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The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, Vol. 1 (of 3) - 1809-1859
by John Morley
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All this was of no avail, just as the same arguments and temper on two other occasions of the same eternal theme in his life,[263] were to be of no avail. Disraeli spoke strongly against the line taken by the Peelites. The second reading was carried by 438 against 95, one-third even of this minority being Irish catholics, and the rest mainly Peelites, 'a limited but accomplished school,' as Disraeli styled them. Hume asked Mr. Gladstone for his speech for publication to circulate among the dissenters who, he said, know nothing about religious liberty. It was something, however, to find Mr. Gladstone, the greatest living churchman, and Bright, the greatest living nonconformist, voting in the same lobby. The fight was stiff, and was kept up until the end of the summer. The weapon that had been forged in this blazing furnace by these clumsy armourers proved blunt and worthless; the law was from the first a dead letter, and it was struck out of the statute book in 1871 in Mr. Gladstone's own administration.[264]

III

FALL OF THE RUSSELL GOVERNMENT

In the autumn (1851) a committee of the whig cabinet, now reinforced by the admission for the first time of Lord Granville, was named to prepare a reform bill. Palmerston, no friend to reform, fell into restive courses that finally upset the coach. The cabinet, early in November, settled that he should not receive Kossuth, and he complied; but he received a public deputation and an address complimenting him for his exertions on Kossuth's behalf. The court at this proceeding took lively offence, and the Queen requested the prime minister to ascertain the opinion of the cabinet upon it. Such an appeal by the sovereign from the minister to the cabinet was felt by them to be unconstitutional, and though they did not conceal from Palmerston their general dissatisfaction, they declined to adopt any resolution. Before the year ended Palmerston persisted in taking an unauthorised line of his own upon Napoleon's coup d'etat (this time for once not on the side of freedom against despotism), and Lord John closed a correspondence between them by telling him that he could not advise the Queen to leave the seals of the foreign department any longer in his hands. This dismissal of Palmerston introduced a new element of disruption and confusion, for the fallen minister had plenty of friends. Lord Lansdowne was very uneasy about reform, and talked ominously about preferring to be a supporter rather than a member of the government; and whig dissensions, though less acute in type, threatened a perplexity as sharp in the way of a stable administration, as the discords among conservatives.

Lord John (Jan. 14, 1852) next asked his cabinet whether an offer should be made to Graham. A long discussion followed; whether Graham alone would do them any good; whether the Peelites, considering themselves as a party, might join, but would not consent to be absorbed; whether an offer to them was to be a persistent attempt in good faith or only a device to mend the parliamentary case, if the offer were made and refused. Two or three of the whig ministers, true to the church traditions of the caste, made great difficulties about the Puseyite notions of Newcastle and Mr. Gladstone. 'Gladstone,' writes one of them, 'is a Jesuit, and more Peelite than I believe was Peel himself.' In the end Lord John Russell and his men met parliament without any new support. Their tottering life was short, and it was an amendment moved by Palmerston (Feb. 20) on a clause in a militia bill, that slit the thread. The hostile majority was only eleven, but other perils lay pretty thick in front. The ministers resigned, and Lord Stanley, who had now become Earl of Derby, had no choice but to give his followers their chance. The experiment that seemed so impossible when Bentinck first tried it, of forming a new third party in the state, seemed up to this point to have prospered, and the protectionists had a definite existence. The ministers were nearly all new to public office, and seventeen of them were for the first time sworn of the privy council in a single day. One jest was that the cabinet consisted of three men and a half—Derby, Disraeli, St. Leonards, and a worthy fractional personage at the admiralty.

Sending to his wife at Hawarden a provisional list (Feb. 23), Mr. Gladstone doubts the way in which the offices were distributed:—'It is not good, as compared I mean with what it should have been. Disraeli could not have been worse placed than at the exchequer. Henley could not have been worse than at the board of trade. T. Baring, who would have been their best chancellor of the exchequer, seems to have declined. Herries would have been much better than Disraeli for that particular place. I suppose Lord Malmesbury is temporary foreign secretary, to hold the place for S. Canning. What does not appear on the face of the case is, who is to lead the House of Commons, and about that everybody seems to be in the dark....'

IV

FIRST DERBY ADMINISTRATION

The first Derby administration, thus formed and covering the year 1852, marks a highly interesting stage in Mr. Gladstone's career. 'The key to my position,' as he afterwards said, 'was that my opinions went one way, my lingering sympathies the other.' His opinions looked towards liberalism, his sympathies drew him to his first party. It was the Peelites who had now been thrown into the case of a dubious third party. At the end of February Mr. Gladstone sought Lord Aberdeen, looking 'to his weight, his prudence, and his kindliness of disposition as the main anchor of their section. His tone has usually been, during the last few years, that of anxiety to reunite the fragments and reconstruct the conservative party, but yesterday, particularly at the commencement of our conversation, he seemed to lean the other way; spoke kindly of Lord Derby and wished that he could be extricated from the company with which he is associated; said that though called a despot all his life, he himself had always been, and was now, friendly to a liberal policy. He did not, however, like the reform question in Lord John's hands; but he considered, I thought (and if so he differed from me), that on church questions we all might co-operate with him securely.' Mr. Gladstone, on the contrary, insisted that their duty plainly was to hold themselves clear and free from whig and Derbyite alike, so as to be prepared to take whatever of three courses might, after the defeat of protectionist proposals, seem most honourable—whether conservative reconstruction, or liberal conjunction, or Peelism single-handed. The last he described as their least natural position; for, he urged, they might be 'liberal in the sense of Peel, working out a liberal policy through the medium of the conservative party.' To that procrastinating view Mr. Gladstone stood tenaciously, and his course now is one of the multitudinous illustrations of his constant abhorrence of premature committal, and the taking of a second step before the first.

After Aberdeen he approached Graham, who proceeded to use language that seemed to point to his virtual return to his old friends of the liberal party, for the reader will not forget the striking circumstance that the new head of a conservative government, and the most trusted of the cabinet colleagues of Peel, had both of them begun official life in the reform ministry of Lord Grey. Graham said he had a very high opinion of Lord Derby's talents and character, and that Lord J. Russell had committed many errors, but that looking at the two as they stood, he thought that the opinions of Lord Derby as a whole were more dangerous to the country than those of Lord John. Mr. Gladstone said it did not appear to him that the question lay between these two; but Graham's reception of this remark implied a contrary opinion.

Lincoln, now Duke of Newcastle, he found obdurate in another direction, speaking with great asperity against Lord Derby and his party; he would make no vows as to junction, not even that he would not join Disraeli; but he thought this government must be opposed and overthrown; then those who led the charge against it would reap the reward; if the Peelites did not place themselves in a prominent position, others would. They had a further conversation. The duke told him that Beresford, the whip, had sent out orders to tory newspapers to run them down; that the same worthy had said 'The Peelites, let them go to hell.' Mr. Gladstone replied that Beresford's language was not a good test of the feelings of his party, and that his violence and that of other people was stimulated by what they imagined or heard of the Peelites. Newcastle persisted in his disbelief in the government. 'During this conversation, held on a sofa at the Carlton, we were rather warm; and I said to him, "It appears to me that you do not believe this party to be composed even of men of honour or of gentlemen."... He clung to the idea that we were hereafter to form a party of our own, containing all the good elements of both parties. To which I replied, the country cannot be governed by a third or middle party unless it be for a time only, and on the whole I thought a liberal policy would be worked out with greater security to the country through the medium of the conservative party, and I thought a position like Peel's on the liberal side of that party preferable, comparing all advantages and disadvantages, to the conservative side of the liberal party. And when he spoke of the tories as the obstructive body I said not all of them—for instance Mr. Pitt, Mr. Canning, Mr. Huskisson, and in some degree Lord Londonderry and Lord Liverpool.'

FOUR SHADES OF PEELITES

The upshot of all these discussions was the discovery that there were at least four distinct shades among the Peelites. 'Newcastle stands nearly alone, if not quite, in the rather high-flown idea that we are to create and lead a great, virtuous, powerful intelligent party, neither the actual conservative nor the actual liberal party but a new one. Apart from these witcheries, Graham was ready to take his place in the liberal ranks; Cardwell, Fitzroy and Oswald would I think have gone with him, as F. Peel and Sir C. Douglas went before him. But this section has been arrested, not thoroughly amalgamated, owing to Graham. Thirdly, there are the great bulk of the Peelites from Goulburn downwards, more or less undisguisedly anticipating junction with Lord Derby, and avowing that free trade is their only point of difference. Lastly myself, and I think I am with Lord Aberdeen and S. Herbert, who have nearly the same desire, but feel that the matter is too crude, too difficult and important for anticipating any conclusion, and that our clear line of duty is independence, until the question of protection shall be settled.' (March 28, 1852.)

