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Speeches on Questions of Public Policy, Volume 1
by John Bright
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Let not the House imagine that I am proposing to buy up the whole of the land. I am proposing only to buy it in cases where men are willing to sell, and to transfer it only in cases where men are able and willing to buy, and you must know as well as I that there will be many thousands of such cases in a few years. Every Irish proprietor opposite—the noble Lord the Member for Tyrone (Lord C. Hamilton) himself, who made so animated a speech, and appeared so angry with me a short time ago—must know perfectly well that amongst the tenantry of Ireland there is a considerable sum of saved money not invested in farms. Well, that saved money would all come out to carry into effect transactions of this nature; and you would find the most extraordinary efforts made by thousands of tenants to become possessors of their farms by investing their savings in them, by obtaining it may be the assistance of their friends, and by such an industrious and energetic cultivation of the soil as has scarcely ever been seen in Ireland. I said there were landlords willing to sell, and there are cases in which, probably, Parliament might insist upon a sale—for instance, the lands of the London Companies. I never heard of much good that was done by all the money of the London Companies. I was once invited to a dinner by one of these Companies, and certainly it was of a very sumptuous and substantial character, but I believe that, if the tenants of these Companies were proprietors of the lands they cultivate, it would be a great advantage to the counties in which they are situated. I come then to this: I would negotiate with landowners who were willing to sell and tenants who were willing to buy, and I would make the land the great savings-bank for the future tenantry of Ireland. If you like, I would limit the point to which we might go down in the transference of farms, but I would do nothing in the whole transaction which was not perfectly acquiesced in by both landlord and tenant, and I would pay the landlord every shilling he could fairly demand in the market for the estate he proposed to sell.

Well, I hope every Gentleman present will acquit me of intending confiscation, and that we shall have no further misunderstanding upon that point. I venture to say to the noble Lord that this is a plan which would be within compass and management, as compared with that laid down in his Bill, if it worked at all, and I believe that it would do a hundred times as much good, in putting the farmer upon the footing of a holder of land in Ireland. What do hon. Gentlemen think would become of an American Fenian if he came over to Ireland and happened to spend an evening with a number of men who had got possession of their farms? I remember my old friend Mr. Stafford, in the county of Wexford, whom I called upon in 1849, who had bought his farm and had built upon it the best farm-house which I saw in the whole South of Ireland, and who told me that if all the tenantry of Ireland had security for their holdings— he was an old man, and could not easily rise from his chair, though he made an effort to do so—'If they had the security that I have,' said he, 'we'd bate the hunger out of Ireland.' If the Fenian spent his evening with such men as these, and proposed his reckless schemes to them, not a single farmer would listen to him for a moment. Their first impression would be that he was mad; their second, perhaps, that the whisky had been too strong for him; and it would end, no doubt, if he persisted in his efforts to seduce them from their allegiance to the Imperial Government, by their turning him off the premises, though perhaps, knowing that he could do no harm, they might not hand him over to the police.

The other day I passed through the county of Somerset, and through villages that must be well known to many Gentlemen here—Rodney-Stoke and Drayford, I think they were called—and I noticed a great appearance of life and activity about the neighbourhood. I asked the driver of the carriage which had brought me from Wells what was the cause of it. 'Why,' he said, 'don't you know that is the place where the great sale took place?' 'What sale?' I asked. 'Oh! the sale of the Duke's property.' 'What Duke?' 'The Duke of Buckingham. Did you never hear of it? About fifteen years ago his property was sold in lots, and the people bought all the farms. You never saw such a stir in the world.' He pointed out the houses on the hill-side which had been built to replace old tumble-down tenements, the red soil appearing under the plough, and cultivation going on with such general activity as had not been witnessed till within these last few years. The appearance of these villages was such as must strike every traveller from another part of the country, and it was produced by simple means. The great estate of an embarrassed Duke had been divided and sold off; he had not been robbed; the old miserable hovels of the former tenants had been pulled down, and new life and activity had been given to the whole district. If you could have such a change as this in Ireland, you would see such a progress and prosperity that gentlemen would hardly know the district from which they came.

I think it only fair to my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster to say, that I do not believe the time is come in Ireland, and I do not believe it ever will come, when it will be necessary to have recourse to so vast and extraordinary a scheme as that which he has proposed to the House. It appears to me that it is not necessary for Ireland. There is the land—there is the owner—there is the tenant. If the landowners had been a little wiser we might not have had before us to-night the difficulty that now perplexes us. Suppose, for example, they had not been tempted to coerce or to make use of the votes of their tenants; suppose they had not been tempted to withhold leases—undoubtedly the condition of Ireland would have been far superior to what it now is. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster has some scruples, I believe, on the question of the ballot, but I believe even he would not object to see that admirable machinery of election tried in that country. Do hon. Gentlemen think it not necessary? I was talking, only two days ago, to a Member of this House who sat on one of the Irish election committees— the Waterford committee, I think—and he said: 'We could not unseat the Members, though the evidence went to show a frightful state of things; it was one of the most orderly elections they have in that country—only three men killed and twenty-eight seriously wounded.' After all, we may smile, and some of you may laugh at this, but it is not a thing to be laughed at. It is a very serious matter, but it exists in no country in the world where the ballot is in operation.

If you were to try that mode of election in Ireland it would have two results: it would make your elections perfectly tranquil, and at the same time it would withdraw from the landowner—and a most blessed thing for the landowner himself this would be—it would withdraw from him the great temptation to make use of his tenant's vote for the support of his own political party; and if that temptation were withdrawn, you would have much more inducement to grant leases to many of your tenants, and you would take a step highly favourable, not to the prosperity of your tenants only, but to your own prosperity and your own honour. Now, Sir, I shall say no more upon that question except this, that I feel myself at a disadvantage in making a proposition of this nature to a House where landowners are so numerous and so powerful, but I have disarmed them in so far that they will see that I mean them no harm, and that what I propose is not contrary to the principles of political economy; and that if Government is at liberty to lend money for all the purposes to which I have referred, Government must be equally at liberty to lend money for this greater purpose; and, farther, I venture to express my opinion, without the smallest hesitation or doubt, that if this were done to the extent of creating some few scores of thousands of farmer proprietors in Ireland, you would find that their influence would be altogether loyal; that it would extend around throughout the whole country that whilst you were adding to the security of Government you would awaken industry in Ireland from its slumber, and you would have the wealth which you have not had before, and, with wealth, contentment and tranquillity in its train.

Now, Sir, it may appear egotistical in me to make one remark more, but I think if the House will not condemn me I shall make it. Last year you did, under the leadership of the right hon. Gentleman, accept a proposition which I had taken several years of trouble and labour to convince you was wise. On Wednesday last, only two days ago, by an almost unanimous vote you accepted a proposition with regard to another matter, exactly in the form in which six or seven years ago I had urged you to accept it. You in this House recollect when Mr. Speaker had to give the casting vote, amidst vast excitement in the House, on the miserable question of Church Rates; but now, on Wednesday last, you accepted that Bill almost without opposition; and I presume that, except for the formality of a third reading, we have done with the question for ever. Now if you would kindly, I ask it as a favour—if you would kindly for a moment forget things that you read of me which are not favourable, and generally which are not true, and if you would imagine that though I have not an acre of land in Ireland, I can be as honestly a friend of Ireland as the man who owns half a county, it may be worth your while to consider for your own interest, the interests of your tenants, the security of the country from which you come, for the honour of the United Kingdom, whether there is not something in the proposition that I have made to you.

