were not based on religion, but on political expediency; but it was an expediency which he believed to be permanent.
'I see,' he wrote to the Duke of Richmond, 'one of the papers reports me as having said that I was not an advocate for perpetual exclusion. It might be inferred that I objected only to the time of discussing the question. That is not the case.... There are certain anomalies in the system which I would wish to remove, but the main principles of it I would retain untouched.... At no time, and under no circumstances, so long as the Catholic admits the supremacy in spirituals of a foreign earthly potentate, and will not tell us what supremacy in spirituals means—so long as he will not give us voluntarily the security which every despotic Sovereign in Europe has by the concession of the Pope himself—will I consent to admit them.'
The letters before us show clearly that his political sympathy was with Saurin, with Duigenan, with Lord Eldon, and even with Lord Norbury. O'Connell early perceived in Peel his most dangerous opponent, and a strong personal enmity, which was as much due to profound differences of character as to differences of policy, grew up between them. A scurrilous attack of O'Connell on Peel in 1815 was followed by a challenge, and a duel was prevented only by the arrest of O'Connell. The antipathy between the two men was never mitigated. O'Connell said of Peel that 'his smile was like the silver plate on a coffin.' Peel, in his confidential letters, expressed the utmost dislike and contempt for the character of O'Connell, and when he was at length compelled by the Clare election to concede Catholic emancipation, his feeling towards him was significantly and characteristically shown. He enumerated in a brilliant passage the men to whom the triumph of Catholic emancipation was really due. He spoke of Fox and Grattan, of Plunket and of Canning, but he made no mention of O'Connell.
The administrative side of Peel's Chief Secretaryship is much more creditable to him than the political side. The vivid picture which his letters present of the manner in which Ireland was governed more than fifteen years after the Union will probably strike the reader with some surprise, when he remembers that the Union had extinguished about seventy small boroughs, and had at the same time greatly diminished the importance of the Irish representatives, and therefore the necessities for corruption. Peel noticed that while 'the pension list of Great Britain was limited to 90,000l. per annum, the pension list of Ireland may amount to 80,000l. a year; and he found almost all Irish patronage still employed for political purposes, and almost every office honeycombed with abuses and peculations. A few extracts will give the reader some notion of the nature and extent of the evil, and of the efforts of Peel to reduce it:—
'How is it possible,' he wrote, 'to propose that a shilling should be granted to a general officer on the staff in Ireland when sixpence is granted in England? This is called a modification in official phrase, but it ought to be called doubling the allowance. Set your face steadily against all increase of salary, all extra allowances, all plausible claims for additional emolument. Economy must be the order of the day—rigid economy.' 'When English members hear that the sheriff appoints the grand jury, that the grand jury tax the county, that the sheriff has a considerable influence at elections, and that the sheriff is appointed openly on the recommendation of the member supporting the Government, they are startled not a little.... I know that this is a most convenient patronage to the Government, but I know also that I cannot hint in the House of Commons at such a source of patronage, and I confess I have great doubts on the legitimacy of it.... After Lord Redesdale's declaration ... that the mode of appointing sheriffs "poisons the sources of justice," and witnessing the general feeling among the English against making the nomination of a most important officer in the execution of justice dependent on the will of the county member, I thought it highly expedient to give a positive assurance that the Government would revert to the ancient and legal practice of appointing sheriffs in Ireland.... With a pure Bench—and time will, I hope, purify it—the change would be an essential change for the better.' 'Foster says that the abuses discovered in the office [of Clerk of the Pleas] are enormous, that the amount of fees exacted from suitors is not less than 30,000l. per annum, of which the principal clerk did not receive more than one-third. A Mr. Pollock, the first deputy, is in receipt of 8,000l. or 9,000l. a year as his own share of the profits; other deputies and persons unnecessarily employed have profits amounting to 1,200l. or 1,400l. a year each. Foster thinks that every possible difficulty will be thrown in the way of an early decision in the Irish Courts.... In the meantime, the Chief Baron is receiving the enormous profits arising from these enormous abuses.'
The practice of buying and selling public offices, and the practice of dividing the salaries of a single office between a principal and deputies, still continued; but Peel did his utmost to eradicate them. If it were permitted in one case, he said, 'every officer in every department who purchased on corrupt terms and is now living may claim a right to sell the office so purchased.'
'With respect to a payment out of the salary to R., I can have no scruple in giving you my opinion that it would not be right. I have never been, and cannot conscientiously be, a party to an arrangement of that kind, because I think this is quite clear, that if the salary of the office is disproportionate to the labour of it, and can bear to be taxed to the amount of 200l., the public should benefit, and the emoluments of the office be reduced.'
One of Peel's first tasks was to conduct a general election, and he had ample opportunities of judging how these things were managed in Ireland. A law known as Curwen's Act had been recently passed, condemning to a heavy fine in the event of failure, and to the loss of his seat in the event of success, any person giving, or promising to give, or consenting to give either money or office for a seat in Parliament. The law was not a little embarrassing to Peel, as his own seat of Cashel had been purchased, and he thought it safer to transfer himself to the English seat of Chippenham, where his return was managed by his father without any intervention on his own part. At the same time, the elections in Ireland went on much as if Curwen's Act had never passed.
'I am placed in a delicate situation enough here,' he wrote to his friend Croker: 'bound to secure the Government interests, if possible, from dilapidation, but still more bound to faint with horror at the mention of money transactions, to threaten the unfortunate culprits with impeachment if they hint at an impure return, and yet to prevent those strongholds, Cashel, Mallow, and Tralee, from surrendering to the enemies who besiege them.'
Croker himself furnished an admirable illustration of the manner in which these principles were carried out. 'I find the borough' [Down], he writes, 'extremely well disposed to me. Of the respectable and steady people I have a decided majority, not less than twenty; but there are sixty-two persons who are extremely doubtful.... I have the greatest repugnance to bribery, ... but my agent informs me that many voters will require money.... The return absolutely depends upon pounds sterling. The best computation which my agents can make is that a sum of 2,000l. will be necessary. The natural expenses will be 500l. These, I think, I am bound to make good. But with regard to the money for votes, that I expect from Government.'
Peel replied that he could not answer for the Government in England, and that the Irish Government possessed no funds for this purpose; he would himself have been ready to send Croker '1,000l. as a private concern between ourselves with no reference whatever to Government'; but he had it not. 'If you think proper,' he added, 'to take the chance whether it [the Government] will assist you, you can promise.' For about six years Peel was constantly receiving from Croker requests for places, in order to discharge 'debts of gratitude' incurred at this election; and in 1816 we find the Government very nearly beaten in the House of Commons in an attempt to raise Croker's own salary.
'Could you tell me,' writes Lord Palmerston to Peel, 'whether you think there is any probability of a contest for the county of Sligo at the next election? I could at the present moment make from 280 to 290 voters by giving leases to tenants who are now holding at will. If there is any chance of their being of use next year, I will do so forthwith, and register them in time. If not, I should perhaps postpone giving twenty-one years' leases till matters look a little more propitious to the payment of rents.'