The personal composition of this section deserves a sentence. In 1835, during Peel's short government, the whig phalanx opposed to it in the House of Commons consisted of John Russell and seven others.[265] Of these eight all were alive in 1851, seven of them in the then existing cabinet; six of the eight still in the Commons. On the other hand, Peel's cabinet began its career thus manned in the Commons—Peel, Stanley, Graham, Hardinge, Knatchbull, Goulburn. Of these only the last remained in his old position. Peel and Knatchbull were dead; Stanley in the Lords and separated; Graham isolated; Hardinge in the Lords and by way of having retired. Nor was the band very large even as recruited. Of ex-cabinet ministers there were but three commoners; Goulburn, Herbert, Gladstone. And of others who had held important offices there were only available, Clerk, Cardwell, Sir J. Young, H. Corry. The Lords contributed Aberdeen, Newcastle, Canning,[266] St. Germains and the Duke of Argyll. Such, as counted off by Mr. Gladstone, was the Peelite staff.

Graham in April made his own position definitely liberal, or 'whig and something more,' in so pronounced a way as to cut him off from the Gladstonian subdivision or main body of the Peelites. Mr. Gladstone read the speech in which this departure was taken, 'with discomfort and surprise.' He instantly went to read to Lord Aberdeen some of the more pungent passages; one or two consultations were held with Newcastle and Goulburn; and all agreed that Graham's words were decisive. 'I mentioned that some of them were coming to 5 Carlton Gardens in the course of the afternoon (April 20); and my first wish was that now Lord Aberdeen himself would go and tell them how we stood upon Graham's speech. To this they were all opposed; and they seemed to feel that as we had had no meeting yet, it would seem ungracious and unkind to an old friend to hold one by way of ovation over his departure. It was therefore agreed that I should acquaint Young it was their wish that he should tell any one who might come, that we, who were there present, looked upon our political connection with Graham as dissolved by the Carlisle speech.'[267]

ATTITUDE OF GRAHAM

The temporary parting from Graham was conducted with a degree of good feeling that is a pattern for such occasions in politics. In writing to Mr. Gladstone (Mar. 29, 1852), and speaking of his colleagues in Peel's government, Graham says, 'I have always felt that my age and position were different from theirs: that the habits and connections of my early political life, though broken, gave to me a bias, which to them was not congenial; and since the death of our great master and friend, I have always feared that the time might arrive when we must separate. You intimate the decision that party connection must no longer subsist between us. I submit to your decision with regret; but at parting I hope that you will retain towards me some feelings of esteem and regard, such as I can never cease to entertain towards you; and though political friendships are often short-lived, having known each other well, we shall continue, I trust, to maintain kindly relations. It is a pleasure to me to remember that we have no cause of complaint against each other.' 'I have to thank you,' Mr. Gladstone replies, 'for the unvarying kindness of many years, to acknowledge all the advantages I have derived from communication with you, to accept and re-echo cordially your expressions of good will, and to convey the fervent hope that no act or word of mine may ever tend to impair these sentiments in my own mind or yours.'

When the others had withdrawn, Aberdeen told Mr. Gladstone that Lord John had been to call upon him the day before for the first time, and he believed that the visit had special reference to Mr. Gladstone himself. 'The tenor of his conversation,' Mr. Gladstone reports, 'was that my opinions were quite as liberal as his; that in regard to the colonies I went beyond him; that my Naples pamphlets could have been called revolutionary if he had written them; and in regard to church matters he saw no reason why there should not be joint action, for he was cordially disposed to maintain the church of England, and so, he believed, was I.' Lord John, however, we may be sure was the last man not to know how many another element, besides agreement in opinion, decides relations of party. Personal sympathies and antipathies, hosts of indirect affinities having apparently little to do with the main trunk of the school or the faction, hosts of motives only half disclosed, or not disclosed at all even to him in whom they are at work—all these intrude in the composition and management of parties whether religious or political.

Grave discussions turned on new nicknames. The tories had greatly gained by calling themselves conservatives after 1832. The name of whig had some associations that were only less unpopular in the country than the name of tory. It was pointed out that many people would on no account join the whigs, who yet would join a government of which Russells, Greys, Howards, Cavendishes, Villierses, were members. On the other hand Graham declared that Paley's maxim about religion was just as true in politics—that men often change their creed, but not so often the name of their sect. And as to the suggestion, constantly made at all times in our politics for the benefit of waverers, of the name of liberal-conservative, Lord John caustically observed that whig has the convenience of expressing in one syllable what liberal-conservative expresses in seven, and whiggism in two syllables what conservative progress expresses in six.

MR. GLADSTONE AND HIS GROUP

Connected with all this arose a geographical question—in what quarter of the House were the Peelites to sit? Hitherto the two wings of the broken tory party, protectionist and Peelite, had sat together on the opposition benches. The change of administration in 1852 sent the protectionists over to the Speaker's right, and brought the whigs to the natural place of opposition on his left. The Peelite leaders therefore had no other choice than to take their seats below the gangway, but on which side? Such a question is always graver than to the heedless outsider it may seem, and the Peelite discussions upon it were both copious and vehement.[268] Graham at once resolved on sharing the front opposition bench with the whigs: he repeated that his own case was different from the others, because he had once been a whig himself. Herbert, who acted pretty strictly with Mr. Gladstone all this year, argued that they only held aloof from the new ministers on one question, and therefore that they ought not to sit opposite to them as adversaries, but should sit below the gangway on the ministerial side. Newcastle intimated dissent from both, looking to the formation of his virtuous and enlightened third party, but where they should sit in the meantime he did not seem to know. Mr. Gladstone expressed from the first a decided opinion in favour of going below the gangway on the opposition side. What they ought to desire was the promotion of a government conservative in its personal composition and traditions, as soon as the crisis of protection should be over. Taking a seat, he said, is an external sign and pledge that ought to follow upon full conviction of the thing it was understood to betoken; and to sit on the front opposition bench would indicate division from the conservative government as a party, while in fact they were not divided from them as a party, but only on a single question. In the end, Graham sat above the opposition gangway next to Lord John Russell and Cardwell. The Peelite body as a whole determined on giving the new government what is called a fair trial. 'Mr. Sidney Herbert and I,' says Mr. Gladstone, 'took pains to bring them together, in the recognised modes. They sat on the opposition side, but below the gangway, full, or about forty strong; and Sir James Graham, I recollect, once complimented me on the excellent appearance they had presented to him as he passed them in walking up the House.' Considerable uneasiness was felt among some of them at finding themselves neighbours on the benches to Cobden and Bright and Hume and their friends on the one hand, and 'the Irish Brass Band' on the other.

It depended entirely on the Peelites whether the new government should be permitted to conduct the business of the session (subject to conditions or otherwise), or whether they should be open to an instant attack as the enemies of free trade. The effect of such attack must have been defeat, followed by dissolution forthwith, and by the ejection of the Derby government in June (as happened in 1859) instead of in December. The tactics of giving the ministers a fair trial prevailed and were faithfully adhered to, Graham and Cardwell taking their own course. As the result of this and other conditions, for ten months ministers, greatly outnumbered, were maintained in power by the deliberate and united action of about forty Peelites.

Lord Derby had opened his administration with a pledge, as the Peelites understood, to confine himself during the session to business already open and advanced, or of an urgent character. When Mr. Disraeli gave notice of a bill to dispose of four seats which were vacant, this was regarded by them as a manner of opening new and important issues, and not within the definition that had been the condition of their provisional support.[269] 'Lord John Russell came and said to me,' says Mr. Gladstone, '"What will you do?" I admitted we were bound to act; and, joining the liberals, we threw over the proposal by a large majority. This was the only occasion of conflict that arose; and it was provoked, as we thought, by the government itself.'

FOOTNOTES:

[256] 'He had told the Queen that he thought all the offices might be filled in a respectable manner from among the members of the Peel administration. On a subsequent day both Herbert and Cardwell made out from his conversation what I did not clearly catch, namely that Lord Aberdeen himself would have acted on the Queen's wish, and that Graham had either suggested the difficulty altogether, or at any rate got it put forward into its position.' Gladstone Memo., April 22, 1851.

[257] Memorandum, dated Fasque, April 22, 1851.

[258] Memorandum, Sept. 9, 1897.

[259] Grey Papers.

[260] To Phillimore, Nov. 26, 1850.

[261] Greville, Part II, vol. iii. p. 369.

[262] Georgics, i. 493-7. 'Aye, and time will come when the husbandman with bent ploughshare upturning the clods, shall find all corroded by rusty scurf the Roman pikeheads; shall strike with heavy rake on empty helms, and gaze in wonder on giant bones cast from their broken graves.'