Now, Sir, perhaps the House will allow me to turn to that other question which, on the authority of the noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn, and indeed on the authority of the Prime Minister himself, is considered the next greatest—perhaps I ought to have said the greatest—question we have to consider in connection with Irish affairs; I mean the Irish Church question. What is it that is offered upon this matter by the Government? The noble Lord himself said very little about it, but he is not easy upon it; he knows perfectly well, and cannot conceal it, that the Irish Church question is at the root of every other question in Ireland. The noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn said also that it was, along with the land, the great and solemn question which we had to discuss, and he turned round—I could discover it from the report in the paper, because I was not, as you may suppose, at the Bristol banquet—he turned round almost with a look of despair, and implored somebody to come and tell us what ought to be done on this Irish question. And the Prime Minister himself, in speaking of it, called it an 'Alien Church.' Bear that phrase in mind. It is a strong phrase, a phrase we can all understand, and we know that the right hon. Gentleman is a great master of phrases— he says a word upon some subject; it sticks; we all remember it, and this is sometimes a great advantage. 'Alien Church' is the name he gives it; and now, what does the noble Lord, acting, no doubt, under the direction of his Colleagues and the Prime Minister, offer upon this question? He rather offered a defence of it; he did not go into any argument, but still, at the same time, he rather defied anybody to make an assault upon it; he believed that it would not succeed, and that it was very wrong; but what does he really propose? Only this: to add another buttress in the shape of another bribe. He says that he will make an offer to the Roman Catholic hierarchy and people of Ireland— some say that the people do not want it, and that the hierarchy do want it, but I say nothing about that, because I hope the Catholic people of Ireland are at least able to defend themselves from the hierarchy, if the hierarchy wish to cripple them too much—he says he will endow a Roman Catholic University in Ireland. As the noble Lord went on with his speech he touched upon the question of the Presbyterian Regium Donum, and spoke of it, I think, as a miserable provision for the Presbyterians of the North of Ireland; and evidently, if he had had the courage, the desperate courage to do it, he would have proposed, whilst he was offering to endow a new Roman Catholic University, to increase or double the Regium Donum. The noble Lord does not express any dissent from this, and I rather think he wishes that it were safely done. The object of this, and what he would like to have said to the hon. Gentlemen about him who came from Ireland to represent the Roman Catholic population, and to the Presbyterians of the North of Ireland, was this: 'If you will continue to support the Protestant Church in Ireland and the Protestant supremacy, we will endow you (the Roman Catholics) a University, really, if not professedly, under clerical rule; and as to you (the Presbyterians), we will double your stipends by doubling the amount of the Regium Donum.'

Now, why do you offer anything? Why is it we are discussing this question? Why did the noble Lord think it necessary to speak for three hours and twenty minutes on the subject? Because the state of Ireland is now very different from the state which we have sometimes seen, and very different, I hope, from that which many of us may live to see hereafter; because Ireland has a certain portion of its population rebellious, has a larger portion disloyal and discontented, but has a still larger portion dissatisfied with the Imperial rule. Now I must say—I hope the noble Lord will not think I am saying anything uncivil—but I must say that his proposition appears to be at once grotesque and imbecile, and I think at the same time—though I do not like to use unpleasant words— that to a certain extent it must be held to be—in fact, I think the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Warwickshire hinted as much—not only very wrong, but very dishonest. At this moment it seems to find no favour on either side of the House, although I can understand the Catholic Members of the House feeling themselves bound to say nothing against it, and perhaps, if it came to a division, to vote for it; but I believe there is not a Catholic Member on this side of the House who could in his conscience say that it was right in him to accept this proposition as a bribe that he should hereafter support Protestant supremacy. In fact, it appears to me exactly in the position now that the dual vote was in this time twelve months, and there are people who say that it has been brought forward with the same object, and that by- and-by, as nobody is for it, the right hon. Gentleman will say that as nobody is in favour of it they will not urge it upon Parliament. Now, does anybody believe that a Catholic University in Ireland could have the smallest effect upon Fenianism, or upon the disloyalty, discontent, and dissatisfaction of which Fenianism is the latest and the most terrible expression? It is quite clear that for the evil which we have to combat, the remedy which the right hon. Gentleman offers through the Chief Secretary for Ireland is no remedy at all.

It reminds me of an anecdote which is related by Addison. He says that in his time there was a man who made a living by cheating the country people. He was not a Cabinet Minister,—he was only a mountebank,—and he set up a stall, and sold pills that were very good against the earthquake. Well, that is about the state of things that we are in now. There is an earthquake in Ireland. Does anybody doubt it? I will not go into the evidence of it, but I will say that there has been a most extraordinary alarm—some of it extravagant, I will admit—throughout the whole of the three kingdoms; and although Fenianism may be but a low, a reckless, and an ignorant conspiracy, the noble Lord has admitted that there is discontent and disaffection in the country; and when the Member for one of the great cities of Ireland comes forward and asks the Imperial Parliament to discuss this great question—this social and political earthquake under which Ireland is heaving—the noble Lord comes forward and offers that there shall be a clerical-governed endowed University for the sons, I suppose, of the Catholic gentlemen of Ireland. I have never heard a more unstatesmanlike or more unsatisfactory proposition; and I believe the entire disfavour with which it has been received in this House is only a proper representation of the condemnation which it will receive from the great majority of the people of the three kingdoms.

Do not let any one suppose that I join in the terms which I regretted to hear from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stroud, and still less that I join in the, in my opinion, more offensive terms which fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne. There can be no good in our attacking either the Catholic population or the Catholic hierarchy of Ireland. We have our duty straight before us, which is to do both the hierarchy and the people justice. We are not called upon to support the plan of the Government, and I believe the people of Great Britain, and a very large portion of the people of Ireland, will rejoice when the House of Commons shall reject a proposition which is adverse to the course we have taken for many years past, and a proposition which would have no better effect in tranquillising Ireland in the future than the increase of the grant to Maynooth did more than twenty years ago. Sir Robert Peel at that time, with the most honourable and kindly feeling to Ireland, proposed to increase the grant to Maynooth, and it was passed, I think, by a large majority of the House, I being one of a very few persons on this side of the House who opposed the grant. I was as kindly disposed to the Catholics of Ireland as Sir Robert Peel, but I was satisfied that was not the path of tranquillisation, and that if he trod that path it would before any long time have to be retraced; and I think, if you now proceed upon the course recommended by the right hon. Gentleman, you will fail in the pacification of Ireland, and the time will come when you will have to retrace the steps he invites you to tread in now.

Now, Sir, I think we have arrived at this point of the question—that we have absolutely arrived at it, and there is no escape from it—that it does not matter in the least whether the right hon. Gentleman sits on the Treasury Bench, or whether the right hon. Member for South Lancashire takes his place, or whether the two should unite—which is a very bold figure of speech—but I say that if the two should unite, it could not alter this fact, that the Protestant supremacy, as represented by a State Church in Ireland, is doomed, and is, in fact, at an end. Whatever are the details, and I admit that they will be very difficult details in some particulars, which may be introduced into the measure which shall enact the great change that the circumstances of Ireland and the opinion of the United Kingdom have declared to be necessary, this, at least, we have come to, that perfect religious equality henceforth, and not only religious equality, but equality on the voluntary principle, must be granted.

Some hon. Gentlemen opposite have spoken about a pamphlet which has recently been written by Lord Russell. I would speak of Lord Russell, as the House knows, as I would always of a man older than myself, and whose services to the country have been so long and so great; I speak of him with great respect, and I say that the pamphlet is written with wonderful fire, that it contains in it very much that is interesting, and very much that is true, but its one fault is that it should have been published about forty years ago. Lord Russell's proposition is politically just in the division which he proposes of the property of the Church in Ireland, and, if public opinion had not condemned the creation of new Established Churches, it might have been possible to have adopted his scheme as it is. But I say the time has gone by for the establishment of new State Churches. They will never again be planted as an institution in this country, and I suspect there is no other country in the world which has not an Established Church that would wish to possess one. But, if the House will allow me, I should like to advert to a little scheme on this matter which I was bold enough to explain to my countrymen on the occasion to which I have referred. It is not a new scheme in my mind, for the whole principle of it, with an elaborate argument in its favour, were published very widely in the year 1852, in a letter which I wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Kilkenny (Sir John Gray), who was one of certain persons, Members of Parliament and others, who met in conference in Dublin on the question of religious equality in Ireland. I only state this to show that it is no new idea, and that I have had plenty of time to consider it. There have been great objections to the plan, and amongst those who have objected to it, as might possibly have been expected, were gentlemen of the Liberation Society. Now, I know many of the leading members of that Society, and they are very good men. Even those who may think they are mistaken would, if they knew them, join with me in that opinion. One of them, at least, who was once a Member of this House, and, in all probability, will be here again—Mr. Miall—is not only a good man, but he is a great man. I judge him by the nobleness of his principles, and by the grand devotion which he has manifested to the teaching of what he believes to be a great truth. I take criticisms from them kindly, as we ought to take them from our friends when they are honestly given.