'Lord Lorton wrote yesterday to his agent to make all the freeholders he can on his small Queen's County property. He says he is sorry he can't make more than twenty, but that those shall go against Pole.'
A few illustrations of the minor details of patronage may be added. One gentleman called upon Peel about an election in Clare, but 'said that he would make no promise of his interest unless he received a pledge from me that his two brothers should be provided for—one in the Church, and the other advanced in the profession of the law.'
Lord C. 'wanted, long since, to make terms with me for his support in Cork, ... and wished to be one of a committee for superintending the patronage of the county.'
'When G. wants a baronetcy, he is very rich; and when he wants a place, he is very poor. I think we may fairly turn the tables on him, and when he asks to be a baronet, make his poverty the objection, and his wealth when he asks for an office.'
'Pole is constantly pressing K., of the Navigation Board, for promotion.... I am told he entirely neglects his duty. Pole readily admits his hopeless stupidity and unfitness for office.'
'I do not think your son,' Peel wrote to his Under-Secretary, 'can make a more inefficient member of the Board of Stamps than Mr. T. has done. I am perfectly ready, therefore, to acquiesce in the exchange.' 'I make a great sacrifice,' he wrote to Lord Whitworth, 'when I say that I doubt whether O.'s habits would qualify him for such practical duties as the Collector of Belfast at least ought to perform. Belfast is so flourishing a town, and contributes so much to the revenue, that I fear the Collectorship of it is too prominent a situation to place in it a young man ... we must admit to be a ruined man by gambling. Considering how careless he has been of his own money, perhaps some office not connected with the collection of the public money ... would be more suited to him.... What do you think of the following arrangement? Make J. collector for this very bad and very good reason, that he is the most inefficient Commissioner, and therefore the public service will suffer least from his appointment. Make Colonel H. a Commissioner. He will be about as inefficient as J. Make R.M. junior, the most inefficient of the three, Surveyor of Lands, vice H., which (though he will lose 200l. a year) will greatly oblige his father, the member; and, lastly, fulfil your good intentions towards O. by making him a Commissioner of Accounts, vice M.'
Many other characteristic pictures pass before us. There were officers of the revenue who were recommended to 'the marked favour' of the Government because they had shown what Peel somewhat rashly called 'the common honesty' of refusing bribes. There was an official who scandalously connived at an abuse of justice by which innocent women were condemned to transportation, though taking measures that the Government should indirectly hear of the transaction. There were shameful abuses in the sale of the office of gaoler, shameful frauds in the collection of taxes, in the Customs, in the barrack charges.
'My most decided opinion,' Peel wrote about one of these culprits, 'is in favour of his dismissal. I am quite tired of, and disgusted with, the shameful corruptions which every Irish inquiry brings to light.'
Much trouble was given by newspapers which were subsidised by the Government, and at the same time conducted in a manner which no honest Government could approve of. Another evil is disclosed in the following very creditable letter written by Peel to one of his successors:
'I found in Ireland that every official man, not content with the favour of Government to himself, thought he had a right to quarter his family on the patronage of Government. I took the course that you have done in order to enable me to resist with effect such extravagant pretensions. I determined never to gratify any private wish of my own by the smallest Irish appointment. There is nothing half so disgusting as the personal monopoly of honours and offices by those to whom the distribution of them is entrusted.'
In the Irish Pension List there had been enormous abuses, but Peel took credit for having effectually stopped them. 'No member of Parliament,' he wrote, 'has benefited by it. No vote has been influenced by it.... I do not think there are any three years in the whole period of the Irish history during which so honest a use has been made of it.'
As might have been expected, blunders arising from extreme inefficiency were very numerous. In one case, by negligent drafting, the Insurrection Bill was made to extend to three instead of two years, while a simple mistake in one of the Revenue Bills was believed to have cost the Revenue not less than 40,000l.
In all this dreary field the great administrative ability of Peel and the essential integrity of his character produced much real improvement, though it is very possible to exaggerate his merits. No one who has read the Hardwicke and Colchester papers will question that some of his predecessors, and especially the Chancellor, Lord Redesdale, had laboured with at least equal earnestness to purify Irish administration; and the energy with which Lord Redesdale, though out of office, still recurred to the subject, was extremely displeasing to Peel. His own patronage, as we have already seen, was by no means ideal, and he was very anxious to stifle parliamentary inquiries.
'I believe,' he wrote, 'an honest, despotic government would be by far the fittest government for Ireland'; but as this could not be attained he wished no essential alteration. 'I think the present system on which the government of Ireland is conducted is the best, but I am terribly afraid that Englishmen, who know nothing of Ireland, would not concur with me if they inquired into detail. It is very difficult to manage even the most limited inquiry. How could we prevent the introduction of tithes, magistracy, the Catholic question itself?'
Whatever might be the case in the future, he believed that in the present it was impossible for the Irish Government to receive adequate support unless it made up its mind to purchase it. 'It would be good policy,' he says in one of his letters, 'to direct the channel of patronage as plentifully as we can towards those who are adhering to us on these pressing questions of army establishments and property tax.' He refused in very lofty tones applications for peerages as rewards for political support; but the merit of this refusal belongs mainly to Lord Liverpool, who, at the beginning of the Chief Secretaryship, took on this subject a very firm and honourable line, both in England and Ireland, and maintained it at the sacrifice of many votes. For Irish honours unaccompanied by endowments there appear to have been few applicants. Peel disliked the bestowal of ecclesiastical dignities as rewards for political services; but if he did not practise it quite as much as his predecessors, this appears to have been much more due to nature than to policy.
'There is nothing so extraordinary,' he wrote, 'in natural history as the longevity of all bishops, priests, and deacons in Ireland. During the last five years there has been literally no Church preferment to dispose of, to the infinite disappointment of many expectants.'
In the higher legal appointments, however, while insisting that 'attachment to the Government on principle' was very material, Peel cordially agreed with Saurin that it was vitally necessary to select men 'for character, and not for politics or connection'; and he added, that those were not likely to be the least fit for high office who were too proud to solicit it. 'It is a species of pride which occasions very little practical inconvenience in Ireland.'