[263] Affirmation bill (1883) and Religious Disabilities Removal bill (1891).

[264] One of the most illustrious of the European liberals of the century wrote to Senior:—

Ce que vous me dites que le bill contre les titres ecclesiastiques ne menera a rien, me parait vraisemblable, grace aux moeurs du pays. Mais pourquoi faire des lois pires que les moeurs? C'est le contraire qui devait etre. Je vous avoue que j'ai ete de coeur et d'esprit avec ceux qui comme Lord Aberdeen et M. Gladstone, se sont opposes au nom de la liberte et du principe meme de la reforme, a ces atteintes a la fois vaines et dangereuses que le bill a portees au moins en theorie a l'independance de conscience. Ou se refugiera la liberte religieuse, si on la chasse de l'Angleterre?—Tocqueville, Corr. iii. p. 274.

[265] Namely Palmerston, Spring-Rice, F. Baring, Charles Wood, Hobhouse, Labouchere, Lord Howick.

[266] This, of course, was Charles John Earl Canning, third son of Canning the prime minister, Mr. Gladstone's contemporary at Eton and Christ Church, and known to history as governor-general of India in the Mutiny. Stratford Canning, afterwards Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, was cousin of George Canning.

[267] Graham spoke of himself as a tried reformer and as a member of the liberal party, and as glad to find himself the ally of so faithful a liberal and reformer as his fellow-candidate. He would not exactly pledge himself to support the ballot, but he admitted it was a hard question, and said he was not so blind that practical experience might not convince him that he was wrong. (Mar. 26, 1852.)

[268] The same question greatly exercised Mr. Gladstone's mind in 1886, for the same reason, that he again hoped for the reunion of a divided party.

[269] This was a bill to assign the four disfranchised seats for Sudbury and St. Albans to the West Riding of Yorkshire and the southern division of Lancashire. Mr. Gladstone carried the order of the day by a majority of 86 against the government.



CHAPTER VIII

END OF PROTECTION

(1852)

It is not too much to ask that now at least, after so much waste of public time, after ministries overturned and parties disorganised, the question of free trade should be placed high and dry on the shore whither the tide of political party strife could no longer reach it.—GLADSTONE.

The parliament was now dissolved (July 1) to decide a great question. The repeal of the corn law, the ultimate equalisation of the sugar duties, the repeal of the navigation laws, had been the three great free trade measures of the last half-dozen years, and the issue before the electors in 1852 was whether this policy was sound or unsound. Lord Derby might have faced it boldly by announcing a moderate protection for corn and for colonial sugar. Or he might have openly told the country that he had changed his mind, as Peel had changed his mind about the catholic question and about free trade, and as Mr. Disraeli was to change his mind upon franchise in 1867, and Mr. Gladstone upon the Irish church in 1868. Instead of this, all was equivocation. The Derbyite, as was well said, was protectionist in a county, neutral in a small town, free trader in a large one. He was for Maynooth in Ireland, and against it in Scotland. Mr. Disraeli did his best to mystify the agricultural elector by phrases about set-offs and compensations and relief of burdens, 'seeming to loom in the future.' He rang the changes on mysterious new principles of taxation, but what they were to be, he did not disclose. The great change since 1846 was that the working-class had become strenuous free traders. They had in earlier times never been really convinced when Cobden and Bright assured them that no fall in wages would follow the promised fall in the price of food. It was the experience of six years that convinced them. England alone had gone unhurt and unsinged through the fiery furnace of 1848, and nobody doubted that the stability of her institutions and the unity of her people were due to the repeal of bad laws, believed to raise the price of bread to the toilers in order to raise rents for territorial idlers.

AGAIN ELECTED FOR OXFORD

Long before the dissolution, it was certain that Mr. Gladstone would have to fight for his seat. His letter to the Scotch bishop (see above, p. 384), his vote for the Jews, his tenacity and vehemence in resisting the bill against the pope,—the two last exhibitions in open defiance of solemn resolutions of the university convocation itself,—had alienated some friends and inflamed all his enemies. Half a score of the Heads induced Dr. Marsham, the warden of Merton, to come out. In private qualities the warden was one of the most excellent of men, and the accident of his opposition to Mr. Gladstone is no reason why we should recall transient electioneering railleries against a forgotten worthy. The political addresses of his friends depict him. They applaud his sound and manly consistency of principle and his sober attachment to the reformed church of England, and they dwell with zest on the goodness of his heart. The issue, as they put it, was simple: 'At a time when the stability of the protestant succession, the authority of a protestant Queen, and even the Christianity of the national character, have been rudely assailed by Rome on one side, and on the other by democratic associations directed against the union of the Christian church with the British constitution—at such a time, it becomes a protestant university, from which emanates a continuous stream of instruction on all ecclesiastical and Christian questions over the whole empire, to manifest the importance which it attaches to protestant truth, by the selection of a Protestant Representative.' The teaching residents were, as always, decisively for Gladstone, and nearly all the fellows of Merton voted against their own warden. In one respect this was remarkable, for Mr. Gladstone had in 1850 (July 18) resisted the proposal for that commission of inquiry into the universities which the Oxford liberals had much at heart, and it would not have been surprising if they had held aloof from a candidate who had told the House of Commons that 'after all, science was but a small part of the business of education,'—a proposition that in one sense may be true, but applied to unreformed Oxford was the reverse of true. The non-residents were diligently and rather unscrupulously worked upon, and they made a formidable set of discordant elements. The evangelicals disliked Mr. Gladstone. The plain high-and-dry men distrusted him as what they called a sophist. Even some of the anglo-catholic men began to regard as a bad friend 'to the holy apostolic church of these realms, the author of the new theory of religious liberty' in the Scotch letter. They reproachfully insisted that had he headed a party in the House of Commons defending the church, not upon latitudinarian theories of religious liberty, not upon vague hints of a disaffected movement of the non-juring sort, still less upon romanising principles, but on the principles of the constitution, royal supremacy included, then the church would have escaped the worst that had befallen her since 1846. The minister would never have dared to force Hampden into the seat of a bishop. The privy council would never have reversed the court of arches in the Gorham case. The claim of the clergy to meet in convocation would never have been refused. The committee of council would have treated education very differently.[270] All came right in the end, however, and Mr. Gladstone was re-elected (July 14), receiving 260 votes fewer than Sir Robert Inglis, but 350 more than the warden of Merton.[271] We have to remember that he was not returned as a liberal.

II

The leaders of the sections out of office, when the general election was over, at once fetched forth line and plummet to take their soundings. 'The next few months,' Mr. Gladstone wrote to Lord Aberdeen (Aug. 20), 'are, I apprehend, the crisis of our fate, and will show whether we are equal or unequal to playing out with prudence, honour, and resolution the drama or trilogy that has been on the stage since 1841.' He still regarded the situation as something like a reproduction of the position of the previous March. The precise number of the ministerialists could not be ascertained until tested by a motion in the House. They had gained rather more than was expected, and some put them as high as 320, others as low as 290. What was undoubted was that Lord Derby was left in a minority, and that the support of the Peelites might any hour turn it into a majority. Notwithstanding a loss or two in the recent elections, that party still numbered not far short of 40, and Mr. Gladstone was naturally desirous of retaining it in connection with himself. Most of the group were disposed rather to support a conservative government than not, unless such a government were to do, or propose, something open to strong and definite objection. At the same time what he described as the difficulty of keeping Peelism for ever so short a space upon its legs, was as obvious to him as to everybody else. 'It will be an impossible parliament,' Graham said to Mr. Gladstone (July 15), 'parties will be found too nicely balanced to render a new line of policy practicable without a fresh appeal to the electors.' Before a fresh appeal to the electors took place, the impossible parliament had tumbled into a great war.

THE NEW PARLIAMENT

When the newly chosen members met in November, Mr. Disraeli told the House of Commons that 'there was no question in the minds of ministers with respect to the result of that election: there was no doubt that there was not only not a preponderating majority in favour of a change in the laws [free trade] passed in the last few years, or even of modifying them in any degree; but that on the contrary there was a decisive opinion on the part of the country that that settlement should not be disturbed.' Mr. Gladstone wrote to Lord Aberdeen (July 30) that he thought the government absolutely chained to Mr. Disraeli's next budget, and 'I, for one, am not prepared to accept him as a financial organ, or to be responsible for what he may propose in his present capacity.' Each successive speech made by Mr. Disraeli at Aylesbury he found 'more quackish in its flavour than its predecessor.' Yet action on his own part was unavoidably hampered by Oxford. 'Were I either of opinion,' he told Lord Aberdeen (Aug. 5), 'that Lord John Russell ought to succeed Lord Derby, or prepared without any further development of the plans of the government to take my stand as one of the party opposed to them, the first step which, as a man of honour, I ought to adopt, should be to resign my seat.' 'I do not mean hereby,' he adds in words that were soon to derive forcible significance from the march of events, 'that I am unconditionally committed against any alliance or fusion, but that any such alliance or fusion, to be lawful for me, must grow out of some failure of the government in carrying on public affairs, or a disapproval of its measures when they shall have been proposed.' He still, in spite of all the misdeeds of ministers during the elections, could not think so ill of them as did Lord Aberdeen.