What is the condition of Ireland at this moment with which you have to deal? There is not only the Church which it is proposed to disestablish, but you have the Regium Donum, which, if the Church be disestablished, must necessarily be withdrawn; and you have, if these two things happen, a grant to Maynooth, the Act conferring which must necessarily be repealed. Now, in doing these things the House will observe that we shall disturb all the three principal sects or Churches in Ireland, and we can only do it, or attempt to do it, on the ground that we are about to accomplish some great public good. Well, my proposal, which some hon. Gentlemen, I dare say, will have some vague idea of, was made with the view of easing Parliament in the great transaction, from which I believe it cannot escape. It is a great thing in statesmanship, when you are about to make a change which is inevitable, and which shocks some, disturbs more, and makes hesitating people hesitate still more—it is a great thing, I say, if you can make the past slide into the future without any great jar, and without any great shock to the feelings of the people. And in doing these things the Government can always afford to be generous and gracious to those whom they are obliged to disturb.

We have found that this has been the case when needful changes have been proposed; for instance, hon. Gentlemen will recollect, when tithe commutation for Ireland was passed, that there was a certain concession made to the landowners of Ireland, to induce them to acquiesce in the proposition of Parliament. We know that when slavery was abolished a considerable sum of money was voted. Lord Derby proposed in this House that compensation should be given to the slaveowners. If it had not been for that, slavery would before long have been abolished by violence. But Parliament thought it was much better to take the step it did take, and I am not, at this period of time, about for a moment to dispute its wisdom. In all these things we endeavour, if we are forced to make a great change, to make it in such a manner as that we shall obtain the acquiescence and the support, if possible, of those who are most likely to be nearly affected by it. Suppose we were going to disestablish the Church of Scotland—and I understand that there are a great number belonging to the Established Church of Scotland who are coming round to the opinion that it would be much to their benefit, and I think for the benefit of their Church, if it were disestablished—if we were going to disestablish the Church of Scotland or the Church of England, no person for a moment would suppose that, after having taken all the tithes and all the income from these Churches, you would also take all the churches and all the parsonage-houses from the Presbyterian people of Scotland, or from the Episcopal Church people in England. You would not do anything of that kind. You would do to them as we should wish, if we were in their position, that the Government and Parliament should do to us. Do what you have to do thoroughly for the good of the country, but do it in such a manner as shall do least harm, and as shall gain the largest amount of acquiescence from those whom you are about to affect. I venture to say that such is the course we should take about Ireland.

I am very free in speaking on these matters. I am not a Catholic in the sense of Rome. I am not a Protestant in the sense in which that word is used in Ireland. I am not connected with a powerful sect in England. I think, from my training, and education, and association, and thought on these questions, I stand in a position which enables me to take as fair and unimpassioned a view of the matter as perhaps any man in the House. Now, if I were asked to give my advice, and if I am not asked I shall give it—I should propose that where there are congregations in Ireland— I am speaking now, of course, of the present Established Church—who would undertake to keep in repair the church in which they have been accustomed to worship, and the parsonage-house in which their ministers live, Parliament should leave them in the possession of their churches and of their parsonage-houses. And I believe I speak the sentiment of every Catholic Member on this side of the House, and probably of every intelligent Catholic in Ireland, not only of the laity but of the hierarchy and the priesthood, when I say that they would regard such a course as that on the part of Parliament as just, under the circumstances in which we are placed. Well, then, of course there would be no more bishops appointed by the Crown, and that institution in Ireland would come to an end, except it were continued upon the principle upon which bishops are appointed in Scotland. All State connection would be entirely abolished. You would then have all alike. The Protestants would have their churches and parsonage-houses as they have now. But the repairs of them, and the support of their ministers, would be provided by their congregations, or by such an organisation as they chose to form. The Catholics would provide, as they have hitherto done so meritoriously and with a remarkable liberality, for themselves.

No greater instance of generosity and fidelity to their Church can be seen in the world than that which has been manifested by the Catholic people of Ireland. They have their churches and their priests' houses in many places. There is no pretence for meddling with them. In the north of Ireland, where the Presbyterians are most numerous, they would also have their places of worship, and their ministers' houses as they have now. All the Churches, therefore, in that respect would be on an equality. Well, now, the real point of this question, and which will create in all probability much feeling in Parliament and in the country, is, what should be done on the question of the Maynooth Grant, and on the question of the Regium Donum? They must be treated alike, I presume. If you preserve the life interests of the ministers and bishops of the Established Church, it may be right to preserve the life interests of the ministers of the Presbyterian Church, and it may be right also in some way or other to make some provision that shall not in the least degree bring them under the control of the State. And some provision might have to be made to the Catholic Church in lieu of the Maynooth Grant, which, of course, you would be obliged to withdraw. These are points which I will not discuss in detail. I merely indicate them for the sake of showing to the House, and to a great number of people who are regarding it with even more feeling than we do, what are some of the difficulties of this question—difficulties which must be met—difficulties which it will require all the moderation, all the Christian feeling, and all the patriotism which this House can muster on both sides of it, with the view of settling this question permanently, and to the general satisfaction of the three kingdoms. Now, I will go no further, but to say that whatever is done—if a single sixpence is given by Parliament, in lieu of the Maynooth Grant, or in lieu of the Regium Donum, it must be given on these terms only—and on that matter I think Lord Russell has committed a great error—that it becomes the absolute property of the Catholics or of the Presbyterians—it must be as completely their property as the property of the great Wesleyan body in this country, or of the Independents, or of the Baptists, belongs to these bodies. It must be property which Parliament can never pretend to control, or regulate, or withdraw.

And having consented to that condition, the three Churches of Ireland would be started as voluntary Churches, and instead of fighting, as I am sorry to say they have been fighting far longer than within the memory of man, I hope soon there would be a competition among them which should do most for the education, the morals, and the Christianity of the population who are within their instruction and guidance. Now, Protestants in this country—I think almost all Protestants—object very strongly to Rome. The Nonconformists object to endowments. They sometimes, I think, confound establishments with endowments. I think it absolutely essential that establishments should cease, and that there should be nothing in the way of endowment unless it be some small provision such as that which I have indicated; which it might be necessary to make when you are withdrawing certain things which the Churches in Ireland had supposed were theirs in perpetuity.

Now, one word which I would say to the Nonconformist people of England and Scotland, if the House will allow me to speak, is this—they should bear in mind that the whole of this property which is now in the possession of the Established Church of Ireland is Irish property. It does not belong to Scotland or to England, and it would be a measure intolerable and not to be thought of, that it should be touched or dealt with in any manner that is not in accordance with the feelings and the interests of the people of Ireland. Let any man who to-morrow criticises this part of my speech ask himself what an Irish Parliament freely elected would do with the ecclesiastical funds of Ireland. I think the Presbyterians of Scotland, the Churchmen and Nonconformists of England, have no right to suppose themselves to be judges with regard to religious matters in Ireland. They have a perfect right to say to Parliament through their representatives, 'We will discontinue the State Church in Ireland, and we will create no other State Churches.' But that seems to be about the extent of the interference which they are entitled to in this matter.

I hope I have explained with tolerable clearness the views which I have felt it my duty to lay before the House on the occasion of this great question. The House will see, and I think hon. Gentlemen opposite will admit, that I am at least disposed to treat it as a great question which, if it be dealt with, should be dealt with in the most generous, gracious, and, if you like, tender manner by Parliament, as respects the feelings and interests of all who are most directly concerned. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, in his speech last night, said that this proposal to disestablish the Established Church of Ireland was, in point of fact, in some sort a revolution. This, at any rate, I am satisfied, would be not only an entirely bloodless revolution, but a revolution full of blessing to the Irish people.