His letters show clearly the terrible evils of Irish life. He speaks of 'the enormous and overgrown population,' with no employment except agriculture; of a poverty so extreme that in many districts widespread starvation was averted only by prompt Government intervention; of 'that infernal curse, the forty shilling freeholds'; of the evil system of employing the military in distraining for rent and in the collection of tithes; of juries, through fear or sympathy, acquitting prisoners in the face of the clearest evidence; of the gross perjury in the law courts; of the almost universal disaffection of the lower orders, fostered by a seditious press; of the growing spirit of animosity in the north of Ireland between the lower orders of Protestants and Catholics, which was breaking out in constant riots, and had already cost many lives. This last evil, it might be truly said, was very largely due to the policy of his own party, who had protracted through so many years the Catholic question, which ought to have been settled at the Union. There was extreme and chronic ignorance, poverty, and anarchy; the payment of tithes was constantly resisted; and a failure of the potato crop, and a sudden and terrible fall in the price of agricultural products after the peace, added enormously to the difficulties of the situation. It is remarkable, indeed, that there appears to have been in 1816 and 1817 less disturbance of the public peace in Ireland than in England; Peel found it even possible to reduce the military establishments, and in Dublin extreme distress was borne with remarkable patience; but in many parts of the country crimes of combination were frequent, and almost incredibly savage. Peel mentions one case of a family of eight persons who were deliberately burnt in their house by a party of armed men, because the owner of the house had prosecuted to conviction three men, on a capital charge, at the Louth assizes. In another case a farmer, who had shot two men who attacked his house, was himself shot dead on a Sunday morning, after Mass, at the chapel door, in the presence of hundreds of men, not one of whom attempted to arrest the culprit.
These things filled Peel with a not unnatural horror, and his letters showed clearly his intense dislike both of the Irish character and of the Irish religion. By far the most valuable contribution he made to the improvement of Ireland during his Chief Secretaryship was the formation, in 1814, of an efficient police force, which has ever since been popularly associated with his name, and which was the nucleus from which the present admirable constabulary force was developed in 1822 and in 1835. 'We ought to be crucified,' he wrote, 'if we make the measure a job, and select our constables from the servants of our parliamentary friends.' He attempted also, though without much success, to institute a system of popular education on a perfectly unsectarian basis, and with Catholics among the commissioners. He appears to have met with little encouragement, and at least one Catholic bishop lost no time in cursing 'these nefarious deistical schools'; but some schools were established, and Peel has the merit of being one of the earliest advocates of a general system of unsectarian national education for Ireland, which many years after was accomplished. His measures for the relief of distress appear to have been skilful and judicious, supporting and stimulating, but not superseding private benevolence. For the rest, he relied chiefly on Insurrection Acts strengthening the Executive and giving a greater efficiency to the administration of justice, and on strong protective legislation encouraging the corn and the manufactures of Ireland.
'I have always,' he wrote, 'been, and always shall be, as strong an advocate for giving that preference to the productions of Ireland, natural or artificial, which will best promote the industry of the people, as I am for instructing the lower orders.'
To the tithe system he would do nothing, and this is one of the fatal blots on his reputation as a statesman. There was no single source of crime, agitation, and disaffection in Ireland which was so prolific as this, and there was no subject on which the wisest statesmen had been more agreed than on the supreme importance of meeting this evil by a judicious system of commutation. Pitt had clearly expressed his opinion of the necessity of such a commutation to the Duke of Rutland as early as 1786, and it was one of the measures which he intended to have followed the Union. Grattan had brought schemes of commutation in three successive years before the Irish Parliament. Lord Loughborough, who was the chief cause of the failure of Catholic emancipation after the Union, had himself drawn up a Tithe Commutation Bill. Lord Redesdale, who represented the extreme Toryism of the ministry of Addington, strongly urged the absolute necessity of speedy legislation on the subject. The Duke of Bedford, in 1807, dwelt on the importance of commuting tithes into a land-tax, and ultimately into land. Parnell and Grattan had brought the subject before the Imperial Parliament in 1810, and it was again and again insisted on by the Whig writers, and nowhere more strongly than in Sydney Smith's admirable letters to Peter Plymley and in some of the pages of the 'Edinburgh Review.' But nothing was done till the evil had become intolerable, and had brought the country to a state of anarchy and demoralisation that can scarcely be exaggerated. The connection of Peel with the question of Irish tithes is a very remarkable one. The Tithe Commutation Act, which was carried by a Whig Government in 1838, is one of the few instances of perfectly successful legislation in Irish history, and it is well known that the chief credit of this measure does not belong to the Ministers who carried it. It was the very measure which Sir Robert Peel had introduced in 1835, which the Whig party when in opposition defeated by connecting it with the Appropriation clause, and which the Whig party when in power were compelled to carry without that clause. But if the chief credit of the final settlement of this momentous question justly belongs to Peel, it must not be forgotten that in the eleven years during which, as Chief Secretary or as Home Secretary, he was directly responsible for the government of Ireland, he had allowed this monster curse to grow and strengthen without making any serious effort to mitigate it.
Peel was Chief Secretary during the concluding part of the viceroyalty of the Duke of Richmond, during the whole of that of Lord Whitworth, and during part of that of Lord Talbot. He had grown very tired of his position, but agreed to postpone his departure till after a general election, and he at last left Ireland, as he says, with 'undiminished and unqualified satisfaction,' in August 1818. He remained out of office until January 1822; but the interval was not spent in idleness, and in 1819 he took the leading part in the great Act for resuming cash payments, which, as it has been truly said, attaches to his name 'the same meed of praise which he had quoted as inscribed on the tomb of Queen Elizabeth: "Moneta in justum valorem redacta."' It is one of his greatest legislative achievements; it is also the first of that series of recantations which forms one of the most distinctive features of his career, for it was based upon the policy which Horner had advocated in 1811, and against which Peel had then voted. He still took, on the Catholic question, the leading part in opposition to emancipation, declaring his determination to offer 'a most sincere and uncompromising,' though he now feared unavailing, resistance to Catholic concession. The last time the question was brought forward, by Grattan, was in 1819, and he was defeated by a majority of only two. In 1821, after the death of Grattan, and in a new Parliament, Plunket carried a Bill for Catholic emancipation successfully through all its stages in the House of Commons, though it was afterwards rejected in the Lords. In the ensuing session a similar fate befel a Bill of Canning's to relieve Catholic peers of their disabilities. Some considerable change, however, was introduced into the spirit of the Irish Government by the appointment of Lord Wellesley, who was in favour of the Catholics, to the viceroyalty. One of its most important results was the removal of Saurin from the office of Attorney-General and the appointment of Plunket in his place. Lord Wellesley described this measure to Lady Blessington as the removal of 'an old Orangeman' who, though 'Attorney-General by title, had really been Lord-Lieutenant for fifteen years'; but it is evident from the letters of Peel that his warm sympathies, both personal and political, were with Saurin.
