The Political History of England - Vol XI - From Addington's Administration to the close of William - IV.'s Reign (1801-1837)
by George Brodrick
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The details of this affair may be passed over in a few words. What is clear is that Brougham and Littleton, without the knowledge of Grey, had persuaded Lord Wellesley, as viceroy of Ireland, not to insist on a renewal of the coercion act in its full severity, and especially to sanction an abandonment of clauses suppressing public meetings. Having obtained Wellesley's consent behind the backs of Grey and the rest of the cabinet, Littleton with the cognisance of Althorp, proceeded to bargain with O'Connell for an abatement, at least, of his opposition to all coercion. The cabinet as a body declined to ratify any such agreement, O'Connell denounced Littleton as having played a trick upon him, and Althorp, disdaining to advocate provisions which he was almost pledged in honour to drop, resigned his office and the leadership of the commons. Grey, who could not have remained in office without the support of Althorp's great popularity in the commons, at once resolved to follow his example, and on July 9 took leave of political life in a dignified and pathetic speech. As for Ward's motion, the original cause of Grey's desertion by Stanley and his subsequent fall, it had been rejected by an enormous majority in favour of "the previous question" before Althorp's disappearance from his old position. Meanwhile Stanley availed himself of his liberty to make one of his most dashing but least prudent speeches, and permanently compromised his reputation for statesmanship.[120]


No other whig possessed the prestige derived by Grey from nearly fifty years of consistent public service. Althorp commanded an extraordinary degree of confidence in the house of commons and the country, but his intellectual capacity was not of the highest order, and many expected that Peel might receive a summons from the king, whose sympathy with the whigs, never very deep, had given place to mistrust. His choice, however, fell upon Melbourne, whom he desired, if possible, to form a coalition with Peel, Wellington, and Stanley against the radicals. But neither Melbourne nor Peel would accept such a coalition, and they both showed their wisdom in declining it. The king then empowered Melbourne to patch up the whig ministry. In deference to a requisition signed by liberals of all sections, Althorp was induced to withdraw his resignation, and resumed his leadership in the commons with no apparent diminution of popularity. Duncannon, who was created a peer, succeeded Melbourne at the home office; Lord Mulgrave, son of the first earl, became lord privy seal in place of Carlisle; and Hobhouse entered the cabinet as first commissioner of woods and forests. The rest of the session was mainly spent in discussing the budget and the two Irish questions which for so many years were the curse of English politics. A surplus of two millions enabled Althorp to propitiate an importunate class of taxpayers by repealing the house tax.

It would have been more statesmanlike to repeal the window tax or reduce indirect taxation, but relief was given, as usual, to those who raised the loudest clamour, and the vindication of sound finance was reserved for a conservative administration. A second and milder Irish coercion bill was carried by a large majority, with the fatal proviso, which has marred the effect of so many later measures, that it should continue in operation for a year only. A far more serious conflict arose on the new Irish tithe bill. A complicated plan had been proposed whereby four-fifths of the tithe would have been ostensibly secured to the church by conversion into a rent-charge, the remaining fifth being sacrificed for the sake of peace and security. O'Connell succeeded in inducing the house of commons to adopt a counter-plan, of a very sweeping nature, whereby two-fifths of the existing tithe would have been abandoned, and the tithe owner partly compensated out of the revenues of suppressed bishoprics, aided by a state grant. The bill thus amended was rejected by a majority of 189 to 122 in the house of lords. Peel still cherished the idea of settling the question by a system of voluntary commutation, but, after the peremptory action of the lords, no compromise was likely to be acceptable, and there is some ground for the opinion that in that division the Irish Church establishment received its death-blow.

On August 15 parliament was prorogued, and the belief of Peel in the stability of the government may be inferred from the fact that he left England for Italy on October 14. During the vacation, however, two incidents occurred, trivial in themselves, but pregnant with important consequences. One of these was Brougham's triumphant progress through Scotland, where he was enthusiastically received as the saviour of his country, and assumed the air of one who not only kept the king's conscience but controlled the royal will. The story of this famous tour exhibits alike the greatness of his powers and the littleness of his character.[121] The homage paid to him was not undeserved, for he was assuredly the foremost gladiator of the whig party, and had given proofs of more varied ability than any living politician or lawyer. But the dignified eloquence of which he was capable on rare occasions was here submerged in a flood of egotistical rhetoric, which carried him away so far that he assumed a political independence which his colleagues deeply resented, and even spoke of the king in a tone of patronage. Having lowered himself in public opinion by these speeches, especially at Inverness and Aberdeen, he attended a banquet in honour of Grey at Edinburgh, where he provoked a passage at arms with Durham. The press, and especially the Times newspaper, which had formerly loaded him with extravagant praises, now turned against him, and ridiculed him as a political mountebank. But his worst enemy was the king. William IV.'s ill-concealed impatience of whig dictation had at last been quickened into disgust by this and other sources of irritation, when the sudden death of Althorp's father, Earl Spencer, on November 10, gave him an opportunity which he eagerly seized.


By a strange fatality, this event almost coincided with the destruction by fire of the houses of parliament on October 16. This calamity was the result of a carelessness, which it is easy to condemn after the event on the part of some subordinate officials and the workmen employed by them. Down to 1826, accounts had been kept at the exchequer by means of wooden tallies, which were stored in what was called the tally-room of the exchequer. This room was required in order to provide temporary accommodation for the court of bankruptcy, and an order was given to destroy the tallies. The officials charged with the task decided to burn them in the stoves of the house of lords, and the work of burning began at half-past six in the morning of October 16. The work, hazardous in any case, was conducted by the workmen with a rapidity that their orders did not justify; the flues used for warming the house were overheated, and though the burning of the tallies was completed between four and five, the woodwork near the flues must have smouldered till it burst into flame about half-past six in the evening. In less than half an hour the house of lords was a mass of fire. About eight a change in the wind threw the flames upon the house of commons. That house was almost completely destroyed. The walls of the house of lords and of the painted chamber remained standing, while the house of lords library, the parliament offices, and Westminster Hall escaped. The king offered the parliament the use of Buckingham Palace, but it was found possible to fit up the house of lords for the commons and the painted chamber for the lords. When the legislature reassembled on February 9, 1835, a conservative ministry was in office, though not, indeed, in power.

It is difficult for a later age to understand why the accession of Althorp to a peerage should have afforded even a plausible reason for a change of ministry. The position which Althorp held in the house of commons is puzzling to a later generation.[122] It is well known that Gladstone recorded the very highest estimate of his public services. Yet he was not only no orator but scarcely in the second order of speakers, he made no pretence of far-sighted statesmanship, he was not a successful financier, and he made several blunders which must have damaged the authority of any other man. The influence which he obtained in leading the unreformed as well as the reformed house of commons was entirely due to his character for straightforward honesty, perhaps enhanced by his social rank, and his reputation for possessing all the virtues of a country gentleman. The national preference for amateurs over professionals in politics, no less than in other fields of energy, found an admirable representative in him, and he was all the more popular as a political leader because it was believed that he had no desire to be a political leader at all. At all events, he inspired confidence in all, and it was no mere whim of the king which treated his removal from the commons to the lords as an irreparable loss to Melbourne's administration.