I have not said a word—I never said a word in this House, and, I believe, never out of it, to depreciate the character of the clergymen of the Established Church in Ireland. I think no religious ministers are placed in a more unfortunate position, and I am satisfied that many of them feel it to be so. I have not the least doubt, when this transaction is once accomplished, that they will breathe more freely. I believe they will be more potent in their ministrations, and that their influence, which must, or ought to be, considerable, will be far more extensive than it has been, and far more beneficial in the districts in which they live. But being so great a question, as the Home Secretary described it, it can only be settled by mutual and reasonable concession. The main principle being secured, that State Church supremacy is abolished in Ireland, and that the Irish Churches are henceforth to be free Churches upon the voluntary principle, then I should be willing, and I would recommend every person in the country whom my voice may reach, to make any reasonable concession that can be suggested in the case. So anxious am I that it should be done, that I should be delighted to co-operate with the right hon. Gentleman, and with hon. Members on the opposite side of the House, in support of any just measure for settling this great question. But I say, if it ever does come to be dealt with by a great and powerful Minister, let it be dealt with in a great and generous spirit. I would counsel to all men moderation and justice. It is as necessary to Protestants as to Catholics and to Nonconformists that they should endeavour to get rid of passion in discussing this question.

We are, after all, of one religion. I imagine that there will come a time in the history of the world when men will be astonished that Catholics and Protestants have had so much animosity against and suspicion of each other. I accept the belief in a grand passage, which I once met with in the writings of the illustrious founder of the colony of Pennsylvania. He says that 'The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious, and devout souls are everywhere of one religion, and when death has taken off the mask they will know one another, though the diverse liveries they wear here make them strangers.' Now, may I ask the House to act in this spirit, and then our work will be easy. The noble Lord, towards the conclusion of his speech, spoke of the cloud which rests at present over Ireland. It is a dark and heavy cloud, and its darkness extends over the feelings of men in all parts of the British Empire. But there is a consolation which we may all take to ourselves. An inspired king and bard and prophet has left us words which are not only the expression of a fact, but which we may take as the utterance of a prophecy. He says, 'To the upright there ariseth light in the darkness.' Let us try in this matter to be upright. Let us try to be just. That cloud will be dispelled. The dangers which surround us will vanish, and we may yet have the happiness of leaving to our children the heritage of an honourable citizenship in a united and prosperous Empire.

* * * * *

IRELAND.

IX.

HOUSE OF COMMONS, APRIL 1, 1868.

[This speech was made in the debate on Mr. Gladstone's resolutions for disestablishing the Irish Church.]

The House will not expect me to follow the legal argument of the hon. and learned Member who has just sat down. I entertain a firm belief that those legal cobwebs which are spread, and which are supposed to, and do in the minds of many Gentlemen, interpose between the completion of a great act of justice, will be swept away before long by the almost unanimous opinion of the people of the three kingdoms.

During this debate, which has yet lasted only two nights, there has been, if not a remarkable change of opinion, a remarkable change of expression. Last night we had an interesting speech from the noble Lord who generally sits opposite me, the noble Lord the Member for Stamford. I refer only to the beginning of his speech, in which he spoke of his affection for the principle of a Church Establishment. There was a hesitation in his manner; he had a strong love for his principle, but it appeared to me that he thought the time was come when even that cherished principle would have to be surrendered. From the Treasury bench we had a speech from the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and when he sat down it is difficult to say what was the precise impression made upon the House; but I think, on the whole, the impression made on the other side of the House—his own side—was by no means a comfortable one. Now to me it is, and I think to the House it is, a misfortune that we have a Government that speaks with a different voice from night to night. We had it last year, and I presume, from the example of the debate which lately took place on the motion of the hon. Member for Cork, and from the debate on this motion, we are about to see a repetition of it.

The fact is, that the position of the Government is one of great difficulty and perplexity; to speak plainly, it is one which I should call, in our Constitutional system, altogether unnatural. They are the Ministers, the leaders of a minority of the House, and whilst they sat as leaders of the minority in opposition they defended the principles of their party, and they apparently regarded all their past career with satisfaction; but the moment they are transferred to the Treasury bench they find themselves in this difficulty, that although their party may still wish to cling to their past opinions, there is something in the very air, there is something throughout the mind of the whole kingdom, which teaches them that their past opinions are impossible in their new position.

The noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn made a speech not long ago at Bristol, and in that speech he expressed what I am quite sure were his honest opinions with regard to the condition of Ireland. He stated that the condition of Ireland was one painful and dangerous, and to us, in appearance at least, discreditable. He said we had a strange and perplexing problem to solve; that in Ireland there was a miserable state of things. Then he said, 'If we look for a remedy, who can give us an intelligible answer? Ireland is the question of the hour.' And that is not altogether at variance—in fact, I should say not at all at variance—with the speech of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, who told us, as far as he knew, the facts about his country. But immediately afterwards we had the description of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, to the effect that there was no crisis at all— that, in point of fact, the condition of Ireland was a normal condition, and that there was no necessity for anything remarkable or unusual in the legislation that was required. Now, to-night we have had a speech from the Home Secretary. I may say that every speaker on that side of the House has admitted that his speech is entirely in opposition, in its tone, its purpose, and its principle, to the speech of the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn. It seems to me that the Home Secretary to- night answered the Foreign Secretary of last night—and I suppose if the debate goes on until Thursday, probably the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, or perhaps the Secretary of State for India, will answer the speech of the Secretary of State for the Home Department.

But all this shows us that the House is in a wrong position. We have a minority in office which cannot assert its own views with safety, nor can it with any more safety directly adopt our views; and thus, when, on that side of the House, a Minister gets up and makes what is called a liberal speech on this question to us who are in opposition, that creates discontent; and then another Minister rises and makes a speech of an exactly opposite character, to reconcile that discontent. There is, in fact, confusion and chaos in the House. We have a Government which is not a Government—and we have an Opposition which is not an Opposition, because really we do not oppose anything that you propose. Your propositions are not based upon your own principles, which you held when you sat on this side of the House, but on our principles, and therefore we are not in opposition at all, but we help you as much as possible to enforce, not your own principles, but ours. Whatever compensation it may be to right hon. Gentlemen who sit on that bench and enjoy the dignities and emoluments of office, I think there are many honourable men on whom I am looking at this moment who do not observe the course of these proceedings with entire satisfaction.

But now, notwithstanding these difficulties, there remains this great question which we must discuss, and which, if possible, we must settle. I say, notwithstanding some observations to the contrary, that the people of the three kingdoms are looking with anxious suspense at the course which Parliament may take on this question. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary on one occasion spoke of this question, of this proposition, as being something in the nature of a revolution. But, if it be a revolution, after all it is not so great a one as we might suppose from the force and energy of the speech which he has delivered to-night—a speech which, although I differ from his views, was, I must say, a very good speech—in which he brought into the House a good deal of the energy of the people of that great county (Yorkshire) from which he comes. But we are now about to deal with a question which only affects, according to the census, something under 700,000 people. I observe hon. Gentlemen talk of the Protestants of Ireland as being one- fourth of the whole population—of being a million and a half. All that is fanciful exaggeration. According to the census the Episcopalians are not more than 700,000, and let hon. Gentlemen bear this in mind—when the census enumerators go round, if a man is not a Catholic or a Presbyterian, he is put down, unless he can state he is of some other sect, as an Episcopalian. And judging from what we know, there must be out of the 700,000 a considerable number who never go to church, and, politically or religiously, have no interest in it. Therefore, I believe, speaking correctly, it would not be possible to show that there are Episcopalians in Ireland in intimate connection with the Established Church to the amount of more than from half a million to 600,000.

Now, this will not come to more than 100,000 families, that is, will not be very much more than the population of Liverpool, or Manchester, or Glasgow; so that, in point of fact, this question, which is held to be a revolution,—this great question affects only a population equal to that of the city of Glasgow, or of Liverpool, or of Manchester. And it is for a population so small as this, I am told—for I am not versed in computations of this kind—you have no less than twelve bishops and archbishops, and that you have devoted for their services—for their religious services—not less than the annual income arising from a capital sum estimated to be, at least, ten or twelve millions sterling. Now, if their system of teaching is really very good, I must say there ought to be in Ireland a more perfectly moral and religious population among the Church Protestants than there is in any other country in the world.