'Protection and religious liberty,' he wrote to Lord Aberdeen (Aug. 5),'are the subjects on which my main complaints would turn; shuffling as to the former, trading on bigotry as to the latter. The shifting and shuffling that I complain of have been due partly to a miserably false position and the giddy prominence of inferior men; partly to the (surely not unexpected) unscrupulousness and second motives of Mr. Disraeli, at once the necessity of Lord Derby and his curse. I do not mean that this justifies what has been said and done; I only think it brings the case within the common limits of political misconduct. As for religious bigotry,' he continues, 'I condemn the proceedings of the present government; yet much less strongly than the unheard-of course pursued by Lord John Russell in 1850-1, the person to whom I am now invited to transfer my confidence.' Even on the superficial conversion of the Derbyites to free trade, Mr. Gladstone found a tu quoque against the whigs. 'It is, when strictly judged, an act of public immorality to form and lead an opposition on a certain plea, to succeed, and then in office to abandon it.... But in this view, the conduct of the present administration is the counterpart and copy of that of the whigs themselves in 1835, who ran Sir Robert Peel to ground upon the appropriation clause, worked it just while it suited them, and then cast it to the winds; to say nothing of their conduct on the Irish Assassination bill of 1846.'

This letter was forwarded by Aberdeen to Lord John Russell. Lord John had the peculiar temperament that is hard to agitate, but easy to nettle. So polemical a reading of former whig pranks nettled him considerably. Why, he asked, should he not say just as reasonably that Mr. Gladstone held up the whigs to odium in 1841 for stripping the farmer of adequate protection; worked the corn law of 1842 as long as it suited him; and then turned round and cast the corn law to the winds? If he gave credit to Mr. Gladstone for being sincere in 1841, 1842, and 1846, why should not Mr. Gladstone give the same credit to him? As to the principle of appropriation, he and Althorp had opposed four of their colleagues in the Grey cabinet; how could he concede to Peel what he had refused to them? As for the Irish bill on which he had turned Peel out, it was one of the worst of all coercion bills; Peel with 117 followers evidently could not carry on the government; and what sense could there have been in voting for a bad bill, in order to retain in office an impossible ministry? This smart apologia of Lord John's was hardly even plausible, much less did it cover the ground. The charge against the whigs is not that they took up appropriation, but that having taken it up they dropped it for the sake of office. Nor was it a charge that they resisted an Irish coercion bill, but that having supported it on the first reading ('worst of all coercion bills' as it was, even in the eyes of men who had passed the reckless act of 1833), they voted against it when they found that both Bentinck and the Manchester men were going to do the same, thus enabling them to turn Peel out.

CONFUSIONS OF PARTY

Sharp sallies into the past, however, did not ease the present. It was an extraordinary situation only to be described in negatives. A majority could not be found to beat the government upon a vote of want of confidence. Nobody knew who could take their places. Lord John Russell as head of a government was impossible, for his maladroit handling of papal aggression had alienated the Irish; his dealings with Palmerston had offended one powerful section of the English whigs; the Scottish whigs hated him as too much managed by the lights of the free church; and the radicals proscribed him as the chief of a patrician clique. Yet though he was impossible, he sometimes used language to the effect that for him to take any place save the first would be a personal degradation that would lower him to the level of Sidmouth or Goderich. Lord Palmerston represented the moderate centre of the liberal party. Even now he enjoyed a growing personal favour out of doors, not at all impaired by the bad terms on which he was known to be with the court, for the court was not at that date so popular an institution as it became by and by. Among other schemes of ingenious persons at this confused and broken time was a combination under Palmerston or Lansdowne of aristocratic whigs, a great contingent of Derbyites, and the Peelites; and before the elections it was true that Lord Derby had made overtures to these two eminent men. A Lansdowne combination lingered long in the mind of Lord Palmerston himself, who wished for the restoration of a whig government, but resented the idea of serving under its late head. Some dreamed that Palmerston and Disraeli might form a government on the basis of resistance to parliamentary reform. Strange rumours were even afloat that Mr. Gladstone's communications with Palmerston before he left London at the election had been intimate and frequent. 'I cannot make Gladstone out,' said Lord Malmesbury, 'he seems to me a dark horse.'

In the closing days of the autumn (September 12) Graham interpreted some obscure language of Mr. Gladstone's as meaning that if protection were renounced, as it might be, if Palmerston joined Derby and the government were reconstructed, and if Disraeli ceased to be leader, then his own relations with the government would be changed. Gladstone was so uneasy in his present position, so nice in the equipoise of his opinions that he wished to be, as he said, 'on the liberal side of the conservative party, rather than on the conservative side of the liberal party.' A little earlier than this, Lord Aberdeen and Graham agreed in thinking (August) that 'Disraeli's leadership was the great cause of Gladstone's reluctance to have anything to do with the government; ... that even if this should be removed, it would not be very easy for him to enter into partnership with them.' Mr. Gladstone himself now and always denied that the lead in the Commons or other personal question had anything to do with the balance of his opinions at the present and later moments. Those who know most of public life are best aware how great is the need in the case of public men for charitable construction of their motives and intent. Yet it would surely have been straining charity to the point of dishonour if, within two years of Peel's death, any of those who had been attached to him as master and as friend, either Mr. Gladstone or anybody else, could have looked without reprobation and aversion on the idea of cabinet intimacy with the bitterest and least sincere of all Peel's assailants.

III

OPENING SKIRMISHES

Mr. Gladstone repaired to London some weeks before the new session, and though he was not in a position to open direct relations with the government, he expressed to Lord Hardinge, with a view to its communication to Lord Derby, his strong opinion that the House of Commons would, and should, require from ministers a frank and explicit adoption of free trade through the address, and secondly, the immediate production of their financial measures. Lord Derby told Hardinge at Windsor that he thought that neither expectation was far wrong. When the Peelites met at Lord Aberdeen's to discuss tactics, they were secretly dissatisfied with the paragraphs about free trade.

Mr. Disraeli had laid down at the election the sonorous maxim, that no statesman can disregard with impunity the genius of the epoch in which he lives. And he now after the election averred that the genius of the age was in favour of free exchange. Still it was pleasanter to swallow the dose with as little public observation as possible. 'What would have been said,' cried Lord Derby in fervid remonstrance, 'if shortly after catholic emancipation and the reform bill had been admitted as settlements, their friends had come down and insisted not only that the Houses of parliament should consent to act on the new policy they had adopted, but should expressly recant their opinion in favour of the policy that had formerly prevailed? What would the friends of Sir R. Peel have said in 1835 if, when he assumed the government and when the new parliament assembled, he had been called upon to declare that the reform bill was wise, just, and necessary?' The original free traders were not disposed to connive at Derbyite operations any more than were the whigs. Notice was at once given by Mr. Villiers of a motion virtually assailing the ministers, by asserting the doctrine of free trade in terms they could not adopt. 'Now,' says Mr. Gladstone, 'we came to a case in which the liberals did that which had been done by the government in the case of the Four Seats bill; that is to say, they raised an issue which placed us against them. Lord Palmerston moved the amendment which defeated the attack, but he did this at the express request of S. Herbert and mine, and we carried the amendment to him at his house. He did not recommend any particular plan of action, and he willingly acquiesced in and adopted ours.' He said he would convey it to Disraeli, 'with whom,' he said, 'I have had communications from time to time.'

In the debate (Nov. 26) upon the two rival amendments—that of Mr. Villiers, which the ministers could not accept, and that of Palmerston, which they could—Sidney Herbert paid off some old scores in a speech full of fire and jubilation; Mr. Gladstone, on the other hand, was elaborately pacific. He earnestly deprecated the language of severity and exasperation, or anything that would tend to embitter party warfare. His illustrious leader Peel, he said, did indeed look for his revenge; but for what revenge did he look? Assuredly not for stinging speeches, assuredly not for motions made in favour of his policy, if they carried pain and degradation to the minds of honourable men. Were they not celebrating the obsequies of an obnoxious policy? Let them cherish no desire to trample on those who had fought manfully and been defeated fairly. Rather let them rejoice in the great public good that had been achieved; let them take courage from the attainment of that good, for the performance of their public duty in future. All this was inspired by the strong hope of conservative reunion. 'Nervous excitement kept me very wakeful after speaking,' says Mr. Gladstone, 'the first time for many years.' (Diary.)