It is often stated that "without a word of preparation" the king got rid of his whig ministers on November 14, 1834, and it must be admitted that he afterwards took credit to himself for their dismissal as his own personal act. But this view is not altogether borne out by contemporary evidence. A published letter, of the 12th, from Melbourne to the king shows that, as premier, he took the initiative in representing that, whereas "the government in its present form was mainly founded upon the personal weight and influence possessed by Earl Spencer in the house of commons," it was for the king to consider whether, as "that foundation is now withdrawn," a change of ministry was expedient.[123] It also appears from a letter placed by the king in Melbourne's hands that a "very confidential conversation" took place between them at Brighton, in consequence of which the king resolved to send for Wellington.[124] In the course of this conversation Melbourne informed the king that, in the opinion of the cabinet, Lord John Russell should be selected for the leadership of the house of commons. The king, incensed by Lord John's action on the Irish Church question, would not hear of this arrangement, especially as he thought Lord John "otherwise unequal to the task," and disparaged the claims of other possible candidates.[125] He also strongly resented the recent conduct of Brougham. In the end, he parted kindly and courteously from Melbourne, who actually undertook to convey the king's summons to Wellington. Another memorandum by the king, of the same date, proves that a fear of further encroachments on the church was really uppermost in his mind, and that he anticipated, not without reason, "a schism in the cabinet" on this very subject.[126]

Wellington acted with his customary promptitude, and with his customary obedience to what he regarded as a call of public duty. A certain degree of mistrust had existed between him and Peel, arising, in part, out of circumstances preceding the duke's election to the chancellorship of Oxford University. This suspension of cordiality had now passed away, and Wellington strongly urged the king to entrust Peel, then at Rome, with the formation of a new government. Hudson, afterwards known as Sir James Hudson, delivered the despatch recalling him on the night of the 25th. Peel started from Rome on the 26th and, travelling with a speed then considered marvellous, reached Dover within twelve days on the night of December 8. He was in London on the 9th, and, without consulting any one else, immediately placed his services at the king's disposal. In the meantime, Wellington had stepped into the gap, and actually held all the secretaryships of state in his own hands, pending the arrival of Peel.

The king had been encouraged to hustle his ministers unceremoniously out of office by a paragraph which appeared in the Times of November 15. On the previous evening Brougham had been informed by Melbourne in confidence that the king had accepted his suggestion of resignation, and he carried the news to the Times, which, without giving Brougham's name, published his message in his own words. It stated that the king had turned out the ministry, and ended with the words: "The queen has done it all". After this the king was determined to be done with his ministers as quickly as possible. It is certain that neither Wellington nor Peel wished to be thought responsible for their dismissal, the propriety of which they both secretly doubted. The king, however, had acted within his strict rights, and the outgoing ministers, as a whole, were not ill pleased to be relieved from the burdens of office.

Peel, though by no means hopeful of ultimate success, endeavoured to construct a cabinet on a comprehensive basis. He first obtained the king's "ready assent" to his inviting the co-operation of Stanley, who had succeeded to the courtesy title of Lord Stanley, and Sir James Graham. These overtures were declined in friendly terms, and both promised independent support. But Stanley explicitly declared that, in his judgment, "the sudden conversion of long political opposition into the most intimate alliance would shock public opinion, would be ruinous to his own character," and would rather injure than strengthen the new government.[127] After this failure, Peel felt his task well-nigh hopeless, and though he spared no effort to procure an infusion of fresh blood, he complained that after all "it would be only the duke's old cabinet".[128] There was, in fact, no man of known ability in it, except himself, the Duke of Wellington (as secretary for foreign affairs), and Lyndhurst, the chancellor; for the capacity of Aberdeen, who had been foreign secretary under Wellington, and who now became secretary for war and the colonies, and Ellenborough, who returned to the board of control, had not yet been generally recognised. Peel himself became first lord of the treasury and chancellor of the exchequer; Goulburn was home secretary, Rosslyn lord president, and Wharncliffe lord privy seal. Earl de Grey, elder brother of the Earl of Ripon, was made first lord of the admiralty, Murray became master-general of the ordnance, Alexander Baring president of the board of trade and master of the mint, Herries secretary at war, and Sir Edward Knatchbull paymaster of the forces. It was fully understood that a conservative government, even purged of ultra-tory elements, could not face the first reformed house of commons, and the dissolution which took place at the end of the year had been regarded by all as inevitable.


In anticipation of this event, Peel issued an address to his constituents which became celebrated as the "Tamworth manifesto". It is somewhat cumbrous in style, but it embodies with sufficient clearness the new conservative policy of which Peel was the real author and henceforth the leading exponent. It opens with an appeal to his own previous conduct in parliament, as showing that, while he was no apostate from old constitutional principles, neither was he "a defender of abuses," nor the enemy of "judicious reforms". In proof of this, he cites his action in regard to the currency and various amendments of the law; to which he might have added his adoption of catholic emancipation. He then declares, absolutely and without reserve, that he accepts the reform act as "a final and irrevocable settlement of a great constitutional question," which no friend to peace and the welfare of the country would seek, either directly or indirectly, to disturb. He approves of making "a careful review of institutions, civil and ecclesiastical, undertaken in a friendly temper," with a view to "the correction of proved abuses, and the redress of real grievances," and that "without mere superstitious reverence for ancient usages". He lays stress on his recorded assent to the principle of corporation reform, the substitution of a treasury grant for Church rates, the relief of dissenters from various civil disabilities (but not from university tests), the restriction of pensions (saving vested interests), the redistribution of Church revenues and the commutation of tithes, but so that no ecclesiastical property be diverted to secular uses. After these specific pledges, the Tamworth manifesto concludes with more general professions of a progressive conservatism equally removed from what are now called "advanced radicalism" and "tory democracy".[129] It was, of course, too liberal for the followers of Eldon, and was ridiculed as colourless by extreme reformers, but its effect on the country was great, and it did much to win popular confidence for the new ministry. If such a policy must be called opportunism, it was opportunism in its best form; and opportunism in its best form, under the conditions of party government, is not far removed from political wisdom.


[117] If all the bishops present had not merely abstained, but actually voted in favour of the measure, it would have been carried by one vote.

[118] Sir George Nicholls, History of the English Poor Law, vol. ii., see especially pp. 242, 243.

[119] Peel to Goulburn (May 25, 1834), Parker, Sir Robert Peel, ii., 244.

[120] Hatherton, Memoir; Creevey, Memoirs, ii., 285-88.

[121] See Campbell's Lives of the Chancellors, viii., 446-57.

[122] Compare Walpole, History of England, iii., 478.

[123] Lord Melbourne's Papers, p. 220.

[124] Ibid., pp. 222, 223.

[125] Stockmar, Memoirs (English translation), i., 330.

[126] Parker, Sir Robert Peel, ii., 235.

[127] Stanley to Peel (Dec. 11, 1834), Peel's Memoirs, ii., 39, 40.

[128] Croker to Mrs. Croker, Croker Papers, ii., 219.

[129] Peel, Memoirs, ii., 58-67.



The general election which took place in January, 1835, was hotly contested, and in the second reformed parliament the conservatives mustered far stronger than in the first. The party now consisted of some 270 members, chiefly returned by the counties. But they were still outnumbered by the whigs, radicals, and Irish repealers combined, and it was certain that an occasion for such a combination would soon arise. It was found at once in the election of a speaker, when the house of commons met on February 9, 1835. Sutton, now Sir Charles Manners Sutton, was proposed for re-election by the government; the opposition candidate was Abercromby. The number of members who took part in the division was the largest ever assembled, being 622, and Abercromby was elected by a majority of ten. It would have been larger, had not the government been supported by some waverers, but its significance was appreciated by the ministers, and still more by the king. He expressed his displeasure in a very outspoken letter to Peel, declaring that, if the leaders "of the present factious opposition" should be forced upon him by a refusal of the supplies, he might, indeed, tolerate them, but could never give them his confidence or friendship. Two days later, the 24th, the king's speech was delivered, reflecting the spirit of the Tamworth manifesto.[130]

[Pageheading: PEEL'S POLICY.]