What, then, are we about to do? What is the House about to do if we adopt the resolutions of the right hon. Member for South Lancashire? If the House accept the advice of the majority sitting on this side, what will be done? We are not going to commit any vital wrong upon that one city population of 500,000 or 600,000. When we have done everything that I have suggested should be done, we shall leave them in as comfortable a position as the majority of the people of Scotland are in at this moment. We shall leave them as well off as eight or nine-tenths of the population of Wales are; we shall leave them as well off as half, and not the least religious half, of the people of England are; we shall leave them as well off as the English, Scotch, Welsh, and Irish people who form the population in our colonies, whether in North America or Australia. And what can be more monstrous than for Gentlemen to come here from Ireland—and there may he some from England—and tell us we are bringing about a revolution, that we are committing an enormous oppression, that we are hazarding the loyalty of the people of the North of Ireland, when, after all, the most and worst which any of us proposes to do is that the Church population of Ireland will be left at least as well off as any of the various populations of the Empire I have just described? I hope hon. Gentlemen opposite will be convinced that it is not a bottomless abyss we are going to plunge their friends into.

Although it is a very small question for the Church in Ireland and for the Church people, I hold it is an infinitely larger question for the Catholic population. The hon. and learned Gentleman who spoke last relies much upon law. I suppose it will be admitted that there are only two pretences on which this State Church—the Protestant Church—can exist in Ireland. The one is religious—the other is political. Now, has anybody been able to show that, as a religious institution, it has not been a deplorable failure? because clearly, the original intention, the original hope was, that the people of Ireland would be drawn from the Church of Rome and brought into harmony with the Church of England. I undertake to say, from the time of its first establishment until now, reckoning up all the Catholics on the one side and the Protestants on the other, that it could not be shown, and is not to be believed, that it has ever added really one person in every hundred persons to the actual number of Protestants in the kingdom of Ireland. It has been an entire failure—a failure deplorable, and almost ludicrous, as an engine for converting the Catholic population. But it has not only not made Catholics into Protestants, but it has made Catholics in Ireland more intensely Roman than the members of that Church are found to be in any other country in Europe or in America. And what is more than that, I think it can be demonstrated that the existence of the Protestant Church in Ireland, whether missionary or not in pretence, has not only not converted the Catholics themselves, but has made it absolutely impossible that anybody else, or any other Church, should convert them. Because, if you look how the Church has been connected with the State, and with the politics of the country, with the supremacy of the landed proprietors, with the supremacy of the Protestant party, with all the dark records of the past, you will see the effect has been to make Catholicism in Ireland not only a faith, but absolutely a patriotism.

I think I might appeal to every Member of the House who now hears me whether, if he had been placed in Ireland with his father before him among the Catholic population—I might ask him whether he would not have felt that if he threw off his allegiance to his Church, and if he entered the portals of this garrison Church, that it would have been to him not only a change of faith, but a denial as it were of his birth and of his country. I have felt always in considering this question—and I have considered it much for twenty-five years past—that all the circumstances of that Church in Ireland have been such as to stimulate the heart of every Catholic to a stronger adherence to his own faith, and to a determined and unchangeable rejection of the faith and of the Church which were offered to him by the hands of conquest. There is one point on this, too, which is important, that the more you have produced dissatisfaction with Imperial rule in Ireland, the more you have thrown the population into the hands of Rome. Now, I hope I shall offend no Catholic Member in this House when I say that I consider it one of the greatest calamities of the world that there are in many countries millions of Catholic population who are liable to be directed in much of their conduct, and often in their political conduct, through their bishops and clergy from the centre of the city of Rome. I think that is a misfortune—I think it is a misfortune to the freedom of the world. And I think, moreover, that it is a misfortune to every Catholic Church in every country, for it tends to prevent it from being wholly national, and it prevents also such changes and such reformations as, I believe, are necessary in the progress of every Church. We see some result of this in other countries of Europe. Notably, at this moment, in Austria, even in that country which we lately thought was the very last in the race of freedom, there is a contest going on with Rome. But there probably is no country in Europe at this moment in which the Catholic Church and population are more entirely subject than in Ireland to the direct influence of a certain number of persons, of whom most of us know nothing, who pull the strings of the Catholic world in the city of Rome. I attribute much of this, which I think a great evil, to the existence of the Protestant Church in Ireland. You know perfectly well that the great discontent of Ireland is chiefly entertained by the Catholic population, and you know that this population is even at this moment, more than it was some years ago, subject directly to political influences from Rome. But I am satisfied that it is for the interest of the Catholic population, and that it is for the interest of this great nation and of this Imperial Government, that whatsoever be the tie between the Catholic population of Ireland and the Government in Ireland, we ought at least to take away every obstacle that can lessen in the smallest degree the loyalty of that people to the Imperial Crown.

And if this Church has failed as a religious institution, how stands it as a political institution? It was intended not only to convert the Catholics, but to secure the Union. An hon. Gentleman, with a courage that I should not like to imitate, said that if the 5th Article of the Act of Union should be altered, then in point of fact the Union is as good as abolished. I see the hon. Gentleman up there, and I think he is not the only one who has said it in the course of this discussion. It is a very old and not a very strange device to expect the people to be made loyal through the instrumentality of the clergy. I know that many centuries ago a monk of some celebrity at the Court of Louis of Bavaria told that monarch, 'You defend me with the sword, and I will defend you with the pen.' We have been during all this time defending this Church with the sword. The sword has scarcely ever been out of the hand of the governing power in Ireland. And if a fair, simple, and unadorned narrative were given of the transactions of this Parliament with Ireland, with regard to its different enactments, coercive restrictions, suspensions of the Habeas Corpus Act, and so forth, it would form a narrative which would astonish the world and would discredit us. Sir, I am afraid it is not too much to say that, in support of this supremacy, many victims have perished on the scaffold in Ireland, and that the fields of Ireland have been more than once drenched with the blood of her people. But, after all this is done, we are not a bit more secure.

It is no matter what Government sits on the bench opposite. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire was there two years ago, and on that occasion, by the consent of his Colleagues, the then Home Secretary had to introduce the Bill for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. Now you are on that side of the House, and you have to do the same. Nobody says it is not necessary. I am not prepared to say it has not been necessary at other times. But surely if this be necessary— and if there is this painful duty to perform at various times—it shows that the Union is not very secure in Ireland. In fact, Sir, it is the most painful thing that we have witnessed lately, that the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act has become so common that it causes almost no remark. The measure is introduced into the House. An Irish Member makes a feeble protest against it, and it is passed, and we suspend the liberties of one of the three kingdoms from year to year. And the Prime Minister has the courage—I might almost use another word—he has the courage to say there is no crisis, and that things are going on very much as usual, and that the House of Commons is not required to do much or care much for that country.

What you have in Ireland is this. There is anarchy, which is subdued by force, and after centuries of rule—not our rule, but that of our forefathers—we have got no farther. We have not reconciled Ireland to us, we have done none of those things which the world says we ought to have done; and at this moment—in the year 1868—we are discussing the question whether it is possible to make any change with reference to the Established Church in Ireland which will bring about a better state of feeling between the people and the Imperial Government. Sir, I am afraid there has been very little statesmanship and very much neglect, and I think we ought to take shame to ourselves, and try to get rid of some of our antiquated prejudices on this matter, and look at it as men would look at it from a distance, as men whose vision is not impaired by the passionate feelings which have so often prevailed in this country with regard to this question. What, then, is the remedy that is now offered? What do people say of it? Now, I challenge any hon. Gentleman on the other side to deny this, that out of half a million Episcopalians in Ireland there are many—there are some in the Irish nobility, some landed proprietors, some magistrates, even some of the clergy, a great many Irishmen—who believe at this moment that it is of the very first importance that the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire should be carried.