The accession of George IV. to the throne in the beginning of 1820 brought to a crisis the quarrel between the new King and his wife, and led to the resignation of Canning in the last days of the year, and Lord Liverpool then tried to induce Peel to enter the Cabinet in the vacant post of President of the Board of Control. Peel, however, refused the office, declaring that he differed from some of the proceedings of the Ministry about the Queen. In the summer of 1821 he again declined a similar offer, chiefly, as it appears, on the ground of uncertain health and of a dislike to official life which his recent marriage had produced. But when Lord Sidmouth resigned the Home Office, Peel proved less inflexible, and on January 17, 1822, he accepted the seals, which he held till 1827. In August Castlereagh, or, as he now was, Lord Londonderry, committed suicide. Lord Liverpool saw the necessity of recalling Canning to the Cabinet as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Canning would accept the post only as leader of the House of Commons. The King hated Canning, and would gladly have excluded him altogether from the Ministry, and Eldon and the Duke of Newcastle greatly desired that the leadership of the House of Commons should be given to Peel. Canning, however, who had been sixteen years longer in Parliament than Peel, had both the right and the power to insist upon the leadership, and Peel acquiesced in his claim with honourable frankness. Except on the Catholic question they appear to have cordially agreed, and something of the success of Canning's brilliant foreign policy is due to the loyalty with which he was supported by Peel in the Cabinet and at Court.
Space will not permit us to relate at length the history of Peel's conduct as home Minister. The Catholic question was rapidly advancing to a crisis, and the system of a divided Ministry in which it was an open question, and in which the leading Ministers took opposite sides, was becoming plainly impossible. Ireland was again in a state of anarchy bordering on civil war, and the foundation, in 1823, of the Catholic Association by O'Connell and Sheil gave a new impulse to the agitation. The Duke of Wellington, who knew the country well and was not liable to panic, predicted that the new association if it continued would lead to civil war, and declared that the organisation of the disaffected in Ireland was much more perfect than in 1798. At the same time the long-protracted and increasing violence of the conflict had aroused fierce Orange passions both in the North and in Dublin, while in England the King was embarrassing even his 'anti-Catholic' Ministers by the vehemence of his hostility to concession. He described Peel as 'the King's Protestant Minister' and Lord Wellesley as an 'enemy in the camp.' He assured Peel that, whether the Cabinet wished it or not, he would never consent to give letters of precedence to a Roman Catholic barrister, and he wrote Peel a formal letter in which he said, 'the sentiments of the King upon Catholic emancipation are those of his revered and excellent father; from those sentiments the King never can and never will deviate.'
Peel, while maintaining his unflinching hostility to important concessions, tried to moderate all parties. He implored the King to make no public declaration. He wrote to Ireland strongly discouraging the violence of the Orangemen and urging that 'in this age of liberal doctrine, when prescription is no longer even a presumption in favour of what is established, it will be a work of desperate difficulty to contend against "emancipation," as they call it, unless we can fight with the advantage on our side of great discretion, forbearance, and moderation on the part of the Irish Protestants.' He recurred to his old idea of establishing a system of unsectarian national education, and he readily abandoned the corrupt and proselytising charter schools. He supported a measure of Lord Nugent, which Lord Eldon succeeded in defeating in the Lords, for extending to the English Catholics such privileges as were already possessed by Catholics in Ireland, and he fully approved of a letter written on behalf of the Cabinet to the Lord-Lieutenant urging 'that a disposition should be manifested to admit the Roman Catholics of Ireland to a fair proportion of the emoluments and honours to which they are eligible by law,' but without issuing patents of precedence.
On matters unconnected with the Catholic question his administration was skilful and, on the whole, enlightened; and in 1823 he introduced the first of a series of important measures diminishing the enormous number of capital offences that disgraced the English criminal code, and, at the same time, doing much to simplify and consolidate that code. In this, as in most respects, there was little original in his legislation. He followed, at some distance, in the steps of Romilly and Mackintosh, and he left very much to be done, which was chiefly accomplished during the Whig ascendancy that followed the Reform Bill of 1832. It appears, from some remarkable letters in this volume, that, before Peel took up the question of criminal reform, George IV. was exceedingly sensible of the enormity of executing very young men for secondary offences, and that he was continually pressing on his Ministers a more merciful administration of the law. He sometimes found Peel by no means ready to yield. In one case Peel invoked the aid of the Cabinet to overrule the wish of the King, who desired to save two culprits from the gallows; and, in another case, he threatened to resign his office if the King persisted in commuting the sentence of a youth who had been found guilty of uttering forged notes. But Peel had at least the merit of recognising an intolerable abuse, and his legislation on the subject was skilfully framed and still more skilfully introduced and carried. In his patronage in this, as in later periods of his life, he cared much more than most English Ministers for the interests of science, literature, and art. He was by no means indifferent to the opportunities his position gave him of advancing his own family and friends; but he never, in his English patronage, forgot the character of those whom he recommended for promotion, and he brought forward or assisted many men of ability and learning with whom he had no connection and no political sympathy. The letters in this volume between Peel and his very intimate Oxford friend Dr. Lloyd are especially interesting and characteristic. They are in general very honourable to Peel; but Mr. Parker is much too indulgent when he describes the intensely worldly letters in which Dr. Lloyd urged his own merits and his claims to the bishopric of Oxford as merely 'frank, and free from affectation of the traditional nolo episcopari.' Both Peel and Lord Liverpool appear to have had a much stronger sense than most of their predecessors of the responsibilities attaching to Church patronage and of the duty of administering it in the public interest, and in this respect they were broadly distinguished from Lord Eldon.
'It is really a cruel thing,' Lord Liverpool wrote to Peel, 'that the patronage of the Crown as to Church matters should be divided between the Minister and the Chancellor, and that all the public claims should fall upon the former. The Chancellor has nine livings to the Minister's one. With respect to these he does occasionally attend to local claims, but he has besides four cathedrals, and to no one of these cathedrals has any man of distinguished learning or merit been promoted.'
In the beginning of 1825 the Irish Government, having without consulting Peel undertaken a foolish prosecution of O'Connell for a not very dangerous speech, received a heavy rebuff, for the Grand Jury threw out the Bill, and the prosecution of an Orange leader was equally unsuccessful. A Bill was about the same time brought in and carried, suppressing the new association; but it could not suppress the spirit which it had aroused. O'Connell, however, was thoroughly alarmed at the state of the country, and as far as possible from desiring a rebellion, and he was at this time in a very conciliatory mood. He was perfectly ready to accept an endowment for the priesthood, which would attach them to the Government, and also a considerable raising of the Irish franchise. This was the last occasion on which his party and the Catholic gentry very cordially concurred, and it was the last occasion on which the Catholic question could have been settled on a basis that would have given real strength to the Empire. A Relief Bill passed through all its stages in the Commons by considerable majorities, and it was followed by a Bill for raising the qualifications of Irish electors, and by a resolution for endowing the priesthood. O'Connell fully believed that Catholic emancipation would definitely pass in this session, and he appeared to have excellent reasons for his belief. In Ireland it generally prevailed, and it exercised an immediate pacifying influence. Lord Fingall and other Catholic noblemen, in presenting an address at this time to the King, were able to say 'the whole of Ireland reposes in profound tranquillity, and the law, without the aid of any extraordinary power, everywhere receives voluntary obedience.' It was afterwards stated by Lord George Bentinck that Peel had changed his opinions about Catholic emancipation in 1825, and had communicated this change to Lord Liverpool. The letters before us, however, conclusively prove that if Peel was shaken, it was not about the merits of emancipation, but about the practicability of resisting it. Having been four times defeated in the Commons on the Catholic question, he tendered his resignation, and Lord Liverpool at once declared that without his assistance he could not continue the struggle. Peel was the only Minister in the House of Commons opposed to the Catholic cause, differing on the question from all his colleagues in the House. If he had resigned, and if Lord Liverpool had followed his example, there is good reason to believe that a Government might have been formed which would have carried the measure safely and speedily with the securities that had been accepted. Most unfortunately for the Empire, the 'Protestant' party persuaded Peel to withdraw his resignation in order to avert this surrender. In the House of Lords the Duke of York, who was the heir-presumptive to the throne, stood up and declared his unalterable opposition to the Catholic claims, 'whatever might be his situation in life, so help him God,' and the Lords rejected the Bill by a majority of 48.