The government was again defeated by seven on an amendment to the address, notwithstanding the loyal aid of Graham and Stanley, whose attitude during the general election had excited Peel's mistrust. In the course of this debate, the prime minister, abandoning his usual reserve, definitely pledged himself not only "to advance, soberly and cautiously, in the path of progressive improvement," but to bring forward specific measures. "I offer you," he said, "reduced estimates, improvements in civil jurisprudence, reform of ecclesiastical law, the settlement of the tithe question in Ireland, the commutation of tithe in England, the removal of any real abuse in the Church, the redress of those grievances of which the dissenters have any just ground to complain." Nor were these offers illusory or barren. On March 17, he brought in a bill to relieve dissenters from disabilities in respect of marriage, which met with general approval. It was founded on the simple principle, since adopted, of giving legal validity to civil marriages duly solemnised before a registrar, and leaving each communion to superadd a religious sanction in its own way. The marriages of Churchmen in a church were to be left on their old footing, but Churchmen were of course to be granted the same liberty as other citizens of contracting a purely civil marriage.

Still more important, as examples of conservative reform, were Peel's efforts to purge the established Church of abuses, and to introduce a voluntary commutation of tithes. His correspondence amply shows how large a space these remedial measures occupied in his mind, and one of his first acts was to appoint an ecclesiastical commission, with instructions to institute a most comprehensive inquiry into every subject affecting the distribution of church revenues. Compared with the petty squabbles over the appropriation of an imaginary surplus to be derived from Irish tithes which it was impossible to collect, the schemes of Peel for purifying and strengthening the Church of England assume heroic proportions. The report of the ecclesiastical commission originated by him, with its startling disclosures of pluralism and non-residence, became the basis of legislation which has wrought a veritable revolution in the financial and disciplinary administration of the church. His tithe bill, abortive as it was in 1835, was reproduced, with little alteration, in the tithe commutation act of 1836.

But the whig-radical allies of 1835 had not the smallest intention of giving Peel a fair trial; nor indeed had they any other object beyond the recovery of power. His appeals to his opponents, though by no means without effect in the country, fell upon deaf ears in the house of commons, and further humiliations followed rapidly. One of these was the successful outcry against the appointment of Londonderry, who had excited much hostility as an uncompromising enemy to reform, to the embassy at St. Petersburg, in consequence of which he, very honourably, relieved the government from obloquy by declining the post. A motion to repeal the malt tax was decisively defeated, and soon afterwards a motion in favour of granting a charter to the University of London was carried against the government by a large majority. Then came a defeat on a motion for adjournment, and the arts of obstruction were obstinately practised in debates on the estimates. At last the inevitable crisis arrived, and, as might be expected, the final issue was taken upon an Irish question.

The influence of O'Connell and his "tail," as his followers were called, had been neutralised, since the reform act, by the overwhelming strength of the whigs, and the public-spirited action of Peel, who, as leader of the conservative opposition, actually supported the whig government in sixteen out of twenty most important contests on domestic policy. A very different spirit was now shown by the whig opposition, and an evil precedent, pregnant with disastrous consequences, was set by the famous "Lichfield House compact". This was a close alliance between O'Connell and those whom he had so fiercely denounced as "the base, brutal, and bloody whigs". It bore immediate fruit in a motion of Russell for a committee of the whole house to consider the temporalities of the Irish Church. After a debate of four nights, the resolution was carried, on March 30, by a majority of thirty-three. On April 5, a further resolution was carried by a majority of twenty-five for applying any surplus-funds "to the general education of all classes of the people without religious distinction," and was more emphatically affirmed two days later by a majority of twenty-seven.

Peel had long been conscious of the hopelessness of his position and impatient of maintaining the struggle. He felt the constitutional danger of allowing the executive government to become a helpless instrument in the hands of a hostile majority in the house of commons. Nothing but the earnest remonstrances of the king and his tory friends, including Wellington, had induced him to retain office so long, and, after the division of the 7th, he firmly resolved to resign. On doing so, he received from the whole conservative party, of which he was the creator, a most cordial address of thanks and confidence. Though his short administration had consolidated the whig forces for the moment, and given them a new lease of power, it showed him to be the foremost statesman in the country, and paved the way for his triumphant return to office. As Guizot said, he had proved himself "the most liberal of conservatives, the most conservative of liberals, and the most capable man of all in both parties".


The king now discovered the fatal mistake which he had made in "dismissing" his whig cabinet, as he boasted, instead of waiting for it to break down under the stress of internal dissensions. His first idea was to fall back on Grey, who had already betrayed his growing mistrust of radicalism, but Grey declined to enter the lists again. There was no resource but to recall Melbourne, whom the king personally liked, and to put up with the elevation of Russell to a position which all admitted him to have fairly earned. He became home secretary, as well as leader of the house of commons, and the new whig cabinet differed little from the old. Palmerston, Lansdowne, Auckland, Thompson, and Holland returned to their former offices. Grant was made secretary for war and the colonies, Duncannon became lord privy seal, Spring Rice chancellor of the exchequer, Hobhouse president of the board of control, and Viscount Howick, son of Earl Grey, was appointed secretary at war. Outside the cabinet, Viscount Morpeth, son of the Earl of Carlisle, became Irish secretary. The most significant difference between the two cabinets lay in the omission of Brougham, which was effected by the expedient of placing the great seal in commission. This negative act was, in reality, the boldest and most perilous in Melbourne's political life. A correspondence between Brougham and Melbourne in February must have made clear to the ex-chancellor that he would be excluded from office, and he reluctantly acquiesced in Melbourne's decision, hoping that it would be merely temporary, and that he would soon resume his place on the woolsack as the dominant member of the cabinet, but his exclusion was destined to be final, and the close of a career to which English history in the nineteenth century presents no parallel.[131]

[Pageheading: BROUGHAM.]

Brougham was called to the Scottish bar at the age of twenty-one, having already given proof of brilliant ability and rare versatility at the University of Edinburgh. He was the youngest and most prolific of the original writers in the Edinburgh Review, then a very powerful organ of whig opinion, and his contributions to it ranged over some thirty years after its first appearance in 1802. He was already twenty-nine when he joined the English bar in 1808, and though he never rivalled Eldon as a lawyer or Scarlett as a persuasive advocate, he soon became an acknowledged master of the highest forensic eloquence. His fame was already established by his argument before parliament against the orders in council when he entered the house of commons in 1810. There his passionate oratory and power of invective made him the most formidable of party speakers, and it was said that Canning alone could face him on equal terms in debate. Except during four years, 1812-16, when he was out of parliament, his prodigious energy and versatility were the greatest intellectual force on the liberal side throughout all the political conflicts under the regency and the reign of George IV. His speeches embraced every question of foreign, colonial, or domestic policy, and it may truly be said that no salutary reform was carried during that period of which he was not either the author or the active promoter. The suppression of the slave-trade which had revived after the great war, the liberty of the press, the cause of popular education—these were among the almost innumerable objects, outside the common run of politics, and largely philanthropic, to which he devoted his restless mind, before it was engrossed for a while by parliamentary reform. There, as we have seen, he showed a moderation which had not been expected of him, nor is it too much to say that, both as a leader of the bar and as chancellor, he made good his claim to be the greatest of law reformers.