I am not going to overstate my case. I do not say that all of them are of that opinion. Of that half-million, say that one-fourth—I will state no number—but of this I am quite certain, that there is an influential, a considerable, and, as I believe, a wise minority, who are in favour of distinct and decided action on the part of Parliament with regard to this question. But if you ask the whole Roman Catholic population of Ireland, be they nobles, or landed proprietors, or merchants, or farmers, or labourers,—the whole number of the Catholic population in Ireland being, I suppose, eight or nine times the number of Episcopalians—these are probably, without exception, of opinion that it would be greatly advantageous and just to their country if the proposition submitted on this side of the House should receive the sanction of Parliament. Now, if some Protestants and all Catholics are agreed that we should remove this Church, what would happen if Ireland was 1,000 miles away, and we were discussing it as we might discuss the same state of affairs in Canada? If we were to have in Canada and in Australia all this disloyalty among the Roman Catholic population, owing to the existence of a State Church there, the House would be unanimous that the State Church in those colonies should be abolished, and that perfect freedom in religion should be given.

But there is a fear in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary that the malady which would exist in Ireland might cross the Channel and appear in England; that in fact the disorder of Voluntaryism, as he deems it, in Ireland, like any other contagious disorder, might cross the Channel, by force of the west wind, lodging first in Scotland, and then crossing the Tweed and coming south to England. I think the right hon. Gentleman went so far as to say that he was so much in favour of religious equality, that if you went so far as to disestablish the Church in Ireland, he would recommend the same policy for England. Now, with regard to that, I will give you an anecdote which has reference to Scotland. Some years ago I had the pleasure of spending some days in Scotland at the house of the late Lord Aberdeen, after he had ceased to be Prime Minister. He was talking of the disruption of the Church of Scotland, and he said that nothing in the course of his public life had given him so much pain as the disruption, and the establishment of the Free Church in that country; but he said he had lived long enough to discover that it was one of the greatest blessings that had ever come to Scotland. He said that they had a vast increase in the number of churches, a corresponding increase in the number of manses or ministers' houses, and that schools had increased, also, to an extraordinary extent; that there had been imparted to the Established Church a vitality and energy which it had not known for a long period; and that education, morality, and religion had received a great advancement in Scotland in consequence of that change. Therefore, after all, it is not the most dreadful thing in the world—not so bad as a great earthquake—or as many other things that have happened. I am not quite sure that the Scottish people themselves may not some day ask you—if you do not yourselves introduce and pass it without their asking—to allow their State Church to be disestablished.

I met only the other day a most intelligent gentleman from the north of Scotland, and he told me that the minister of the church he frequented had 250l. a-year from the Establishment Funds, which he thought very much too little, and he felt certain that, if the Establishment were abolished, and the Church made into a Free Church, the salary of the minister would be immediately advanced to at least 500l. a- year. That is a very good argument for the ministers, and we shall see by-and-by, if the conversion of Scotland proceeds much further, that you may be asked to disestablish their Church. The hon. Member for Honiton last night quoted something which, I daresay, he did not recollect accurately—something which I had said respecting the Church of England; but the fact is that the Church of England is not suffering from the assaults of the Liberation Society; it is suffering from a very different complaint. It is an internal complaint. You have had it before one of the courts of law within the last few days, and a very curious decision has been given,—that candles are lawful, but incense is something terrible, and cannot be allowed; and then the newspapers tell you that on the very next Sunday there is more incense in that particular church which has been complained of than there ever had been before.

I will tell hon. Gentlemen opposite what it is that endangers the State Church now—I mean a State Church like this in England, against which there is no violent political assault. It is the prevalence of zeal. Whenever zeal creeps into a State Church, it takes naturally different forms—one strongly Evangelical, another strongly High Church or Ritualist—and these two species of zeal work on and on in opposition, until finally there comes a catastrophe, and it is found that it is not Mr. Miall and the Liberation Society, although they have prepared men's minds not to dread it, but it is something wholly different, within the Church itself, that causes the disruption of the Church. The Scottish disruption did not take place from any assaults from without—it took place from zeal and difficulties within; and if you could keep the whole of the Church of England perfectly harmonious within its own borders, it would take a very daring prophet who would undertake to point out the time when it would be disestablished.

We will confine ourselves, therefore, to Ireland, and I will ask hon. Gentlemen this: I believe Gentlemen opposite do not usually reject the view which we entertain, that the abolition of the State Church in Ireland would tend to lessen the difficulties of governing that country. I think there is scarcely an hon. Gentleman on the other side, who has not some doubt of his previous opinions, some slight misgiving on this point, and some disposition to accept our view of the case. Well, why should you be afraid? Even children, we know, can be induced, by repeated practice, to go into a dark room without fear. You have always, somebody said the other night, lions in the path; but I will not dignify them with the name of lions—they are but hobgoblins. Now, when you have seen and handled them, as you have a great many times since I have been in the habit of speaking face to face with you, these things are found, after all, to be only hobgoblins; you have learned, after all, that they are perfectly harmless; and when you thought we were doing you harm, and upsetting the Constitution, you have found that, after all, we were doing you good, and that the Constitution was rather stronger than it was before. Let me point out for a moment some of these changes that were found at the time to be of great difficulty, but have been found to be very wise and good afterwards.

When I came into this House, nearly twenty-five years ago, our colonial system was wholly different from what it is now. It has been changed: Sir William Molesworth and Joseph Hume were mainly the authors in Parliament of that change. Well, all our colonies, as we all admit, are much more easily governed and much more loyal than they were in those days. Turning then to our financial system—and I really do not want to offend any one by mentioning this—you know that our financial system, since Sir Robert Peel came into office in 1841, has been completely changed, and yet the revenue of the country is larger, which I regard as a misfortune—and not only larger, but more secure by far, if Parliament requires it, than it was at any previous period of our history. Take the old protective system, which the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) and some others have not forgotten. Free-trade was a frightful monster. But the protective system is gone; and now every candid man amongst you will admit that industry, being more free throughout the country, is better rewarded, and that the land, which you said would go out of cultivation, and become of no value, sells for a higher price in the market than it ever brought before.

There are two other points on which I wish to add a word. One was mentioned last night after many Members had gone home. The balance of power was once considered the beginning and end of our foreign policy, and I am not sure that there are not some old statesmen in the other House who believe in it even yet. What was done last night? The noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire, who comes up from Scotland brimfull of enthusiasm for impossible projects, proposed to put in words which had been rejected from the preamble of the Mutiny Bill relating to the preservation of the balance of power. What did one of your most distinguished Ministers, the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for War, say in reference to the proposition? He said he thought it singular that the hon. Member for Chatham should have proposed to omit the words, because they really meant nothing, but he was still more surprised that the noble Lord should have asked to have them replaced. Well, thus you see that this balance of power is gone, and yet England, I will undertake to say, under the rational and fair administration of foreign affairs by the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn, is just as much respected by all foreign Powers as she was when we were ready to meddle in every stupid quarrel that occurred upon the Continent of Europe.

Now, there is only one other thing to which I will advert—the question of the representation. You know, in 1830, there was almost no representation. There were a few towns in which there was almost universal suffrage, and many scores of rotten boroughs; in fact, the whole system was in such a state of congestion that it could not be tolerated any longer, and we had a small, but which might have been a very large revolution, in amending that state of things. Last year you, who had seen this hobgoblin for years, who had thought, I have no doubt, many of you, that I was very unwise and very rash in the mode in which I had proposed to extend the suffrage; last year you found out that it was not so monstrous a thing after all, and you became almost enthusiastic in support of the right hon. Gentleman's Reform Bill. Well, you believe now, and the First Minister, if this was an occasion on which he had to speak about it, would tell you not to be afraid of what was done,—he would tell you that, based on the suffrage of a larger portion of your countrymen, Parliament will henceforth be more strong and more venerated by the people than ever it has been before.

If that is true of Parliament, what shall we say of the Throne itself after all these changes? I will venture to ask, whatever of convenience there may be in hereditary monarchy, whatever of historic grandeur in the kingly office, whatever of nobleness in the possessor of the Crown, in all these things is it not true that everything is at least as fully recognised by the nation as it ever was at any previous period? I do not mention these things to reproach anybody here. We all have to learn. There are many in this House who have been in process of learning for a good while. I am not sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Lancashire would not admit to us that on this very question of the Irish Church his opinions have been greatly expanded, and have been ripening for a series of years. That is greatly to the credit, not only of his head, but of his heart. We have seen even amongst you a progress in many things—a progress which is most gratifying to me—that is a very small matter; but it is a very wholesome indication that the minds of men are becoming more open to the consideration of great principles in connection with great public questions. And this gives us promise that in future we shall have—as, no doubt, we shall have—a Government more in accordance with public opinion and public interests than we have had in past times.