The conscientious views of George III. obtained some measure of respect even from those who believed them to be most unfounded; but no halo of sanctity dignified the scruples of George IV. or of the Duke of York. The Irish Catholics, exasperated at the present disappointment of their hopes, and at the prospect of another hostile King, flung themselves into a furious agitation, and in a few months all the progress which had been made towards pacifying the country was undone, while in England Peel had to meet a terrible commercial crisis. Seventy county banks stopped in less than a week. In dealing with questions of commerce and currency Peel was always in his element, and his measures appear to have been wise and skilful. A general election took place, and he was again returned by the University of Oxford as the uncompromising opponent of Catholic emancipation. In England the anti-Catholic party gained some seats, and the increasing violence in Ireland had produced some reaction. In Ireland it was soon apparent that what Grattan had feared had come to pass, and that the tie which had hitherto attached the people to their landlords was completely broken. The priests everywhere appeared at the head of their people, and it was at once seen that a new and terrible power was dominating Irish politics. In Waterford, where the Beresfords had long been omnipotent, they were totally defeated, and Leslie Foster sent Peel a vivid description of his own defeat in the Louth election. At the outset of the contest, upwards of five-sixths of the votes were promised to him; but the whole priesthood turned themselves into electioneering agents against him. In every chapel there were political sermons; the priests menaced all who voted for him with eternal damnation; they were present at every polling-booth to overawe their parishioners; and their efforts were seconded by savage mobs who waylaid and beat all opponents, and forced multitudes of Protestants, by threats of assassination or of the burning of their houses, to vote against their promises and their convictions. 'In the county town the studied violence and intimidation were such that it was only by locking up my voters in enclosed yards that their lives were preserved.' By these means the election was won. What, asked Foster, will be the end of this? 'The landlords are exasperated to the utmost, the priests swaggering in their triumph, the tenantry sullen and insolent. Men who, a month ago, were all civility and submission now hardly suppress their curses when a gentleman passes by. The text of every village orator is, "Boys, you have put down three lords; stick to your priests, and you will carry all before you."'
The letters of Goulburn, the Chief Secretary, show that the picture was not overcharged.
'Never,' he wrote, 'were Roman Catholic and Protestant so decidedly opposed. Never did the former act with so general a concert, or place themselves so completely under the command of the priesthood.' 'The priests exercise on all matters a dominion perfectly uncontrolled and uncontrollable. In many parts of the country their sermons are purely political, and the altars in the several chapels are the rostra from which they declaim on the subject of Roman Catholic grievances, exhort to the collection of rent, or denounce their Protestant neighbours in a mode perfectly intelligible and effective, but not within the grasp of the law. In several towns no Roman Catholic will now deal with a Protestant shop-keeper, in consequence of the priest's interdiction, and this species of interference, stirring up enmity on one hand and feelings of resentment on the other, is mainly conducive to outrage and disorder.... The first vacancy on the Roman Catholic bench is to be supplied by Dr. England from America, a man of all others most decidedly hostile to British interests and the most active in fomenting the discord of this country.... With such leaders it is reasonable to anticipate the worst. It is impossible to detail in a letter the various modes in which the Roman Catholic priesthood now interfere in every transaction of every description, how they rule the mob, the gentry, and the magistracy, and how they impede the administration of justice.' Their power is greater than any other in the State, 'and they love to display it, and omit no opportunity of taunting their adversaries.' 'The state of society here is so disorganised, and the Government has so inferior an authority to other powers acting on the people, that the opinion formed to-day may be quite changed to-morrow.'
The election of 1826 virtually carried Catholic emancipation, for it reduced Ireland to a state in which it was impossible long to resist it. Clear-sighted men had no difficulty in perceiving that the policy of Peel had failed to avert it, though it had succeeded in making impossible the securities which Grattan and the wisest men of his generation had pronounced indispensable for its safe working, in kindling religious hatreds as intense as in the darkest period of the eighteenth century, in breaking down that healthy relation and subordination of classes on which beyond all other things the future well-being of Ireland depended. Peel was not wholly blind to what was happening. 'A darker cloud than ever,' he wrote, 'seems to me to impend over Ireland, that is if one of the remaining bonds of society, the friendly connection between landlord and tenant, is dissolved.' He still persuaded himself, however, that the political power of the priests was transient, and that a reaction would set in that might destroy it. The defeat of the Catholic question in the new Parliament by a majority of four encouraged him in his resistance. In January 1827 the death of the Duke of York removed one serious obstacle to the Catholic cause, and six weeks later Lord Liverpool, who had so long held together the divided Ministry, was struck down by apoplexy. Peel would gladly have continued in his present position if a peer of real weight who held his opinions on the Catholic question was appointed to the vacant place. But there was no such peer, except Wellington, to be found, and under Wellington Canning refused to serve. Canning had, indeed, now fully resolved to be at the head of the Administration, and Peel refused to serve under him.
With his opinions on the Catholic question it is impossible to blame him, and the letters which passed between the two statesmen are very honourable to both, and show clearly that in spite of great divergence of opinion, character, and interests, each could recognise the good faith of the other. In a letter written to one of his brothers Peel describes his position with complete frankness:
'I am content with my position in the Government, and willing to retain it—willing to see Mr. Canning leader of the House of Commons, as he has been. But giving him credit for honesty and sincerity, if he is at the head of the Government, and has all the patronage of the Government, he must exert himself as an honest man to carry the Catholic question; and to the carrying of that question, to the preparation for its being carried, I never can be a party. Still less can I be a party to it for the sake of office.'
These words were written little more than a year before Peel undertook, as Minister of the Crown, to introduce a measure of Catholic emancipation. But if they do little credit to his prescience, no one can mistake the accent of sincerity in what follows:
'I do not choose to see new lights on the Catholic question precisely at that conjuncture when the Duke of York has been laid in his grave and Lord Liverpool struck dumb by the palsy. Would any man, woman, or child believe that after nineteen years' stubborn unbelief I was converted, at the very moment Mr. Canning was Prime Minister, out of pure conscience and the force of truth?'