His famous speech of February 7, 1828, had quickened the germs of many legal improvements carried out in a later age, and the four years of his chancellorship actually produced great constructive amendments of the law, such as the institution of the central criminal court and the judicial committee of the privy council. Other reforms, in bankruptcy, criminal law, and equity, were mainly due to his initiative, and it was he who originated the county courts, though his bill was recklessly thrown out by the house of lords on party grounds. His public life, up to the year 1835, was perhaps the most brilliant and the most useful of the century, yet it was hopelessly marred in the end by a certain eccentric vanity, and want of loyalty to colleagues, not inconsistent with the higher ambition of leaving the world better than he found it. For some years after his fall he retained his astounding energy, and even his ascendency in the house of lords, where Lyndhurst, his only possible rival, was astute enough to court his co-operation. Never was his fertility in debate more conspicuously shown than in the session of 1835, while he was still nominally a supporter of the whig government. The last stage of his life, extending over more than thirty years, belongs to another chapter of English history; it is enough here to notice that, whatever his political aberrations, he continued in his isolation and old age to work zealously for those social reforms which he sincerely had at heart. The popularity which had been to him as the breath of life never, indeed, returned to him, and his figure no longer occupies a foremost place in the gallery of our statesmen, but the results of his noble services to humanity remain, and the memory of them ought not to be obscured by the sad record of his failings.

The new Melbourne administration came in with unfavourable omens. Russell failed to secure his re-election in South Devon, but a seat was found for him at Stroud, and though the premier emphatically denied that he had made any bargain with O'Connell, the Irish people believed it. Accordingly, they received the whig lord-lieutenant, Mulgrave, with a tumultuous procession, as if his advent portended the repeal of the union and extinction of tithes. An attempt to solve the insoluble tithe question was, in fact, among the earliest efforts of the government, and Morpeth, as chief secretary, introduced a very reasonable measure, differing little, except in details, from that of his predecessor. Like other proposals for agrarian settlements in Ireland, it involved a certain sacrifice on the part of the tithe-owner for the sake of security, and a subsidy from the state to relieve of arrears the defaulting and rebellious tithe-payers. Peel stated his intention of supporting these provisions for commutation, if they could be separated from other provisions for "appropriation," coupled with them under the influence of political necessity rather than of sound policy. The proposals for appropriation were so moderate that little would have been lost by dropping or gained by carrying them, but, moderate as they were, they embodied a principle on which either party was resolved to stand or fall. The consequence might have been foreseen. The bill, as a whole, was passed in the house of commons, and even read a second time in the house of lords, after which the appropriation clauses were rejected in that assembly by a large majority. Thereupon Melbourne withdrew the scheme altogether. Thus a question of third-rate importance, having been the chronic difficulty of four Irish secretaries, was left to stand over for three years longer, and ultimately to be settled on the very basis which Stanley and Peel had accepted from the first. A greater waste of parliamentary time has perhaps never been recorded.


The session of 1835, however, was rendered memorable by the enactment of one beneficent measure of the first magnitude. This measure—the municipal corporations act—was preceded, like the new poor law, by a thorough and exhaustive inquiry. A committee of the house of commons, followed by a commission, had been appointed in 1833. The commission prosecuted careful researches into the local conditions of each municipality, and did not conclude its labours until 1835. Its report laid bare not merely grotesque anomalies, but the grossest abuses of election and administration in boroughs ruled by small, corrupt, and irresponsible oligarchies which then abounded in England, and, still more, in Scotland.[132] The reform act had paved the way for the purification of such urban communities, by disfranchising the smallest and most venal of them, by extending the boundaries of many others, by enfranchising great towns which had remained outside the pale of representation, and by conferring the suffrage, theretofore monopolised by freemen and other privileged classes, on the unprivileged mass of ten-pound householders.

The municipal corporations bill, in its ultimate form, rested on the same broad lines of policy. It imposed upon all boroughs, with the exception of the city of London and a few of minor importance, one constitutional form of government, identical in all its essential features with those which a few model boroughs already possessed. The governing body was to consist of a mayor, aldermen, and councillors, together forming a town council. The councillors were to be elected directly by ratepaying occupiers, with a saving for the prescriptive rights of existing freemen. They were to hold office for three years; the aldermen were to be elected by the councillors for six years, with a provision for retirement by rotation. The mayor was to be elected annually by the town council. The elementary powers of local government, such as the control of lighting and the constabulary force, were to be transferred (subject to certain exceptions) from the hands of committees into those of the one recognised and supreme municipal authority. Other clauses provided for a division of the larger boroughs into wards, for the abolition of exclusive trading privileges, for the public management of charity estates, and for the appointment, at the option of each borough, of a recorder, for the purposes of jurisdiction.

Such were the main outlines of the great measure introduced by Russell, to which Peel heartily gave his adhesion. It was a natural, and almost necessary, sequel of the reform act, which had already broken up many nests of jobbery, curtailed the lucrative exercise of the elective franchise by freemen, and undermined the influence of those self-elected rulers who, in the worst boroughs, had become gangs of public thieves. Supported by Peel, the bill was read a second time in the house of commons, on June 15, without a division. Several conservative amendments were defeated in committee by small majorities, and the bill was sent up to the lords on July 21. There its fate was far different. Though Wellington himself was not disposed to obstruct it, he entirely failed to check the obstructive tactics of Lyndhurst who, on this occasion, outdid himself in the deliberate mutilation of a bill approved by the late conservative premier. Lord Campbell, no partial judge of Brougham, has left on record his belief that, but for his faithful and vigorous support, the scheme of municipal reform must have been utterly wrecked.[133] It was allowed to be read a second time, but with the full concurrence of Eldon and all the ultra-tory peers, Lyndhurst succeeded in pulling it to pieces in committee. For instance, one of the amendments imported into it perpetuated proprietary rights which it was a chief object of the bill to abolish; another gave aldermen a life-tenure of their offices; a third retained a part of the old town councillors on the new town councils. Proud as he was of his destructive exploits, as a triumph of toryism over conservatism, Lyndhurst soon found that he could not so lightly override the wiser counsels of Peel. When the lords' amendments came to be considered in the commons, Russell prudently advised the acceptance of the less important, and the disallowance of those inconsistent with the principle of the bill. He was followed by Peel who, professing to uphold the independence of the upper house, declared against the more obnoxious amendments, and stickled only for points which the ministry was not unwilling to concede. His action proved decisive. The commons stood firm on the main issues, and the hostile party in the lords, who had vowed to mar this reform, flinched at the last moment. Many of them abstained from attendance. Wellington and even Lyndhurst recommended concession; conferences took place between the houses, at which Russell played the part of moderator, and on September 9 the corporation bill became law, not in its entirety, but in all its essential features.