In my opinion, the changes that have been made in our time are the glory of our time, and I believe that our posterity will regard them as the natural and blessed fruits of the growth of intelligence in our day. I mention these things to urge you not to close your ears to the arguments nor to close your hearts to the impressions of justice which must assail you with regard to this question which is now being debated so much in Great Britain and Ireland. I might appeal to a right hon. Gentleman who perhaps is in the House—the Member for the County of Limerick—who was at a very remarkable meeting held the other day in Limerick on this very question. I have heard from sources which cannot, I think, be questioned, that it was one of the most remarkable meetings held in Ireland within the last twenty years, or, perhaps, I might say for a longer period. There was a far more healthy tone of mind, of conduct, of feeling, of expression, of everything we wish for, but have not known there for a very long period; and I believe and know—because I am told by witnesses who cannot be contradicted—that the change arose from the growing belief that there was a sufficient majority in this House, that the general opinion of Parliament was sufficiently strong, to enable this measure of justice and reconciliation to be passed. Now, I ask you, if, after what has taken place, you are able, unhappily able, to prevent the progress of the movement which is now on foot for the disestablishment of the State Church in Ireland, are you not of opinion that it will create great dissatisfaction; that it will add to the existing discontent; that it will make those that are hopeful despair; and that men—rash men, if you like—strong and earnest men, will speak to those that hitherto have not been rash, and have not been earnest, and will say, 'You see at last; is this not a proof convincing and unanswerable, that the Imperial Parliament sitting in London is not capable of hearing our complaints, and of doing that justice which we as a people require at its hands?'

Do not imagine that I am speaking with personal hostility to the right hon. Gentleman who is your Chief Minister here. Do not imagine for a moment that I am one of those, if there be any, who are hoping to drive hon. Gentlemen from that bench in order that I may take one of the places occupied by them. I would treat this subject as a thing far beyond and far above party differences. The question comes before the House, of course, as all these great questions must, as a great party question, and I am one of the Members of this party; but it does not follow that all the Members of a party should be actuated by a party spirit, or by a miserable, low ambition to take the place of a Minister of the Crown. I say there is something far higher and better than that; and if ever there was a question presented to Parliament which invited the exercise of the highest and noblest feelings of Members of the House, I say this is that question.

I say, then, do not be alarmed at what is proposed. Let us take this Irish State Church; let us take it, not with a rude—I am against rudeness and harshness in legislative action—but if not with a rude, still with a resolute grasp. If you adopt the policy we recommend, you will pluck up a weed which pollutes the air. ['Oh! Oh!'] I will give hon. Gentlemen consolation in the conclusion of the sentence—I say you will pluck up a weed which pollutes the air; but you will leave a free Protestant Church, which will be hereafter an ornament and a grace to all those who may be brought within the range of its influence. Sir, I said in the beginning of my observations that there are the people of three kingdoms who are waiting with anxious suspense for the solution of this question. Ireland waits and longs. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Limerick; I appeal to that Meeting, the character of which he can describe, and perhaps may describe, to the House; and I say that Ireland waits and longs for a great act of reconciliation. I say, further, that England and Scotland are eager to make atonement for past crimes and past errors; and I say, yet further, that it depends upon us, this House of Commons, this Imperial Parliament, whether that reconciliation shall take place, and whether that atonement shall at length be made.

* * * * *

WAR WITH RUSSIA.

I.

WAR WITH RUSSIA—THE QUEEN'S MESSAGE.

HOUSE OF COMMONS, MARCH 31, 1854.

From Hansard.

[Mr. Bright was opposed to the war with Russia. This speech was spoken on the day when the message from the Crown announcing the declaration of war was brought down to the House.]

There are two reasons which may induce a Member of this House to address it—he may hope to convince some of those to whom he speaks, or he may wish to clear himself from any participation in a course which he believes to be evil. I presume I am one of that small section of the House to whom the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken (Mr. Layard) has referred, when he alluded to the small party who objected to the policy by which this country has arrived at the 'triumphant position which it now occupies.' In coming forward to speak on this occasion, I may be told that I am like a physician proposing to prescribe to-day for a man who died yesterday, and that it is of no use to insist upon views which the Government and the House have already determined to reject. I feel, however, that we are entering upon a policy which may affect the fortunes of this country for a long time to come, and I am unwilling to lose this opportunity of explaining wherein I differ from the course which the Government has pursued, and of clearing myself from any portion of the responsibility which attaches to those who support the policy which the Government has adopted.

We are asked to give our confidence to the Administration in voting the Address to the Crown, which has been moved by the noble Lord the Member for London, and to pledge our support to them in the war in which the country is now to engage. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), on a recent occasion, made use of a term which differed considerably from what he said in a former debate; he spoke of this war as a 'just and unnecessary war.' I shall not discuss the justice of the war. It may be difficult to decide a point like this, seeing that every war undertaken since the days of Nimrod has been declared to be just by those in favour of it; but I may at least question whether any war that is unnecessary can be deemed to be just. I shall not discuss this question on the abstract principle of peace at any price, as it is termed, which is held by a small minority of persons in this country, founded on religious opinions which are not generally received, but I shall discuss it entirely on principles which are accepted by all the Members of this House. I shall maintain that when we are deliberating on the question of war, and endeavouring to prove its justice or necessity, it becomes us to show that the interests of the country are clearly involved; that the objects for which the war is undertaken are probable, or, at least, possible of attainment; and, further, that the end proposed to be accomplished is worth the cost and the sacrifices which we are about to incur. I think these are fair principles on which to discuss the question, and I hope that when the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Lord Palmerston) rises during this debate, he will not assume that I have dealt with it on any other principles than these.

The House should bear in mind that at this moment we are in intimate alliance with a neighbouring Government, which was, at a recent period, the originator of the troubles which have arisen at Constantinople. I do not wish to blame the French Government, because nothing could have been more proper than the manner in which it has retired from the difficulty it had created; but it is nevertheless quite true that France, having made certain demands upon Turkey with regard to concessions to the Latin Church, backed by a threat of the appearance of a French fleet in the Dardanelles, which demands Turkey had wholly or partially complied with; Russia, the powerful neighbour of Turkey, being on the watch, made certain other demands, having reference to the Greek Church; and Russia at the same time required (and this I understand to be the real ground of the quarrel) that Turkey should define by treaty, or convention, or by a simple note, or memorandum, what was conceded, and what were the rights of Russia, in order that the Government of Russia might not suffer in future from the varying policy and the vacillation of the Ottoman Government.

Now, it seems to me quite impossible to discuss this question without considering the actual condition of Turkey. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Layard) assumes that they who do not agree in the policy he advocates are necessarily hostile to the Turks, and have no sympathy for Turkey. I repudiate such an assumption altogether. I can feel for a country like that, if it be insulted or oppressed by a powerful neighbour; but all that sympathy may exist without my being able to convince myself that it is the duty of this country to enter into the serious obligation of a war in defence of the rights of that country. The noble Lord the Member for Tiverton is one of the very few men in this House, or out of it, who are bold enough to insist upon it that there is a growing strength in the Turkish Empire. There was a Gentleman in this House, sixty years ago, who, in the debates in 1791, expressed the singular opinion which the noble Lord now holds. There was a Mr. Stanley in the House at that period, who insisted on the growing power of Turkey, and asserted that the Turks of that day 'were more and more imitating our manners, and emerging from their inactivity and indolence; that improvements of every kind were being introduced among them, and that even printing-presses had been lately established in their capital.' That was the opinion of a Gentleman anxious to defend Turkey, and speaking in this House more than sixty years ago; we are now living sixty years later, and no one now, but the noble Lord, seems to insist upon the fact of the great and growing power of the Turkish Empire.