With the resignation of Peel and the other anti-Catholic members of Lord Liverpool's Government, and the formation of the short Canning Ministry, this instalment of Peel's letters comes to an end. We rejoice that the publication of this very interesting correspondence has been entrusted to an editor who is at once so competent and so judicious.
 Life of Lord George Bentinck, p. 304.
 Lewis's Letters, p. 226.
 Private Correspondence of Sir R. Peel, 1788-1827. Ed. by C.S. Parker, M.P., 1891, p. 24.
 Ibid. p. 27.
 Hansard, First Ser. xxi. 663.
 Butler's Hist. Memoirs, ii. 177.
 Peel Correspondence, p. 80.
 Peel Correspondence, p. 83.
 Peel Correspondence, p. 76.
 Peel Correspondence, pp. 217, 218.
 Peel Correspondence, pp. 222-224.
 Ibid. p. 212.
 Ibid. p. 284.
 Peel Correspondence, p. 282.
 Ibid. pp. 114-116, 211, 218.
 Peel Correspondence, p. 60.
 Ibid. p. 275.
 Ibid. p. 96.
 Peel Correspondence, p. 211.
 Ibid. pp. 215, 219, 220.
 Peel Correspondence, pp. 207, 231, 235, 236.
 Peel Correspondence, pp. 87-92.
 Ibid. pp. 244, 265.
 Ibid. pp. 167, 233.
 Peel Correspondence, p. 348.
 Peel Correspondence, pp. 349, 358, 359, 370-371.
 Peel Correspondence, p. 358.
 Ibid. pp. 315-317.
 Fitzpatrick's Correspondence of O'Connell, i. p. 108.
 Peel Correspondence, pp. 416, 418, 419, 422.
 Ibid. pp. 413, 420.
 Peel Correspondence, p. 485.
 Two more volumes have been published since this Essay was written.—ED.
EDWARD HENRY, FIFTEENTH EARL OF DERBY
The time has not yet arrived for the publication of a full life of the late Lord Derby, but in submitting to the public a collection of his more important speeches outside Parliament, a short sketch of the chief features of his life and character may not be out of place.
Edward Henry, fifteenth Earl of Derby, was born July 21, 1826, and was educated at Rugby, and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he obtained a First Class in classics. In March 1848 he unsuccessfully contested Lancaster, and soon after started for a long and instructive journey in America and the West Indies. During his absence from England he was elected Member for Lynn Regis upon the death of Lord George Bentinck in September 1848, and he held this seat without interruption till his accession to the earldom in October 1869. His first speech in the House of Commons was delivered on May 31, 1850, on the sugar duties. The effect on the West Indies of the abolition of the preferential duty on sugar was a subject which he had specially studied during his journey, and he had published a pamphlet upon it. Sir Robert Peel greatly praised his maiden speech, and Greville describes the great impression which it made—an impression which a further knowledge of the speaker speedily confirmed.
The appearance in Parliament of the eldest son of one of the most brilliant party leaders of the age could scarcely fail to be a considerable political event, and it was soon found that the new member was not only a man of rare ability, but was also in nearly all respects very unlike his illustrious father. Never was there a more striking instance of that strange freak of heredity by which an able son is sometimes much less the continuation than the complement of an able father, exhibiting in strongly contrasted lights both opposite qualities and opposite defects. The fourteenth Earl was a great orator. He was one of the greatest debaters who have ever lived. He was a party leader of extraordinary power, delighting in political conflict; throwing into it much of the fire and passion which he displayed in his sporting contests; little fitted to conciliate opponents, but eminently fitted to win the enthusiastic loyalty of his followers, to rally a dispirited minority, to lead a party attack. His keen and rapid judgment; his perfect command of pure and lucid English; his unfailing readiness in argument, invective, sarcasm, and repartee; his indomitable courage, and the somewhat imperious dignity of his manner, all marked him out for the position which he held. If there was some truth in the common taunt that he was more a party leader than a statesman, it must at least be remembered that he has identified his name with several important measures, and that during most of his career he was in a hopeless minority. His enemies accused him of rashness, arrogance, and some superficiality, both of thought and knowledge. They alleged that he carried too much of the sporting spirit into politics; that his naturally excellent judgment was often deflected by the passions of the fray; that he was accustomed to judge measures more by their party advantages than by their intrinsic merits, and to care more for an immediate triumph than for ultimate results.
His son was made in a very different mould. Though like most able and clear-headed men he acquired by much practice a respectable facility in purely extemporaneous argument, he was never a great debater. His speeches were very carefully prepared, and they possessed conspicuous merits of form as well as of matter, but they were not the speeches of a brilliant orator. No one could reason more clearly, more powerfully, or more persuasively. He was a supreme master of terse, luminous, weighty, and accurate English. He had much skill in bringing into vivid relief the salient points of an obscure and complicated subject, condensing an argument into a phrase, and illustrating it by graphic felicities of language that clung to the memory. But he hated rhetoric. His enunciation was faulty and unimpressive. He appealed solely to the reason, and never to passion or to prejudice, and he had nothing of the fire and temperament of a party orator. Very few politicians mastered so thoroughly the subjects with which they dealt. No politician of his time retained so remarkably, amid party conflicts, the power of judging questions from all their sides; of balancing judicially opposing considerations; of looking beyond the passions and interests of the hour; of realising the points of view of those to whom he was opposed. Declamation, clap-trap, evasion, ambiguities of thought and expression, empty plausibilities, unfair, partial, and exaggerated statements, were all essentially repugnant to that clear and sceptical intellect, to that sound, cautious, practical judgment. His business talents were very great, and they were assiduously cultivated. His appetite for work was insatiable. No one knew better how to administer a great department or preside over a Parliamentary Committee, or arbitrate in a difficult controversy, or give wise and timely advice to an inexperienced organisation. It was in these fields that his influence was, perhaps, most deeply felt. His success in them did not depend merely on his unflagging industry and his excellent judgment, it was also largely due to his eminently conciliatory character. The uniform courtesy which he displayed to men of all ranks and opinions is happily no rare thing among his class, but everyone who was brought in contact with Lord Derby soon felt that he was in the presence of one who tried to understand his position, to estimate his arguments at their full worth, to find some common ground of agreement. If it were possible in a bitter controversy to arrive at reasonable compromise, Lord Derby was most likely to effect it. He had a curious talent of making speeches with which everyone must agree, and which at the same time were never commonplace. Their secret lay in the habit of mind that led him always to seek out the common grounds of principle or fact that underlie every controversy, and which in the heat of the conflict the disputants had often failed to recognise.
It was not difficult to forecast the place which a statesman of this kind was likely to fill in English politics. He was plainly wanting in many of the qualities of a party leader, and in most of the qualities of a parliamentary gladiator, and he was not likely to succeed in all forms of statesmanship. He would certainly not prove
A daring pilot in extremity, Pleased with the danger when the waves went high.