In spite of this pacific compromise, popular feeling ran higher than ever against the house of lords which, under the evil influence of Lyndhurst, seemed bent on thwarting every liberal measure. John Roebuck, member for Bath, a prominent radical, who acted independently of party connexions, took a lead in denouncing their conduct, and went so far as to propose giving them a merely suspensory, instead of an absolute, veto on legislation. A sweeping reform in their constitution was loudly advocated in the press. O'Connell, exasperated by their wanton rejection of a Dublin police bill, spent a part of the parliamentary recess in a tour over the north of England and Scotland, exhausting the stores of his scurrilous invective in pouring contempt on the 170 tyrants who could dare to withstand the will of the people. But O'Connell's eloquence, marvellous as it was, never stirred British audiences as it stirred the Irish masses, and it happened that at this moment he was somewhat discredited by accusations of corruption afterwards proved to be false. The house of lords not only survived his attacks, but was instigated by Lyndhurst to further acts of obstruction in the following year.


His most powerful opponent was about to disappear from the political scenes for the present, and in the future to be converted into an ally. When the great seal was entrusted to commissioners, Brougham had affected to regard the arrangement as a temporary makeshift to propitiate William IV., and hoped that he would inherit the reversion of the chancellorship. With this expectation he not only patronised but warmly supported the whig ministry in 1835. But his wayward and petulant egotism had set all his old colleagues against him, and Melbourne had made up his mind that "it was impossible to act with him". The interruption of legal business caused by the constant withdrawal of three judges from their proper duties, to act as commissioners, was severely criticised by the press, and Sir Edward Sugden, who had been lord chancellor of Ireland under Peel, published an effective pamphlet entitled, "What has become of the great seal?" It was thought necessary to appoint a new chancellor, and in January, 1836, Sir Charles Pepys, then master of the rolls, was raised to that dignity as Lord Cottenham. Foreseeing the implacable indignation of Brougham, the ministry decided to confer a peerage on Henry Bickersteth, the new master of the rolls, who became Lord Langdale, and who was supposed capable of confronting the ex-chancellor in debate. No expectation could have been more unfounded or delusive, but the sense of disappointment and desertion so preyed on the health and nerves of Brougham that he forsook the house of lords for a whole session. Campbell does not shrink from saying that he was "atrociously ill-used" on this occasion,[134] and assuredly he should not have been left to learn from a newspaper that he was thrust aside in favour of a man of vastly inferior gifts and services.

One other change was made in the cabinet during the recess. The Earl of Minto became first lord of the admiralty in succession to Auckland who had been appointed governor-general of India. When parliament met on February 4, 1836, the prospects of the whig government were more favourable than on their first accession to office. The factious conduct of the house of lords in the last session had disgusted the country, while the statesmanlike moderation of Peel secured them fair-play in the house of commons, though it was gradually building up a strong conservative party. Ireland again blocked the way for a while against useful legislation for Great Britain, and the first encounter of parties was on an amendment to the address condemning the anticipated reform of Irish corporations on the principles already adopted for England. This amendment, unwillingly moved by Peel, was defeated by a majority of forty-one, and the Irish municipal bill was introduced on the 16th. Like its English prototype, it was founded on the report of a commission which had disclosed the grossest possible abuses in Irish municipalities, chiefly dominated by protestant oligarchies. A similar measure substituting elective councils for these corrupt bodies had actually passed its third reading in the commons before the end of the last session, but the attempt to carry it further was then abandoned. The debates on the bill of 1836 for the same purpose inevitably turned on broad issues which continued to disturb Irish politics and to perplex English statesmen for the rest of the century. On the one hand, no one could justify "government by ascendency" in Ireland, or the shameful malpractices incident to an exercise of power under no sense of responsibility. On the other hand, no one acquainted with Irish history and Irish character could honestly regard the people as yet qualified for local self-government. In the social and some of the moral virtues they might be favourably compared with Englishmen and Scotchmen; in the political virtues, upon which civil institutions must rest, they were several generations behind their fellow-subjects in Great Britain.

[Pageheading: IRISH BILLS.]

All were agreed on the necessity of sweeping away or expurgating the existing Irish corporations, but the whole strength of the conservative party in both houses was enlisted against the experiment of elective town councils, especially after the evidence lately taken before the so-called "intimidation committee" in the house of commons. Peel's scheme was to vest the executive powers and property of Irish corporations, at least for the present, in officers appointed by the crown. An amendment framed in this sense was defeated by a large majority, and the bill passed the commons with little further opposition. When it reached the lords it was stoutly contested by Lyndhurst, now fortified by Peel's concurrence, on the not unreasonable ground that it would make the radicals and repealers predominant in every Irish municipality, and create "seats of agitation" for revolutionary purposes in the new town councils. Being converted into a bill "for the abolition of municipal corporations" in Ireland, it was returned in that form to the house of commons. Russell vainly attempted to meet the lords half-way by another compromise, and the measure was abandoned only to be adopted, in a very modified shape, after the lapse of four years. A like course was pursued by the upper house when a new Irish tithe bill, with an appropriation clause, was sent up to them. Had the whig government been well advised they would scarcely have challenged a needless collision between the two houses by reviving this burning question so early. It would have been possible to settle the Irish tithe system on equitable lines, without prejudicing the future application of superfluous Church revenues, and it was a somewhat perverse obstinacy which persisted in coupling the two objects year after year. The ingenuity of Lyndhurst in wrecking sound reforms should have been left without excuse; whereas, in this case, the peers could not have accepted what they regarded as a confiscation bill without a sacrifice of conviction and self-respect.

Happily the commutation of tithes in England presented no political difficulties of the same nature. The payment of tithes in kind, though founded on immemorial usage, had, indeed, produced constant discord between the parish clergyman and his flock, while landlords and farmers justly complained that it impeded the improvement of agriculture. In many localities the pressure of these evils had led to voluntary compositions between tithe-owners and tithe-payers, which, being temporary, lacked the force of law. The permissive tithe bills of Althorp and Peel were designed to render general a practice which already prevailed in a thousand parishes, and that now introduced by Russell was little more than an extension of the same principle. Its mainspring was the appointment of commissioners with compulsory powers in the last resort, and the provision of a self-acting machinery for assessing the reduced annual rent charge payable in lieu of tithes, so as to vary with the average price of wheat, barley, and oats in the seven preceding years. This practical solution of the question was adopted cheerfully by the wearied legislature, and the commissioners succeeded before long in effecting universal commutation. Amendments in detail have of course been found necessary, but the system established by 6 and 7 William IV., cap. 61, has stood the test of long experience, and although tithe-owners have been impoverished by the fall of prices, the payment of tithes in England has ceased to be a grievance, except with those who absolutely condemn the endowment of a Church.


An equally valuable and permanent legacy of this session is contained in two cognate acts regulating marriages and registration in England. By the first of these acts two new modes of celebrating marriage were provided, without interfering with the old privileges of the established Church in regard to marriage by licence or banns. While the essential conditions of notice and publicity were carefully secured, the superintendent registrar of each district was empowered either to authorise the celebration of marriage in a duly registered place of worship, but in presence of a district registrar, or to solemnise the ceremony himself, without any religious service, in his own office. Clergymen of the Church of England were constituted registrars for marriages celebrated by themselves, and were bound to furnish the superintendent registrars with certified entries of such marriages. The act was complicated by a variety of safeguards, enforced by heavy penalties, against fraud and evasion, but its leading features were simple and have proved effectual for their purpose. It marked an advance on the earlier marriage bill of Russell, since it not only allowed dissenters to marry in their own chapels, but to marry without having their banns published in the parish church. It went beyond the marriage bill of Peel, since it not only recognised marriage as a civil contract, but utilised the new poor law organisation, and posted in each district a civil official before whom that contract could legally be solemnised.