If any one thing is more apparent than another, on the face of all the documents furnished to the House by the Government of which the noble Lord is a Member, it is this, that the Turkish Empire is falling, or has fallen, into a state of decay, and into anarchy so permanent as to have assumed a chronic character. The noble Lord surely has not forgotten that Turkey has lost the Crimea and Bessarabia, and its control over the Danubian Principalities; that the Kingdom of Greece has been carved out of it; that it has lost its authority over Algiers, and has run great risk of being conquered by its own vassal the Pasha of Egypt; and from this he might have drawn the conclusion that the empire was gradually falling into decay, and that to pledge ourselves to effect its recovery and sustentation, is to undertake what no human power will be able to accomplish. I only ask the House to turn to the statements which will be found nearly at the end of the first of the Blue Books recently placed on the table of the House, and they will find that there is scarcely any calamity which can be described as afflicting any country, which is not there proved to be present, and actively at work, in almost every province of the Turkish Empire. And the House should bear in mind, when reading these despatches from the English Consuls in Turkey to the English Ambassador at Constantinople, that they give a very faint picture of what really exists, because what are submitted to us are but extracts of more extended and important communications. It may fairly be assumed that the parts which are not published are those which described the state of things to be so bad, that the Government has been unwilling to lay before the House, and the country, and the world, that which would be so offensive and so injurious to its ally the Sultan of Turkey.

But, if other evidence be wanting, is it not a fact that Constantinople is the seat of intrigues and factions to a degree not known in any other country or capital in the world? France demands one thing, Russia another, England a third, and Austria something else. For many years past our Ambassador at Constantinople has been partly carrying on the government of that country, and influencing its policy, and it is the city in which are fought the diplomatic contests of the Great Powers of Europe. And if I have accurately described the state of Turkey, what is the position of Russia? It is a powerful country, under a strong Executive Government; it is adjacent to a weak and falling nation; it has in its history the evidences of a succession of triumphs over Turkey; it has religious affinities with a majority of the population of European Turkey which make it absolutely impossible that its Government should not, more or less, interfere, or have a strong interest, in the internal policy of the Ottoman Empire. Now, if we were Russian—and I put the case to the Members of this House—is it not likely, according to all the theories I have heard explained when we have been concerned in similar cases, that a large majority of the House and the country would be strongly in favour of such intervention as Russia has attempted? and if I opposed it, as I certainly should oppose it, I should be in a minority on that question more insignificant than that in which I have now the misfortune to find myself with regard to the policy of the Government on the grave question now before us.

The noble Lord the Member for London has made a statement of the case of the Government, and in favour of this Address to the Crown; but I thought it was a statement remarkably feeble in fact and in argument, if intended as a justification of the course he and his Colleagues have taken. For the purposes of the noble Lord's defence, the Russian demand upon Turkey is assumed to be something of far greater importance than I have been able to discover it to be from a careful examination of the terms in which it was couched. The noble Lord himself, in one of his despatches, admits that Russia had reason to complain, and that she has certain rights and duties by treaty, and by tradition, with regard to the protection of the Christians in Turkey. Russia asserted these rights, and wished to have them defined in a particular form; and it was on the question of the form of the demand, and the manner in which it should be conceded, that the whole of this unfortunate difference has arisen. Now, if Russia made certain demands on Turkey, this country insisted that Turkey should not consent to them; for although the noble Lord has attempted to show that Turkey herself, acting for herself, had resolved to resist, I defy any one to read the despatches of Lord Stratford de Redcliffe without coming to the conclusion that, from the beginning to the end of the negotiations, the English Ambassador had insisted, in the strongest manner, that Turkey should refuse to make the slightest concession on the real point at issue in the demands of the Russian Government. As a proof of that statement, I may refer to the account given by Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, in his despatch of the 5th of May, 1853, of the private interview he had with the Sultan, the Minister of the Sultan having left him at the door, that the interview might be strictly private. In describing that interview, Lord Stratford says, 'I then endeavoured to give him a just idea of the degree of danger to which his Empire was exposed.' The Sultan was not sufficiently aware of his danger, and the English Ambassador 'endeavoured to give him a just idea of it;' and it was by means such as this that he urged upon the Turkish Government the necessity of resistance to any of the demands of Russia, promising the armed assistance of England, whatever consequences might ensue. From the moment that promise was made, or from the moment it was sanctioned by the Cabinet at home, war was all but inevitable; they had entered into a partnership with the Turkish Government (which, indeed, could scarcely be called a Government at all), to assist it by military force; and Turkey, having old quarrels to settle with Russia, and old wrongs to avenge, was not slow to plunge into the war, having secured the co-operation of two powerful nations, England and France, in her quarrel.

Now, I have no special sympathy with Russia, and I refuse to discuss or to decide this question on grounds of sympathy with Russia or with Turkey; I consider it simply as it affects the duties and the interests of my own country. I find that after the first proposition for a treaty had been made by Prince Menchikoff, that envoy made some concession, and asked only for a Sened, or Convention; and when that was disapproved of, he offered to accept a note, or memorandum merely, that should specify what should be agreed upon. But the Turk was advised to resist, first the treaty, then the convention, and then the note or memorandum; and an armed force was promised on behalf of this country. At the same time he knew that he would incur the high displeasure of England and France, and especially of England, if he made the slightest concession to Russia. It was about the middle of May that Prince Menchikoff left Constantinople, not having succeeded in obtaining any concession from the Porte; and it was on the 3rd of July that the Russian forces crossed the Pruth; thinking, I believe, by making a dash at the Principalities, to coerce Turkey, and deter her allies from rendering her the promised support. It has been assumed by some, that if England had declared war last year, Russia would have been deterred from any further step, and that the whole matter would have been settled at once. I, however, have no belief that Russia on the one hand, or England and France on the other, would have been bullied into any change of policy by means of that kind.

I come now to the celebrated 'Vienna note.' I am bound here to say, that nobody has yet been able clearly to explain the difference between the various notes Turkey has been advised to reject, and this and other notes she has been urged to accept. With respect to this particular note, nobody seems to have understood it. There were four Ambassadors at Vienna, representing England, France, Austria, and Prussia; and these four gentlemen drew up the Vienna note, and recommended it to the Porte as one which she might accept without injury to her independence or her honour. Louis Napoleon is a man knowing the use of language, and able to comprehend the meaning of a document of this nature, and his Minister of Foreign Affairs is a man of eminent ability; and Louis Napoleon and his Minister agree with the Ambassadors at Vienna as to the character of the Vienna note. We have a Cabinet composed of men of great individual capacity; a Cabinet, too, including no less than five Gentlemen who have filled the office of Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and who may, therefore, be presumed to understand even the sometimes concealed meaning of diplomatic phraseology. These five Foreign Secretaries, backed by the whole Cabinet, concurred with the Ambassadors at Vienna, and with the Emperor of the French and his Foreign Secretary, in recommending the Vienna note to the Sultan as a document which he might accept consistently with his honour, and with that integrity and that independence which our Government is so anxious to secure for him. What was done with this note? Passing by the marvellous stupidity, or something worse, which caused that note not to be submitted to Turkey before it was sent to St. Petersburg, he would merely state that it was sent to St. Petersburg, and was accepted in its integrity by the Emperor of Russia in the most frank and unreserved manner. We were then told—I was told by Members of the Government—that the moment the note was accepted by Russia we might consider the affair to be settled, and that the dispute would never be heard of again. When, however, the note was sent to Constantinople, after its acceptance by Russia, Turkey discovered, or thought, or said she discovered, that it was as bad as the original or modified proposition of Prince Menchikoff, and she refused the note as it was, and proposed certain modifications. And what are we to think of these arbitrators or mediators—the four Ambassadors at Vienna, and the Governments of France and England—who, after discussing the matter in three different cities, and at three distinct and different periods, and after agreeing that the proposition was one which Turkey could assent to without detriment to her honour and independence, immediately afterwards turned round, and declared that the note was one which Turkey could not be asked to accede to, and repudiated in the most formal and express manner that which they themselves had drawn up, and which, only a few days before, they had approved of as a combination of wisdom and diplomatic dexterity which had never been excelled?

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