His clear perception of the objections to any course, combined with a very deep sense of responsibility, not unfrequently enfeebled his will in moments when bold and decisive action was required, and there were times when the love of compromise which was so useful an element in his character seemed to his best friends too closely allied to weakness. But he probably saved every party with which he acted from many mistakes. He brought to every Government which he joined a very eminent administrative capacity. He defended every policy that he espoused with a persuasive reasoning that few men could equal. He was a supremely skilful detector of false weights and of false measures. Every fad, every new-born enthusiasm, every crude ill-digested theory, found in him the calmest and most penetrating of critics, and he inspired the great body of moderate men of all parties with a deep confidence in his patriotism and in his judgment.
His political position was marked out by the fact that his father had recently broken away from the Whig connection which had hitherto been that of his family, and was now the leader of the Conservative party. The son naturally took his place under his father's banner, but I much question whether he would have done so if no family influence had interfered. It was not that he at any time changed considerably his views. As Macaulay has truly said—while the extremes of the two English parties are separated by a wide chasm, there is a frontier line where they almost blend; and Lord Derby when a Conservative always represented the Liberal, and when a Liberal the Conservative wing of his party. But his mind had much of the Whig character; his judgment was very independent; and on Church questions especially he was never fully in harmony with his party. He was appointed Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in his father's first short Ministry in March 1852, at a time when he was travelling in India, and he left office with his father in December of the same year. In 1853 he made a remarkable speech on Indian affairs, in some degree foreshadowing the Indian policy which he was afterwards destined to take such a large part in carrying into effect. During the next few years he spoke frequently on Indian and Colonial questions, on questions connected with education, factories, and other working-class interests, and he supported—often in opposition to the majority of his party—a large number of reforms which have since been accomplished. He advocated the introduction of competitive examinations, first of all into the Diplomatic, and then into most branches of the Civil Service. He spoke against the system of purchase in the army, and served on a Royal Commission on the subject. He supported a motion for securing to married women their property and earnings. He took a decided part in opposition to Church rates. He voted for the emancipation of the Jews. He voted and spoke in favour of the Maynooth grant. He was an early advocate of the opening of museums on Sundays, and of a conscience clause to be enforced in all schools receiving State assistance. He supported the establishment of the Divorce Court, and clearly showed that preference for social as distinguished from political questions which he retained through his whole life. He delighted in placing himself in touch with working men. Mechanics' institutes, free libraries, almost every movement for the education and improvement of the working class, found in him a steady friend. He once wrote to Lord Shaftesbury: 'We are both public men deeply interested in the condition of the working class, and for my own part I would rather look back on services such as you have performed for that class than receive the highest honours in the employment of the State.' On working-class questions he was often accused of Radicalism, but it was Radicalism of the old school, which relied mainly for reform on spontaneous effort, on moral improvement, and extended education, and was very jealous of State interference, compulsion, and control. He had a great admiration for Mill's writings, and especially for his treatise on Liberty, which he described as 'one of the wisest books of our time.' Mill fully reciprocated the feeling. He once spoke of Lord Stanley as 'one of the very few English public men who hold that a politician's opinions ought to be founded on principles.'
'Our party,' wrote Lord Malmesbury in 1853, 'are angry with Disraeli, which is constantly the case, and they are also displeased with Lord Stanley, suspecting him to be coquetting with the Manchester party.' Greville, nearly at the same time, expressed his belief that Lord Stanley was taking 'a wise and liberal line,' and that he was 'pretty sure to act a conspicuous part.' In November 1855 there was a critical moment in his career, when Lord Palmerston, on the death of Sir William Molesworth, offered Lord Stanley the post of Secretary of State for the Colonies. He at once went down to Knowsley to consult his father, who put a strong veto on the proposal, and the offer was refused, but in terms which showed that it had been far from unacceptable. It is probable that the refusal was a wise one, for although on many home questions Lord Stanley would have found himself more in harmony with moderate Liberals than with his own party, he would certainly have dissented from Lord Palmerston's foreign policy. During the Crimean war he seems to have sympathised with the views of Bright and Cobden. He took an active part in an able but now nearly forgotten Tory paper called 'The Press,' which was opposed to the war, and his extreme horror of war and of every policy which could possibly lead to war was one of his strongest characteristics. Responsibility in office never weighed lightly upon him, but responsibility for measures which led or might lead to bloodshed was more than he could bear.
At the time when this offer of Lord Palmerston was made, Lord Stanley was little more than twenty-nine. Greville considered that he had acted wisely in refusing, and he has given us an interesting account of the light in which the young statesman then appeared to experienced political judges. 'His position and abilities,' he said, 'are certain before long to make him conspicuous, and to enable him to play a very considerable part. He is exceedingly ambitious, of an independent turn of mind, very industrious, and has acquired a vast amount of information. Not long ago Disraeli gave me an account of him and of his curious opinions—exceedingly curious in a man in his condition of life and with his prospects. Last night Lord Strangford (George Smythe) talked to me about him, expressed the highest opinion of his capacity and acquirements, and confirmed what Disraeli had told me of his notions and views even more, for he says that he is a real and sincere democrat, and that he would like if he could to prove his sincerity by divesting himself of his aristocratic character, and even of the wealth he is heir to. How far this may be true I know not.... Nothing appears to me certain but that he will play a considerable part for good or for evil, but I cannot pretend to guess what it will be. At present he seems to be more allied with Bright than with any other public man, and as his disposition about the war and its continuance is very much that of Bright it would have been difficult for him to take office with Palmerston.'
Lord Stanley had not long to wait for high office. His father formed his second Administration in February 1858, and Lord Stanley was made Colonial Secretary. He appears to have accepted the office with some reluctance, and only because Sir E. Bulwer, for whom it was at first intended, found that he could not secure his re-election. The Government was a very weak one, and it opened with the worst prospects. It was a Government in a minority. Its very existence depended on the dissensions between Lord Palmerston and Lord John Russell, and its first steps met with little favour either in the House or in the country. The Indian Mutiny was now nearly suppressed, and Lord Palmerston shortly before quitting office had pledged the House of Commons to the policy of withdrawing the Government of India from the East India Company and placing it directly under the Crown. To carry this policy into effect was the first task of the new Government. They introduced an Indian Bill which they were compelled to withdraw, and then substituted for it a new Bill founded on resolutions which were carried through the House of Commons. In May the Government almost fell on account of the indiscreet publication of a despatch of Lord Ellenborough, condemning a Proclamation of the Governor-General, Lord Canning. A vote of censure was moved and would certainly have been carried if Lord Ellenborough had not saved his colleagues by resigning. He was President of the Board of Control, the Office which then directed Indian affairs, and Lord Stanley took his place, piloted the Indian Bill successfully through the House of Commons, and when the measure became law, was the first Secretary of State for India, and undertook the very important and responsible task of beginning the new system of Indian Government.