The rules laid down by the first act for the registration of marriages were an integral part of a general registration system established by the second act, and embracing births and deaths as well as marriages. This system, rendered possible by the division of the country into unions, brought under effective control the old parochial registers which had been loosely kept for three centuries. The statistical value of the returns thus checked and digested in a central department is now fully recognised, but can only be appreciated by students of social history, which, indeed, is now largely founded on reports of the registrar-general. The special provisions for the registration of deaths are also of the utmost service in the prevention of disease and crime. Not until after this act of 1836 was it realised by the mass of the people, not only that a sudden death would properly be followed by a coroner's inquest, but that every death, with its circumstances, must be treated as a matter of public concern and duly notified. Still more important in its results has been the requirement of a medical statement on the cause of death—a requirement which has brought about the discovery of numerous murders and greatly checked the commission of others. If the marriage act relieved a large class of the community from vexatious disabilities, the whole community assuredly owes the second reformed parliament a debt of gratitude for the registration act which, like so many of the best acts in the statute book, provoked but little discussion.

A far keener party interest was excited by the crusade against the Orange lodges in Great Britain and Ireland which Hume and Finn, an Irish member, carried on with great energy in the sessions of 1835 and 1836. These societies then had an importance which they no longer possess, and were the more open to radical attacks because the Duke of Cumberland was grand master of the order. It was said, with some justice, that while the catholic association was nominally put down, the Orange lodges in Ireland were openly spreading, with the connivance at least of the Irish authorities. Their officials included noblemen of high position; Goulburn, when chief secretary, was an Orangeman, and special efforts had been made to enrol members in the army. Their principles were strictly loyal, but their demonstrations were naturally resented by the Roman catholics, and were not far removed from preparations for civil war. They hailed the accession of Peel's short ministry with tumultuous enthusiasm, but when the legality of their organisation and proceedings was challenged in the house of commons, during the session of 1835, their advocates felt compelled to support a committee of inquiry. The evidence taken before this committee, and the debate raised by Hume on the formation of Orange lodges in the army, damaged their cause in the eyes of the public, and seriously compromised the Duke of Cumberland. It was shown that his brother, the Duke of York, had resigned the grand mastership, and on being convinced of their illegality had forbidden Orange lodges in the army, whereas the Duke of Cumberland had accepted the grand mastership and directly promoted military lodges.

An address condemning them was carried; the king undertook to discourage them, and the commander-in-chief issued a stringent order for their suppression. The struggle, however, was continued by the pertinacity of the radicals in demanding a more extended inquiry, and the obstinacy of the Orangemen in defying both the house of commons and the horse guards. Early in the session of 1836 Finn and Hume renewed their assaults, and the latter moved for an address, to be framed in the most sweeping terms, and calling upon the crown to dismiss all persons in public employment, from the highest to the lowest, who should belong to Orange societies. Russell, who had been gradually rising in public estimation, showed the qualities of a true statesman on this occasion by a firm yet conciliatory speech which commanded assent on both sides. He exposed the extravagant and impracticable nature of Hume's demand, but condemned the Orange societies, and proposed an address urging the crown to use its influence for "the effectual discouragement of Orange lodges, and generally all political societies, excluding persons of different faith, using signs and symbols, and acting by associated branches". This resolution was adopted without opposition, the king heartily endorsed it, even the Duke of Cumberland acquiesced in it, and the Orange societies quietly dissolved themselves, for a while, throughout the United Kingdom.

If the session of 1836 had produced no other legislative fruits it could not be regarded as wasted. But several minor reforms of great social benefit also date from this year, and prove that, however checked by political blunders, the energy kindled by the reform act had not yet exhausted itself. After repeated efforts of legal philanthropists, a bill was now passed for the first time allowing prisoners on trial for felony to be defended by counsel. It was brought in by William Ewart, a private member, who sat for Liverpool, but was supported by the highest legal authorities in the house of lords, including Lyndhurst himself, who openly recanted his former opinions, and declared the old law to be a barbarous survival, inconsistent with the practice of other civilised nations. In the same house an interesting debate took place on the management of jails, which had been placed under a system of inspection by an act of the previous year. The reports of the inspectors disclosed gross abuses, not only in the smaller county jails but in Newgate itself. Lansdowne, in pledging the government to deal with the larger question, intimated that Russell, as home secretary, was considering the means of separating juvenile offenders from hardened criminals by establishing places of detention in the nature of what have since been known as reformatories.


A still more notable contribution to social improvement was made by Spring Rice, the chancellor of the exchequer, in consolidating the paper duties on a reduced scale, and lowering the stamp duty on newspapers from fourpence to one penny. These were the only controversial elements in a budget otherwise modest and acceptable. The battle over paper duties and "taxes upon knowledge" raised in the debates of 1836 was destined to rage many years longer, but the relief granted by Spring Rice gave a powerful impulse to journalism and periodical literature. It was opposed by all the familiar arguments against a cheap press, but that which most endangered its success was a rival proposal to apply any surplus revenue to cheapening soap. Soap, it was plausibly contended, was a necessary, reading newspapers or periodicals was only a luxury, and a luxury, too, far move capable of being abused than expenditure on soap. When the penny stamp on newspapers was at last preferred to reduced soap duties it was said that, "so far as financial arrangements were concerned, everything went to supply the essential elements of low political clubs, viz., cheap gin, cheap newspapers, filthy hands, and unwashed faces".[135]

The legislative record of 1836 was creditable to the government, nor was the action of the upper house in amending certain of their bills so purely mischievous as it has been described. For instance, a strange clause had found its way into the newspaper stamp bill, requiring all the proprietors of newspapers, however numerous, to be registered at the stamp office. This clause was struck out in the house of lords, at the instance of Lyndhurst, though Melbourne declared it to be a vital part of the measure, which, however, passed without it, and was the better for the loss of it. But the same cannot be said of Lyndhurst's conduct at the "open conference" between the two houses on a supplementary bill for remedying defects in the operation of the municipal corporations act. There no question of principle was involved, and the only motive for resisting every attempt to improve the new machinery already established by law was one unworthy of a statesman. At the close of the session, Lyndhurst delivered a masterly vindication of his own proceedings, but he was answered by Melbourne in a speech of great ability, and the position now occupied by the whigs appeared stronger than when they came into office in 1835.

In this year complaints of agricultural distress once more became urgent, and a committee was appointed by the house of commons, as in 1833, to inquire into its cause. Strange to say, the immediate occasion for the second inquiry was the occurrence of three magnificent harvests in succession, which brought down the average price of wheat from 58s. 8d. in 1832 to 53s. in 1833, 46s. 2d. in 1834, and 39s. 4d. in 1835, whence it rose to 48s. 6d. after the harvest of 1836. The average gazette price of 1835 was the lowest touched in the nineteenth century until 1884, and was simply due to excess of production. It was stated before the committee of 1836, by the comptroller of corn returns, that in the period between 1814 and 1834 the quantity of home-grown wheat only fell short of the consumption, on the average, by about 1,000,000 quarters a year, of which at least half was contributed by Ireland. The committee published its evidence without making a report, but this fact is highly significant as marking the later revolution in British agriculture. If the area then devoted to wheat crops almost sufficed to feed an estimated population of 14,500,000, when the yield per acre was relatively small, we may safely infer, in the absence of trustworthy statistics, that it must have been very much greater than at present.