Villiers's motion was rejected by 336 to 256, the Peelites and Graham voting with ministers in the majority. The Peelite amendment in moderated terms, for which Palmerston stood sponsor, was then carried against the radicals by 468 to 53. For the moment the government was saved.

This evening, Mr. Gladstone writes on the next day, Nov. 27, I went to Lady Derby's evening party, where Lord Derby took me a little aside and said he must take the opportunity of thanking me for the tone of my speech last night, which he thought tended to place the discussion on its right footing. It was evident from his manner, and Lady Derby's too, that they were highly pleased with the issue of it. I simply made my acknowledgments in terms of the common kind, upon which he went on to ask me what in my view was to happen next? The great object, he said, was to get rid of all personal questions, and to consider how all those men who were united in their general views of government might combine together to carry on with effect. For himself he felt both uncertain and indifferent; he might be able to carry on the government or he might not; but the question lay beyond that, by what combination or arrangement of a satisfactory nature, in the event of his displacement, the administration of public affairs could be conducted.

To this I replied, that it seemed to me that our situation (meaning that of Herbert, Goulburn, and others, with myself) in relation to his government remained much as it was in March and April last.... We have to expect your budget, and the production of that is the next step. He replied that he much desired to see whether there was a possibility of any rapprochement, and seemed to glance at personal considerations as likely perhaps to stand in the way [Disraeli, presumably]. I said in reply, that no doubt there were many difficulties of a personal nature to be faced in conceiving of any ministerial combination when we looked at the present House of Commons: many men of power and eminence, but great difficulties arising from various causes, present and past relations, incompatibilities, peculiar defects of character, or failure in bringing them into harmony. I said that, as to relations of parties, circumstances were often stronger than the human will; that we must wait for their guiding, and follow it.... He said, rather decidedly, that he assented to the truth of this doctrine. He added, 'I think Sidney said more last night than he intended, did he not?' I answered, 'You mean as to one particular expression or sentence?' He rejoined, 'Yes.'[272] I said, 'I have had no conversation with him on it, but I think it very probable that he grew warm and went beyond his intention at that point; at the same time, I think I ought to observe to you that I am confident that expression was occasioned by one particular preceding speech in the debate.' He gave a significant assent, and seemed to express no surprise.

IV

MR. DISRAELI'S PROPOSALS

The respite for ministers was short. The long day of shadowy promises and delusive dreams was over; and the oracular expounder of mysteries was at last gripped by the hard realities of the taxes. Whigs and Peelites, men who had been at the exchequer and men who hoped to be, were all ready at last to stalk down their crafty quarry. Without delay Disraeli presented his budget (Dec. 3). As a private member in opposition he had brought forward many financial proposals, but it now turned out that none of them was fit for real use. With a serene audacity that accounts for some of Mr. Gladstone's repulsion, he told the House that he had greater subjects to consider 'than the triumph of obsolete opinions.' His proposals dazzled for a day, and then were seen to be a scheme of illusory compensations and dislocated expedients. He took off half of the malt-tax and half of the hop duty, and in stages reduced the tea duty from two shillings and twopence to one shilling. More important, he broke up the old frame of the income-tax by a variation of its rates, and as for the house-tax, he doubled its rate and extended its area. In one of his fragmentary notes, Mr. Gladstone says:—

Having run away from protection, as it was plain from the first they would do, they had little to offer the land, but that little their minority was ready to accept. It was a measure essentially bad to repeal half the malt duty. But the flagrantly vicious element in Disraeli's budget was his proposal to reduce the income-tax on schedule D. to fivepence in the pound, leaving the other schedules at sevenpence. This was no compensation to the land; but, inasmuch as to exempt one is to tax another, it was a distinct addition to the burdens borne by the holders of visible property. It was on Disraeli's part a most daring bid for the support of the liberal majority, for we all knew quite well that the current opinion of the whigs and liberals was in favour of this scheme; which, on the other hand, was disapproved by sound financiers. The authority of Pitt and Peel, and then my own study of the subject, made me believe that it was impracticable, and probably meant the disruption of the tax, with confusion in finance, as an immediate sequitur. What angered me was that Disraeli had never examined the question. And I afterwards found that he had not even made known his intentions to the board of inland revenue. The gravity of the question thus raised made me feel that the day was come to eject the government.

ATTACK ON THE BUDGET

It was upon the increase of the house-tax that the great battle was finally staked. Mr. Gladstone's letters to his wife at Hawarden bring the rapid and excited scenes vividly before us.

6 Carlton Gardens, Dec. 3, 1852.—I write from H. of C. at 41/2 just expecting the budget. All seem to look for startling and dangerous proposals. You will read them in the papers of to-morrow, be they what they may. If there is anything outrageous, we may protest at once; but I do not expect any extended debate to-night.... The rush for places in the H. of C. is immense.

Monday, Dec. 6.—On Saturday, in the early part of the day, I had a return, perhaps caused by the damp relaxing weather, of the neuralgic pain in my face, and in the afternoon a long sitting at Lord Aberdeen's about the budget, during which strange to say my pain disappeared, but which kept me past the ordinary post hour. These were the causes of your having no letter. The said budget will give rise to serious difficulties. It is plain enough that when its author announced something looming in the distance, he did not mean this plan but something more extensive. Even his reduced scheme, however, includes fundamental faults of principle which it is impossible to overlook or compound with. The first day of serious debate on it will be Friday next, and a vote will be taken either then or on Monday.

Dec. 8.—Be sure to read Lord Derby's speech on Monday. His reference to the cause of his quarrel with Lord George Bentinck was most striking, and is interpreted as a rap at Disraeli.[273] I have had a long sit with Lord Aberdeen to-day talking over possibilities. The government, I believe, talk confidently about the decision on the house-tax, but I should doubt whether they are right. Meantime I am convinced that Disraeli's is the least conservative budget I have ever known.

Dec. 14.—I need hardly say the vision of going down to-morrow has been dissolved. It has been arranged that I am not to speak until the close of the debate; and it is considered almost certain to go on till Monday. Ministers have become much less confident, but I understand that some, I know not how many, of Lord John's men are not to be relied on. Whether they win or not (I expect the latter, but my opinion is naught) they cannot carry this house-tax nor their budget. But the mischief of the proposals they have launched will not die with them.

Dec. 15.—I write in great haste. Though it is Wednesday, I have been down at the House almost all day to unravel a device of Disraeli's about the manner in which the question is to be put, by which he means to catch votes; and I think after full consultation with Mahon and Wilson Patten, that this will be accomplished. The debate may close to-morrow night. I am sorry to say I have a long speech fermenting in me, and I feel as a loaf might in the oven. The government, it is thought, are likely to be beaten.

Dec. 16.—I have been engaged in the House till close on post time. Disraeli trying to wriggle out of the question, and get it put upon words without meaning, to enable more to vote as they please, i.e. his men or those favourably inclined to him. But he is beaten in this point, and we have now the right question before us. It is not now quite certain whether we shall divide to-night; I hope we may, for it is weary work sitting with a speech fermenting inside one.[274]

Dec. 18.—I have never gone through so exciting a passage of parliamentary life. The intense efforts which we made to obtain, and the government to escape, a definite issue, were like a fox chase, and prepared us all for excitement. I came home at seven, dined, read for a quarter of an hour, and actually contrived (only think) to sleep in the fur cloak for another quarter of an hour; got back to the House at nine. Disraeli rose at 10.20 [Dec. 16], and from that moment, of course, I was on tenterhooks, except when his superlative acting and brilliant oratory from time to time absorbed me and made me quite forget that I had to follow him. He spoke until one. His speech as a whole was grand; I think the most powerful I ever heard from him. At the same time it was disgraced by shameless personalities and otherwise; I had therefore to begin by attacking him for these. There was a question whether it would not be too late, but when I heard his personalities I felt there was no choice but to go on. My great object was to show the conservative party how their leader was hoodwinking and bewildering them, and this I have the happiness of believing that in some degree I effected; for while among some there was great heat and a disposition to interrupt me when they could, I could see in the faces and demeanour of others quite other feelings expressed. But it was a most difficult operation, and altogether it might have been better effected. The House has not I think been so much excited for years. The power of his speech, and the importance of the issue, combined with the lateness of the hour, which always operates, were the causes. My brain was strung very high, and has not yet quite got back to calm, but I slept well last night. On Thursday night [i.e. Friday morning] after two hours of sleep, I awoke, and remembered a gross omission I had made, which worked upon me so that I could not rest any more. And still, of course, the time is an anxious one, and I wake with the consciousness of it, but I am very well and really not unquiet. When I came home from the House, I thought it would be good for me to be mortified. Next morning I opened the Times, which I thought you would buy, and was mortified when I saw it did not contain my speech but a mangled abbreviation. Such is human nature, at least mine. But in the Times of to-day you will see a very curious article descriptive of the last scene of the debate. It has evidently been written by a man who must have seen what occurred, or been informed by those who did see. He by no means says too much in praise of Disraeli's speech. I am told he is much stung by what I said. I am very sorry it fell to me to say it; God knows I have no wish to give him pain; and really with my deep sense of his gifts I would only pray they might be well used.