'The Times' noticed the singular good fortune of Lord Derby in being able at this very critical moment to place his eldest son in one of the most important Cabinet offices in his Ministry without incurring from any side the smallest imputation of nepotism, and the skill and success of the new administration of the India Office was speedily and generally recognised. Greville tells us that Lord Stanley 'gained golden opinions and great popularity at the India House'; and he gives a striking instance of the firmness with which he maintained the full authority of the new Council over Indian affairs. He adds: 'I was prepared to hear of his ability, his indefatigable industry, and his business qualities; but I was surprised to hear so much of his courtesy, affability, patience, and candour; that he is neither dictatorial nor conceited, always ready to listen to other people's opinions and advice, and never fancying that he knows better than anyone else. I afterwards told Jonathan Peel what I had heard and he confirmed the truth of this report and said he was the same in the Cabinet.' 'Lord Stanley,' Greville said, 'is so completely the man of the present day, and in all human probability is destined to play so important and conspicuous a part in political life, that the time may come when any details, however minute, of his early career will be deemed worthy of recollection.' It is a characteristic fact that Lord Stanley offered a seat on the Indian Council to John Stuart Mill, which, however, that great writer declined.
The disturbance in European politics which culminated in the French declaration of war against Austria contributed to weaken still further the feeble Ministry of Lord Derby. The Reform Bill caused profound divisions in its ranks. Mr. Walpole and Mr. Henley resigned, and the Government Bill was defeated in the spring of 1859. Lord Malmesbury mentions that in the Cabinet divisions on that question Lord Stanley supported the more democratic view, and that on one occasion he threatened to resign if the measure were not made more liberal. He defended the Bill in an elaborate speech, advocating such an introduction of the working class to the franchise as would give them a considerable but not a preponderating power. A general election followed, and the Government gained several seats, but not sufficient to give it a majority. The different fractions of the Opposition drew together; on June 11 a vote of want of confidence was carried by a majority of 13, and Lord Derby immediately resigned.
In opposition Lord Stanley devoted himself chiefly to the class of questions that had occupied him before his accession to office. He served on the long Cambridge University Commission, and supported the admission of Nonconformists to Fellowships. He was also warmly in favour of the measure which made it possible for clergymen to free themselves from their Orders and to adopt other professions. He presided over the Commission on the Sanitary State of the Indian Army and over the Commission on Patents. Like Disraeli, he displayed during the American Civil War a reticence and reserve which contrasted very favourably with the rash language of other leaders.
In 1862 a curious episode occurred which showed at least the widespread reputation that he had acquired. Prince Alfred having refused the throne of Greece, the idea was for a short time entertained of offering it to Lord Stanley. 'If he accepts,' Disraeli wrote to his friend Mrs. Willyams, 'I shall lose a powerful friend and colleague. It is a dazzling adventure for the house of Stanley, but they are not an imaginative race, and I fancy they will prefer Knowsley to the Parthenon and Lancashire to the Attic Plains.' 'The Greeks really want to make my friend Lord Stanley their king. This beats any novel; but he will not. Had I his youth I would not hesitate, even with the earldom of Derby in the distance.'
It does not appear that this proposal ever took a very serious form, and if it had been made there is little doubt that Disraeli formed a just forecast of what would have been the result. The death of Lord Palmerston on October 18, 1865, gave a new turn to the political kaleidoscope: Lord Russell became Prime Minister; the policy of reform was pushed into the forefront, and the Reform Bill of 1866 speedily produced a secession in the Liberal ranks and led to the downfall of the Ministry. The feature of the Bill which specially lent itself to attack was that it dealt solely with reduction of the franchise, leaving the question of the distribution of seats to subsequent legislation, and an amendment was moved by Lord Grosvenor to the effect that no Bill for the reduction of the franchise should be discussed till the whole scheme was before the House. This amendment was seconded by Lord Stanley in a speech which Lord Malmesbury pronounced to be 'the finest and most statesmanlike speech he ever made.' In June the Government were beaten by a small majority on an amendment of Lord Dunkellin substituting rating for rental; a few days later Lord Russell resigned and Lord Derby for the third time became Prime Minister.
As on the two former occasions he was in a minority, though the temporary secession of a portion of the Liberal party gave him a precarious power. Once more, too, he took office amid the convulsions of a European war, for the war of Prussia and Italy with Austria had just begun. In the new Ministry Lord Stanley was Secretary for Foreign Affairs. In his election address he gave the keynote of his policy by insisting in the strongest terms that England should observe a strict neutrality in European controversies. Her vast Indian and Colonial Empire, he said, made her a world apart and threw upon her duties and responsibilities that taxed all her energies. She had duties also to her poorer classes at home, whose condition was not what we could desire; and by simply existing as a free, prosperous, and self-governed nation, we should do more for the real freedom of Europe than by any policy of meddling or war.
As far as his own department was concerned Lord Stanley's administration during this short Ministry was both eminently consistent and eminently successful. It is true that this pacific Minister made the Abyssinian war for the release of some imprisoned British subjects, but he only did this after every peaceful effort to procure their release had proved abortive, and it was almost universally recognised that there was no honourable alternative open to him. During his ministry the Luxemburg question brought France and Prussia to the very verge of war. It fell to the task of Lord Stanley to mediate between them, and he did so with a success which certainly adjourned, though it could not ultimately avert, the great catastrophe that burst upon Europe in 1870. No success could have been more gratifying to him, and he was fond of repeating the saying of Canning that 'If a war must come sooner or later, for my part I prefer that it should come later than sooner.' Lord Russell bore an ungrudging testimony to the 'tact and discretion' Lord Stanley displayed in this negotiation. In the same spirit he refused to take part in a conference of European Powers which the French Emperor desired to convene to settle the Roman question, declaring that this question was one with which England should in no way meddle, and that a conference would be useless and dangerous unless a basis were laid down before. He refused to interfere in any way with the Cretan rebellion, and with the impending disputes between Turkey and Greece. His abstention on this question was blamed by some, but it met with the full approbation of his great opponent, Lord Russell, who declared that 'he had acted with much prudence and discretion.' He laid the foundation also of the settlement of the long outstanding difficulty with America by proposing to refer the Alabama question to arbitration, and he negotiated a treaty on the subject, which, however, the Senate refused to ratify.
In all this he was very consistent. The same consistency cannot be claimed for his support of a Reform Bill far more Radical than that which his party had so recently rejected. In my own judgment it is impossible to defend with success the conduct of the Derby Ministry on this question, and although Lord Stanley took only a subsidiary part in it, he cannot escape his share of the responsibility. The difficulty of the position of the eldest son of the Prime Minister who was taking this 'leap in the dark' was very great, and it must be remembered that he had long been identified with the more democratic wing of his party. After the great agitation that followed the downfall of the Russell Ministry, he probably regarded a democratic measure as inevitable, and it was the character of his mind to be very ready to accept what he considered the inevitable, and to endeavour by timely compromise to mitigate its effects. Lord Derby's health was now completely broken, and on February 24, 1868, he resigned office, and Disraeli became Prime Minister.