At the opening of 1837 there was a marked stagnation in home politics, mainly due to an equipoise of parties and serious divisions in the ranks of the ministerialists as well as of the opposition. Not only was there a very strong conservative majority in the house of lords, with a sufficient though dwindling liberal majority in the house of commons, but neither majority was amenable to party discipline. The aggressive policy and vexatious tactics of Lyndhurst were distasteful to his nominal leader, the Duke of Wellington, and still more so to Peel, the only possible conservative premier, who eschewed the very name of tory. There was greater unity of counsels between Melbourne and Russell, but Russell, who had learned moderation, was dependent on the support of his extreme left, composed of violent radicals and Irish repealers. The king, though he did not carry his repugnance to his ministers so far as he once threatened, yet almost excluded them from social invitations, and made no secret of his preference for the opposite party. During the winter of 1836-37 O'Connell and his satellites were busy in organising monster meetings to demand the abolition of tithes and municipal reform. A national association was formed on this basis, and a certain number of protestants were induced to join it. The government dared not show vigour in checking it lest they should estrange their Irish allies, and Mulgrave, the lord-lieutenant, was openly accused of favouring sedition and discouraging loyalty by his exercise of patronage and the royal prerogative of pardon. At last, a very large and influential meeting was held in Dublin, at which the discontent of loyalists and patriots was expressed with truly Irish vehemence. Still, Ireland was less disturbed than in several previous years. About the same time, Peel, having been elected lord rector of Glasgow University, was entertained there at dinner by a company including many old reformers, and made one of his greatest speeches. Its spirit was that of his Tamworth manifesto, but he was far more outspoken in his declaration of unswerving adhesion to the protestant cause and to the independence of the upper house.

Such were the political conditions when parliament met on January 31. The king's speech, delivered by commission, though singularly colourless, indicated the importance of legislating on Irish tithes, Irish corporations, and Irish poor relief. The debate on the address was enlivened by a furious attack of Roebuck on the whigs, but was otherwise devoid of importance. On February 7, however, Russell introduced a new Irish corporations bill, invoking the authority of Fox for the doctrine that "Irish government should be regulated by Irish notions and Irish prejudices," and avowing a faith in the efficacy of unlimited concession which has not been justified by later experience. He further intimated the resolution of the government to stand or fall by this measure. No serious resistance was offered by the opposition to its first or second reading, but Peel took occasion to protest against a transparent inconsistency which seems to beset the advocacy of Irish claims. It is generally assumed, and with too much justice, that Ireland is so backward and helpless a country as to require exceptional treatment; in short, that it must be governed by Irish ideas, with little regard to English principles of sound policy or economy. Such was, in effect, Fox's contention, adopted by Russell; and yet, like future supporters of "Ireland for the Irish," he argued in the same breath that every liberal institution suitable to Englishmen, with their long training in self-government and instinctive reverence for law, must needs be extended to Irishmen, with their long training in anarchy and instinctive propensity to lawlessness. He prevailed, however, in the house of commons, where a hostile amendment was decisively rejected, and the bill, having passed rapidly through committee, was read a third time by a large though reduced majority.

Had it been possible to isolate the Irish municipal bill, and to compel the house of lords to deal with it singly, the peers might possibly have shrunk from another collision with the commons. But it had been coupled in the king's speech with two other projects of Irish legislation, a new tithe bill, and an Irish poor law. Both of these were, in fact, introduced, the former by Russell in February, the latter by Morpeth early in May. The course to be taken by the conservative party was the subject of anxious consultation between Peel and Wellington, and that ultimately adopted had the full sanction of both. They regarded the separate presentation of the municipal bill as a "manoeuvre," and, while they overruled the wish of Lyndhurst to defeat it by an adverse vote on the second reading, they resolved to meet it by a counter-manoeuvre. Accordingly Wellington induced the house of lords to postpone the committee on the municipal bill until they should have the other two bills before them, and Peel not only approved of his action but stated reasons for regarding them as essentially connected with each other. June 9 was originally fixed as the date for going into committee, but this stage was afterwards deferred until July 3, before which unforeseen events arrested all further progress.

[Pageheading: CHURCH RATES.]

In the meantime, the prestige of the government had been weakened by the failure of their scheme for abolishing Church rates. The dissenters, no longer content with religious liberty, were beginning to demand religious equality. In the forefront of their grievances was that of paying rates for the repair of parish churches which they did not attend, except as members of the annual "vestry," where they could object to a rate but might be out-voted by a majority of their fellow-parishioners. Althorp had proposed a scheme for the removal of this grievance in 1834, involving a parliamentary grant of L250,000. Setting aside this alternative, as well as that of a special contribution, voluntary or otherwise, from members of the Church, Spring Rice now proposed a solution of his own. It consisted in vesting the property of bishops and chapters in a commission which, by improved management, might raise the necessary sum for church repairs, without impairing the incomes of these ecclesiastical dignitaries. Before the government plan was discussed in the house of commons, Howley, archbishop of Canterbury, entered a strong protest against it in the house of lords on the ground that it would reduce the bishops and chapters from the position of landowners to that of "mere annuitants". Melbourne complained of his protest somewhat angrily as premature, and provoked a vehement reply from Blomfield, bishop of London, who, though a member of the ecclesiastical commission, denounced any such diversion of revenues as "a sacrilegious act of spoliation". In the elaborate debates on the resolutions moved by Spring Rice in the house of commons Peel took his stand partly on financial objections and partly on the injustice of taking away from the Church a fund belonging to it by immemorial usage, and in the main willingly contributed. Amendment after amendment was proposed by members of the opposition, and, though each was defeated, the government resolutions were ultimately carried by so narrow a majority in May that no further action was taken.

The conservative reaction, now in visible progress, was typified by the open secession of Burdett from the ranks of the reformers. This sincere but indiscreet radical, who had once enjoyed a popularity similar to that of Wilkes as a political martyr, became estranged from his party when it accepted O'Connell as an auxiliary, if not as an ally. Having failed in procuring the exclusion of the great Irish demagogue from Brooks's club, in 1835, he withdrew his own name. Soon afterwards he became irregular in his parliamentary attendance, and more than lukewarm in his allegiance. Early in 1837 he was, like Stanley and Graham, so much suspected of gravitating towards conservatism, that some of his Westminster constituents publicly called upon him to resign. He took up the challenge, and was re-elected against a radical opponent by a substantial majority. It was his last re-election for a borough which he had represented for thirty years. In the Church-rate debate he rose from the opposition side of the house, and lamenting his separation from his old associates, did not spare them either reproaches or hostile criticism.

Another desertion from the whig camp took place during this session, but in an opposite direction. Roebuck, originally one of the philosophical radicals, had become more and more violent in his attacks on his own leaders, whom he accused of having deceived the people. According to him, they were "aristocratic in principle, democratic in pretence," and all the resources of his incisive rhetoric were exhausted in exposing their incapacity, in a motion for a committee to consider the state of the nation. This motion, so advocated, met with no support, and gave Russell the opportunity of once more vindicating the wisdom of moderation in statesmanship. But there were many besides Roebuck who were eager to complete the work of the reform act by further organic changes, and the notice book of the house of commons in 1837 embodied several proposals of this kind. One was Grote's annual motion for the ballot, on which an interesting debate took place. Among the others were two motions of Sir William Molesworth for a reform of the upper house and for the abolition of a property qualification for the lower house, a motion of Tennyson, who had taken the additional name of D'Eyncourt, for the repeal of the septennial act, and another of Hume for household suffrage, overshadowing that of Duncombe for repealing the rate-paying clauses of the reform act itself. Nearly all of these contained the germs of future legislation, but they formed no part of the whig programme, nor could any whig government have carried them against so powerful an opposition, with an invincible reserve in the house of lords, during the last session of William IV. Only seventeen public acts were actually passed in this session.