THE TWO ANTAGONISTS

The writer in the Times to whom the victorious orator here refers describes how, 'like two of Sir Walter Scott's champions, these redoubtable antagonists gathered up all their force for the final struggle, and encountered each other in mid-career; how, rather equal than like, each side viewed the struggle of their chosen athletes, as if to prognosticate from the war of words the fortunes of two parties so nicely balanced and marshalled in apparently equal array. Mr. Disraeli's speech,' he says, 'was in every respect worthy of his oratorical reputation. The retorts were pointed and bitter, the hits telling, the sarcasm keen, the argument in many places cogent, in all ingenious, and in some convincing. The merits were counterbalanced by no less glaring defects of tone, temper, and feeling. In some passages invective was pushed to the limit of virulence, and in others, meant no doubt to relieve them by contrast, the coarser stimulants to laughter were very freely applied. Occasionally whole sentences were delivered with an artificial voice and a tone of studied and sardonic bitterness, peculiarly painful to the audience, and tending greatly to diminish the effect of this great intellectual and physical effort. The speech of Mr. Gladstone was in marked contrast. It was characterised throughout by the most earnest sincerity. It was pitched in a high tone of moral feeling—now rising to indignation, now sinking to remonstrance—which was sustained throughout without flagging and without effort. The language was less ambitious, less studied, but more natural and flowing than that of Mr. Disraeli; and though commencing in a tone of stern rebuke, it ended in words of almost pathetic expostulation.... That power of persuasion which seems entirely denied to his antagonist, Mr. Gladstone possesses to great perfection, and to judge by the countenances of his hearers, those powers were very successfully exerted. He had, besides, the immense advantage resulting from the tone of moral superiority which he assumed and successfully maintained, and which conciliated to him the goodwill of his audience in a degree never attained by the most brilliant sallies of his adversary, and when he concluded the House might well feel proud of him and of themselves.'

A violent thunderstorm raged during the debate, but the excited senators neither noticed the flashes of lightning nor heard a tremendous shock of thunder. A little before four o'clock in the morning (Dec. 17), the division was taken, and ministers were beaten by nineteen (305 to 286). 'There was an immense crowd,' says Macaulay, 'a deafening cheer when Hayter took the right hand of the row of tellers, and a still louder cheer when the numbers were read.'[275]

DEFEAT OF GOVERNMENT

A small incident occurred a few nights later to show that it was indeed high time to abate the passions of these six years and more. A politician of secondary rank had been accused of bribery at Derby, and a band of tory friends thought the moment opportune to give him a banquet at the Carlton. Mr. Gladstone in another room was harmlessly reading the paper. Presently in came the revellers, began to use insulting language, and finally vowed that he ought to be pitched headlong out of the window into the Reform. Mr. Gladstone made some courteous reply, but as the reporter truly says, courtesy to gentry in this humour was the casting of pearls before swine. Eventually they ordered candles in another room, and left him to himself.[276] 'You will perhaps,' he wrote to his wife, 'see an account of a row at the Carlton in which I have taken no harm.' The affair indeed was trivial, but it illustrates a well-known and striking reflection of Cornewall Lewis upon the assault perpetrated on Sumner in the Senate at Washington by Brooks. 'That outrage,' he said, 'is no proof of brutal manners or low morality in Americans; it is the first blow in a civil war.... If Peel had proposed a law not only reducing rents, but annihilating them, instead of being attacked by a man of words like Disraeli, he would have been attacked with physical arguments by some man of blows.'[277]

In point of numbers the stroke given to protection was not tremendous, but as the history of half a century has shown, it was adequate and sufficient, and Lord Derby at once resigned. He did not take his defeat well. 'Strange to say,' Mr. Gladstone wrote to his wife, 'Lord Derby has been making a most petulant and intemperate speech in the House of Lords on his resignation; such that Newcastle was obliged to rise after him and contradict the charge of combination; while nothing could be better in temper, feeling, and judgment than Disraeli's farewell.' Derby angrily divided the combination that had overthrown him into, first, various gradations of liberalism from 'high aristocratic and exclusive whigs down to the extremest radical theorists'; second, Irish ultramontanes; and lastly, a party of some thirty or thirty-five gentlemen 'of great personal worth, of great eminence and respectability, possessing considerable official experience and a large amount of talent—who once professed, and I believe do still profess, conservative opinions.'

Mr. Disraeli, on the contrary, with infinite polish and grace asked pardon for the flying words of debate, and drew easy forgiveness from the member whom a few hours before he had mocked as 'a weird sibyl'; the other member whom he would not say he greatly respected, but whom he greatly regarded; and the third member whom he bade learn that petulance is not sarcasm, and insolence is not invective. Lord John Russell congratulated him on the ability and the gallantry with which he had conducted the struggle, and so the curtain fell. The result, as the great newspaper put it with journalistic freedom, was 'not merely the victory of a battle, but of a war; not a reverse, but a conquest. The vanquished have no principles which they dare to assert, no leaders whom they can venture to trust.'

FOOTNOTES:

[270] Charles Wordsworth, Letter to Mr. Gladstone, 1852, p. 50.

[271] Inglis, 1368; Gladstone, 1108; Marsham, 758.

[272] I suppose this refers to a passage about Mr. Disraeli:—'For my part I acquit the chancellor of the exchequer, so far as his own convictions are concerned, of the charge of having ever been a protectionist. I never for one moment thought he believed in the least degree in protection. I do not accuse him of having forgotten what he said or what he believed in those years. I only accuse him of having forgotten now what he then wished it to appear that he believed.' The same speech contains a whimsical reason why the Jews make no converts, which the taste of our more democratic House would certainly not tolerate.

[273] 'The only serious misunderstanding I ever had with my noble and lamented friend Lord George Bentinck, which I am happy to say was thoroughly removed before his untimely death—was upon a full and frank expression of my opinion that nothing could be more unfitting nor more impolitic than to load with terms of vituperation those from whom we are compelled conscientiously to differ' (Dec. 6).

[274] 'We had a preliminary debate to have the whole resolution put, instead of the preamble only, which was ultimately agreed to, and placed the question more fairly before the public, Disraeli making the extraordinary declaration that though the proposal was for doubling the house-tax, nobody was bound by that vote to do so. It was an attempt at a shuffle in order to catch votes from his own people, and to a certain extent it succeeded.'—Halifax Papers, 1852.

[275] Trevelyan, ii. p. 331.

[276] Times, Dec. 23, 1852.

[277] Letters, p. 315.



Book IV

1853-1859

CHAPTER I

THE COALITION

(1853)

The materials necessary for a sound judgment of facts are not found in the success or failure of undertakings; exact knowledge of the situation that has provoked them forms no inconsiderable element of history.—METTERNICH.

England was unconsciously on the eve of a violent break in the peace that had been her fortunate lot for nearly forty years. To the situation that preceded this signal event, a judicious reader may well give his attention. Some of the particulars may seem trivial. In countries governed by party, what those out of the actualities of the fray reckon trivial often count for much, and in the life of a man destined to be a conspicuous party leader, to pass them by would be to leave out real influences.

The first experiment in providing the country with a tory government had failed. That alliance between whig and Peelite which Lord John the year before had been unable to effect, had become imperative, and at least a second experiment was to be tried. The initial question was who should be head of the new government. In August, Lord Aberdeen had written to Mr. Gladstone in anticipation of the Derbyite defeat: 'If high character and ability only were required, you would be the person; but I am aware that for the present at least this would not be practicable. Whether it would be possible for Newcastle or me to undertake the concern is more than I can say.' Other good reasons apart, it is easy to see that Mr. Gladstone's attitude in things ecclesiastical put him out of court, and though he had made a conspicuous mark not only, as Lord Aberdeen said, by character and ability but by liberality of view especially in the region of colonial reform, still he had as yet had no good opportunity for showing an independent capacity for handling great affairs.

Not any less impossible was Lord John. Shortly before the occasion arose, a whig intimate told him plainly that reconstruction on the basis of his old government was out of the question. 'Lord John's answer was a frank acceptance of that opinion; and he was understood to say that the composition of the next government must be mainly from the ranks of the Peelites; he evidently looked forward to being a member of it, but not the head. When various persons were named as possible heads, Lord Aberdeen was distinctly approved, Graham was distinctly rejected, Newcastle was mentioned without any distinct opinion expressed. We [Aberdeen and Gladstone] were both alike at a loss to know whether Lord John had changed his mind, or had all along since his resignation been acting with this view. All his proceedings certainly seem to require an opposite construction, and to contemplate his own leadership.'[278]

Lord Palmerston was determined not to serve again under a minister who had with his own hand turned him out of office, and of whose unfitness for the first post he was at the moment profoundly convinced. He told a Peelite friend that Lord John's love of popularity would always lead him into scrapes, and that his way of suddenly announcing new policies (Durham letter and Edinburgh letter) without consulting colleagues, could not be acquiesced in. Besides the hostility of Palmerston and his friends, any government with the writer of the Durham letter at its head must have the hostility of the Irishmen to encounter. The liberal attitude of the Peelites on the still smouldering question of papal aggression gave Aberdeen a hold on the Irish such as nobody else could have.

A HARASSED WEEK

Another man of great eminence in the whig party might have taken the helm, but Lord Lansdowne was seventy-two, and was supposed to have formally retired from office for ever. The leader of the Peelites visited the patrician whig at Lansdowne House, and each begged the other to undertake the uncoveted post. Lord Aberdeen gave a slow assent. Previously understanding from Lord John that he would join, Aberdeen accepted the Queen's commission to form a government. He had a harassed week. At first the sun shone. 'Lord John consents,' wrote Mr. Gladstone to his wife at Hawarden, 'and has behaved very well. Palmerston refuses, which is a serious blow. To-morrow I think we shall get to detailed arrangements, about which I do not expect extraordinary difficulty. But I suppose Palmerston is looking to become the leader of a Derby opposition; and without him, or rather with him between us and the conservatives, I cannot but say the game will be a very difficult one to play. It is uncertain whether I shall be chancellor of the exchequer or secretary for the colonies; one of the two I think certainly; and the exchequer will certainly come to Graham or me.'

Within a few hours angry squalls all but capsized the boat. Lord John at first had sought consolation in an orthodox historical parallel—the case of Mr. Fox, though at the head of the largest party, leading the Commons under Lord Grenville as head of the government. Why should he, then, refuse a position that Fox had accepted? But friends, often in his case the most mischievous of advisers, reminded him what sort of place he would hold in a cabinet in which the chief posts were filled by men not of his own party. Lord John himself thought, from memories of Bishop Hampden and other ecclesiastical proceedings, that Mr. Gladstone would be his sharpest opponent. Then as the days passed, he found deposition from first place to second more bitter than he had expected. Historic and literary consolation can seldom be a sure sedative against the stings of political ambition. He changed his mind every twelve hours, and made infinite difficulties. When these were with much travail appeased, difficulties were made on behalf of others. The sacred caste and their adherents were up in arms, and a bitter cry arose that all the good things were going to the Peelites, only the leavings to the whigs. Lord John doubtless remembered what Fox had said when the ministry of All the Talents was made,—'We are three in a bed.' Disraeli now remarked sardonically, 'The cake is too small.' To realise the scramble, the reader may think of the venerable carp that date from Henry iv. and Sully, struggling for bread in the fish-ponds of the palace of Fontainebleau. The whigs of this time were men of intellectual refinement; they had a genuine regard for good government, and a decent faith in reform; but when we chide the selfishness of machine politicians hunting office in modern democracy, let us console ourselves by recalling the rapacity of our oligarchies. 'It is melancholy,' muses Sir James Graham this Christmas in his journal, 'to see how little fitness for office is regarded on all sides, and how much the public employments are treated as booty to be divided among successful combatants.'

From that point of view, the whig case was strong. 'Of 330 members of the House of Commons,' wrote Lord John to Aberdeen, '270 are whig and radical, thirty are Irish brigade, thirty are Peelites. To this party of thirty you propose to give seven seats in cabinet, to the whigs and radicals five, to Lord Palmerston one.' In the end there were six whigs, as many Peelites, and one radical. The case of four important offices out of the cabinet was just as heartrending: three were to go to the thirty Peelites, and one to the two hundred and seventy just persons. 'I am afraid,' cried Lord John, 'that the liberal party will never stand this, and that the storm will overwhelm me.' Whig pride was deeply revolted at subjection to a prime minister whom in their drawing-rooms they mocked as an old tory. In the Aberdeen cabinet, says Mr. Gladstone, 'it may be thought that the whigs, whose party was to supply five-sixths or seven-eighths of our supporters, had less than their due share of power. It should, however, be borne in mind that they had at this juncture in some degree the character of an used up, and so far a discredited, party. Without doubt they were sufferers from their ill-conceived and mischievous Ecclesiastical Titles Act. Whereas we, the Peelites had been for six and a half years out of office, and had upon us the gloss of freshness.'

CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER

Lord Palmerston refused to join the coalition, on the honourable ground that for many years he and Aberdeen had stood at the antipodes to one another in the momentous department of foreign affairs. In fact he looked in another direction. If the Aberdeen-Russell coalition broke down, either before they began the journey or very soon after, Lord Derby might come back with a reconstructed team, with Palmerston leading in the Commons a centre party that should include the Peelites. He was believed to have something of this kind in view when he consented to move the amendment brought to him by Gladstone and Herbert in November, and he was bitterly disappointed at the new alliance of that eminent pair with Lord John. With the tories he was on excellent terms. Pall Mall was alive with tales of the anger and disgust of the Derbyites against Mr. Disraeli, who had caused them first to throw over their principles and then to lose their places. The county constituencies and many conservative boroughs were truly reported to be sick of the man who had promised marvels as 'looming in the future,' and then like a bad jockey had brought the horse upon its knees. Speculative minds cannot but be tempted to muse upon the difference that the supersession by Lord Palmerston of this extraordinary genius at that moment might have made, both to the career of Disraeli himself, and to the nation of which he one day became for a space the supreme ruler. Cobden and Bright let it be understood that they were not candidates for office. 'Our day has not come yet,' Bright said to Graham, and the representative of the radicals in the cabinet was Sir William Molesworth. In their newspaper the radicals wrote rather stiffly and jealously. In the end Lord Palmerston changed his mind and joined.

It was three days before the post of the exchequer was filled. Mr. Gladstone in his daily letter to Hawarden writes: 'At headquarters I understand they say, "Mr. G. destroyed the budget, so he ought to make a new one." However we are trying to press Graham into that service.' The next day it was settled. From Osborne a letter had come to Lord Aberdeen: 'The Queen hopes it may be possible to give the chancellorship of the exchequer to Mr. Gladstone, and to secure the continuance of Lord St. Leonards as chancellor.'[279] Notwithstanding the royal wish, 'we pressed it,' says Mr. Gladstone, 'on Graham, but he refused point blank.' Graham, as we know, was the best economist in the administration of Peel, and Mr. Gladstone's frequent references to him in later times on points of pure finance show the value set upon his capacity in this department. His constitutional dislike of high responsibility perhaps intervened. Mr. Gladstone himself would cheerfully have returned to the colonial office, but the whigs suspected the excesses of his colonial liberalism, and felt sure that he would sow the tares of anglicanism in these virgin fields. So before Christmas day came, Mr. Gladstone accepted what was soon in influence the second post in the government,[280] and became chancellor of the exchequer.

Say what they would, the parliamentary majority was unstable as water. His own analysis of the House of Commons gave 270 British liberals, not very compact, and the radical wing of them certain to make occasions of combination against the government, especially in finance. The only other party avowing themselves general supporters of the government were the forty Peelites—for at that figure he estimated them. The ministry, therefore, were in a minority, and a portion even of that minority not always to be depended on. The remainder of the House he divided into forty Irish brigaders, bent on mischief; from fifty to eighty conservatives, not likely to join in any factious vote, and not ill-disposed to the government, but not to be counted on either for attendance or confidence; finally, the Derby opposition, from 200 to 250, ready to follow Mr. Disraeli into any combination for turning out the government. 'It thus appears, if we strike out the fifty conservatives faintly favourable, that we have a government with 310 supporters, liable on occasions, which frequently arise, to heavy deductions; with an opposition of 290 (Derbyites and brigaders), most of them ready to go all lengths. Such a government cannot be said to possess the confidence of the House of Commons in the full constitutional sense.'

EARLY POSITION OF THE MINISTRY

The general course seemed smooth. Palmerston had gone to the harmless department of home affairs. The international airs were still. But a cabinet finally composed of six Peelites, six whigs, and a radical, was evidently open to countless internal hazards. 'We shall all look strangely at each other,' one of them said, 'when we first meet in cabinet.' Graham describes them as a powerful team that would need good driving. 'There are some odd tempers and queer ways among them; but on the whole they are gentlemen, and they have a perfect gentleman at their head, who is honest and direct, and who will not brook insincerity in others.' The head of the new government described it to a friend as 'a great experiment, hitherto unattempted, and of which the success must be considered doubtful, but in the meantime the public had regarded it with singular favour.' To the King of the Belgians, Aberdeen wrote: 'England will occupy her true position in Europe as the constant advocate of moderation and peace'; and to Guizot, that 'the position which we desired so see England occupy among the nations of Europe, was to act the part of a moderator, and by reconciling differences and removing misunderstandings to preserve harmony and peace.'

I have seen no more concise analysis of the early position of the coalition government than that by one of the ablest and most experienced members of the whig party, not himself a candidate for office:—

'It is strong,' Sir Francis Baring wrote to his son, 'in personal talent; none that I can remember stronger, though the head of the government is untried. It is strong in one point of view: as to public feeling. The country, I believe, wanted a moderate liberal government, and a fusion of liberal conservatives and moderate liberals. It is weak in the feelings of the component parts: Palmerston is degraded, Gladstone will struggle for power, Lord John cannot be comfortable. It is weak in the discordant antecedents of the cabinet; they must all make some sacrifices and work uncomfortably. It is weak in the support. I do not mean the numbers, but the class of supporters. The Peelites are forty; they will have the liberals on the one side and the conservatives on the other. The whigs of the cabinet will be anxious to satisfy the former; the Peelites (Gladstone especially) the other. They are weak in their church views. The protestants look on those who voted against the Aggression bill with distrust; the evangelicals on Gladstone and S. Herbert with dislike. I don't pretend to be a prophet, but it is always well to put down what you expect and to compare these expectations with results. My conjecture is that Gladstone will, before long, leave the government or that he will break it up.'[281]

Long afterwards Mr. Gladstone himself said this of the coalition:—

I must say of this cabinet of Lord Aberdeen's that in its deliberations it never exhibited the marks of its dual origin. Sir W. Molesworth, its radical member, seemed to be practically rather nearer in colour to the Peelites than to the whigs. There were some few idiosyncrasies without doubt. Lord Palmerston, who was home secretary, had in him some tendencies which might have been troublesome, but for a long time were not so. It is, for instance, a complete error to suppose that he asked the cabinet to treat the occupation of the Principalities as a casus belli. Lord Russell shook the position of Lord Aberdeen by action most capricious and unhappy. But with the general course of affairs this had no connection; and even in the complex and tortuous movements of the Eastern negotiations, the cabinet never fell into two camps. That question and the war were fatal to it. In itself I hardly ever saw a cabinet with greater promise of endurance.

II

OPPOSITION AT OXFORD

Acceptance of office vacated the Oxford seat, and the day after Christmas a thunderbolt fell upon the new chancellor of the exchequer from his friend, the militant archdeacon of Taunton. 'I wish to use few words,' Denison wrote, 'where every word I write is so bitterly distressing to me, and must be little less so, I cannot doubt, to yourself and to many others whom I respect and love. I have to state to you, as one of your constituents, that from this time I can place no confidence in you as representative of the university of Oxford, or as a public man.' Mr. Gladstone's protestations that church patronage would be as safe in Lord Aberdeen's hands as in Lord Derby's; that his own past history dispensed with the necessity of producing other assurances of his own fidelity; that his assumption of office could not shake it—all these were vain in face of the staring and flagrant fact that he would henceforth be the intimate and partner in council of Lord John Russell, the latitudinarian, the erastian, the appropriationist, the despoiler; and worse still, of Molesworth, sometimes denounced as a Socinian, sometimes as editor of the atheist Hobbes, but in either case no fit person to dispense the church patronage of the duchy of Lancaster. Only a degree less shocking was the thought of the power of filling bishoprics and deaneries by a prime minister himself a presbyterian. No guarantee that the member for Oxford might have taken against aggression upon the church, or for the concession of her just claims, was worth a feather when weighed against the mere act of a coalition so deadly as this.

It was an awkward fact for Mr. Gladstone's canvassers that Lord Derby had stated that his defeat was the result of a concert or combination between the Peelites and other political parties. Mr. Gladstone himself saw no reason why this should cause much soreness among his Oxford supporters. 'No doubt,' he said, 'they will remember that I avowed before and during the last election a wish to find the policy and measures of the government such as would justify me in giving them my support. That wish I sincerely entertained. But the main question was whether the concert or combination alleged to have taken place for the purpose of ejecting Lord Derby's government from office was fact or fiction. I have not the slightest hesitation in stating to you that it is a fiction. Evidence for the only presumption in its favour was this—that we voted against the budget of Mr. Disraeli in strict conformity with every principle of finance we had professed through our political lives and with the policy of former finance ministers from the time of Mr. Pitt, against the "new principles" and "new policies" which Mr. Disraeli declared at Aylesbury his intention to submit to the House of Commons—a pledge which I admit that he completely redeemed.'[282]

All this was true enough, but what people saw was that the first fruits of the victory were a coalition with the whigs, who by voting with Villiers had from the first shown their predetermination against ministers. As Northcote humorously said, Mary Stuart could never get over the presumption which her marriage with Bothwell immediately raised as to the nature of her previous connection with him. It is hard to deny that, as the world goes, the Oxford tories clerical and lay might think they had a case. Lord Derby was the tory minister, and Mr. Gladstone had been a chief instrument in turning him out. That was the one salient fact, and the political flock is often apt to see a thing with a more single eye than their shepherds.

A candidate was found in Mr. Perceval, son of the tory prime minister who had met a tragic death forty years before. The country clergy were plied with instigations and solicitations, public and private. No absurdity was too monstrous to set afloat. Mr. Gladstone had seceded to the episcopal church of Scotland. He had long ceased to be a communicant. He was on close and intimate terms with Cardinal Wiseman. He had incited the pope to persecute protestants at Florence. In this vein a flight of angry articles and circulars descended on every parsonage where there was an Oxford master of arts with his name still on the university books. At the beginning the enemy by a rush were in a majority, but they were speedily beaten out of it. At the end of six days, in spite of frenzied efforts, no more than 1330 votes out of a constituency of 3600 had been recorded. Still the indomitable men insisted on the legal right of keeping the poll open for fifteen days, and learned persons even gloomily hinted that the time might be extended to forty days. In the end (Jan. 20) Mr. Gladstone had 1022 votes against Perceval's 898, or a narrow majority of 124. The tory press justly consoled themselves by calculating that such a majority was only six per cent. of the votes polled, but they were very angry with the failure of the protestant electors in doing their patriotic duty against 'the pro-romanist candidate.' The organ of the Peelites, on the other hand, was delighted at the first verdict thus gained from the most influential constituency in Great Britain, in favour of the new experiment of conservative-liberalism and wise and rational progress. Graham said, and truly, that 'though Gladstone's defeat at that precise juncture would have been a misfortune, yet for his own sake hereafter, emancipation from the thraldom of that constituency would be a blessing. It is a millstone under which even Peel would have sunk.'

Was Mr. Gladstone right in his early notion of himself as a slow moving mind? Would it be true to say that, compared with Pitt, for instance, he ripened slowly? Or can we accurately describe him as having in any department of life, thought, knowledge, feeling, been precocious? Perhaps not. To speak of slowness in a man of such magical rapidity of intellectual apprehension would be indeed a paradox, but we have seen already how when he is walking in the middle path of his years, there is a sense in which he was slow in character and motion. Slowness explains some qualities in his literary and oratorical form, which was often, and especially up to our present period, vague, ambiguous, and obscure. The careless and the uncharitable set all down to sophistry. Better observers perceived that his seeming mystifications were in fact the result of a really embarrassed judgment. They pointed out that where the way was clear, as in free trade, colonial government, dissenters' chapels, Jewish disabilities, catholic bishoprics, nobody could run more straight, at higher speed, or with more powerful stride. They began to say that in spite of Russells, Palmerstons, Grahams, Mr. Gladstone, after all, was the least unlikely of them 'to turn out a thoroughgoing man of the people.' These anticipations of democracy there is no sign that Mr. Gladstone himself, in the smallest degree, shared. The newspapers, meanwhile, were all but unanimous in declaring that 'if experience, talent, industry, and virtue, are the attributes required for the government of this empire,' then the coalition government would be one of the best that England had ever seen.

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