There were, indeed, other reasons for declining to provoke a grave contest at this juncture. The king's health was known to be failing, his death under the law then in force would involve a general election, and no one could desire his successor, a girl of eighteen, to begin her reign in the midst of a political crisis. In May his illness assumed an alarming aspect, early in June the medical reports satisfied the country that his case was hopeless, on June 19 he received the last sacrament, and on the 20th he died at Windsor Castle. Something more than justice was done to his character by the leaders of both parties in parliament, but something less than justice has been done to it by later historians. He was inferior in strength of will to his father, in ability to his eldest brother, and in the higher virtues of a constitutional sovereign to his niece, who succeeded him. But he was not only a kindly and well-meaning man, a good husband to Queen Adelaide and a good father to his natural children, faithful to his old friends, and bountiful in his charities; he was also a loyal servant of the state, with a genuine sense of public duty, a natural love of justice, an independent judgment, and a noble indifference to personal or selfish objects. His lot was cast in almost revolutionary times, and he was called upon to reign at an age when few men are capable of shaking off old prejudices, yet he deserved well of his people in supporting the ministry of Grey through all the stages of the reform movement, in spite of his own declared sympathies, but in deference to his own conviction of paramount obligation under the laws of the land. He was quite as liberal in opinions as Peel, whose hearty interest in the poorer classes he fully shared, and far more liberal than the tory majority in the house of lords. Great he certainly was not, and he never affected the royal dignity which partially concealed the littleness of his predecessor. But in honesty and simplicity he was no unworthy son of George III., and the greater pliability of his nature contributed, at least, to make the seven years of his reign more fruitful in reforms than all the sixty years during which the old king occupied the throne of England.


[130] The king to Peel (Feb. 22, 1835), Parker, Sir Robert Peel, ii., 287-89.

[131] See Melbourne's letters to Brougham, Melbourne Papers, pp. 257-64.

[132] The abuses in the Scottish municipalities had, however, been already removed by an act conferring the municipal franchise on L10 householders. Not the least important result of this act was the increased strength which it gave to the "evangelical" party in the general assembly of the Church of Scotland, which was partly elected by the municipalities.

[133] Campbell, Lives of the Chancellors, viii., 470.

[134] Campbell, Lives of the Chancellors, viii., 476.

[135] Annual Register, lxxviii. (1836), p. 244



In 1830 the closing months of Wellington's administration were disturbed by the French and Belgian revolutions. The former of these was occasioned by the publication on July 25 of three ordinances, restricting the liberty of the press, dissolving the chambers, and amending the law of elections. The Parisian populace rose against this infringement of the constitution. In the course of a three days' street-fight (the 27th to the 29th) the troops were driven out of Paris. On the 30th a few members of the chambers, who had continued in session, invited Louis Philippe, Duke of Orleans, to assume the office of lieutenant-general of the kingdom, and he was proclaimed on the following day. On August 7 the chamber of deputies offered him the crown, which he accepted, and on the 9th he was proclaimed "King of the French". On the 2nd Charles X. and the dauphin had renounced their rights in favour of the young Duke of Bordeaux, and on the 16th they sailed from Cherbourg to England. The change of dynasty was accompanied by a transference to the bourgeoisie of such political influence as had hitherto belonged to the clergy and noblesse. It remained to be seen whether it would also be accompanied by a change of foreign policy.


The new French revolution occasioned no slight perturbation in the European courts. To say nothing of the fear of the precedent being followed in other lands, there was no longer any guarantee that France would respect the arrangements effected by the treaties of Vienna and Paris. Austria, Prussia, and Russia agreed not to recognise Louis Philippe, and entered into a convention for mutual aid in the event of French aggression. Aberdeen, the British foreign secretary, declared that the time had come for applying the treaty of Chaumont, which, as extended at Paris, pledged Great Britain and the three eastern powers to act together in case fresh revolution and usurpation in France should endanger the repose of other states. Wellington, however, saw that the cause of the elder Bourbon line was hopeless, and held now, as in 1815, that if France was not to menace the peace of Europe, her political position must be one with which she could be contented. He considered that the arguments which justified the admission of France to the councils of the powers at Aix-la-Chapelle in 1818 applied with no less cogency to the government of Louis Philippe than to that of Louis XVIII. He therefore determined to acknowledge the new French government at an early date after the notification of its assumption of power. Nor were the other powers slow in taking the same course. It is true that Metternich suggested a closer bond between Austria, Prussia, and Russia, partly to restore amicable relations between Austria and Russia, partly to oppose any possible designs of France on Italy. Prussia, fearing war, resisted the proposal, and preferred to draw France into a guarantee of the status quo by recognising Louis Philippe. Russia was last of the great powers to acknowledge the new regime in France, and she only did so on condition that the powers should hold the French king responsible for the execution of the international engagements of the fallen dynasty. Louis Philippe was certainly not the man wilfully to embroil France in a war with her neighbours, and, had he been independent of French public opinion, there would have been no reason to fear French aggression.

The state which had most to fear from an aggressive France was the new kingdom of the Netherlands. Trusting for protection to the great powers rather than to its own forces, the Netherlands government had adopted a system which left it almost entirely without troops except during the military exercises of September and October. Wellington, who knew the pacific character of the new French government, advised the garrisoning of certain isolated points on the frontier, but thought no further preparation necessary. A few weeks were however to prove that the new French revolution had aroused a more implacable enemy, against whom the house of Orange would have needed all the troops it could summon to its aid. The union of Holland and Belgium had been resolved on by the powers at Paris in 1814, mainly for military reasons. Austria had been unwilling to resume the heavy burden of guarding the Belgian Netherlands and southern Germany against French aggression, and the powers had consequently resolved on strengthening those smaller states on whom the duty of resistance would fall. In these days, accustomed as we are to the distinction between the Teutonic and Latin races, it might seem reasonable that two countries in which the prevailing languages are low German should be subject to the same government. But it was not yet customary to turn the principles of comparative philology into arguments for the rearrangement of political boundaries. The French language and culture had moreover made considerable progress among the upper and middle classes of Belgium, while religious differences alienated the clergy from the house of Orange. In the states-general of the Netherlands the Dutch had half the votes, and, as the Orange party was strong in Antwerp and Ghent, commanded a majority. The fiscal system adopted by the government favoured the Dutch rather than the Belgian population. Dutchmen were generally preferred for state offices, and an attempt to control the education of the clergy was deeply resented as an attack on the Roman catholic religion. Belgium in consequence presented the curious spectacle of the liberal and clerical parties working on the same side, united against the Dutch government.


The example afforded by France turned a discontent which might have led to local riots into a national conflagration. On August 25 there was a rising of the populace at Brussels, which the troops proved unable to quell. On the 27th it was suppressed by a body of burgher guards, a volunteer force drawn from the bourgeoisie of the town. The bourgeoisie finding themselves in possession of the Belgian capital, at first presented a series of minor demands to the king, but on September 3 they went the length of demanding a separate administration for Belgium. The king undertook to lay this proposal before the states, which assembled on the 13th. But before the states could come to any conclusion the question had assumed a new aspect. All the leading towns of Belgium had followed the example of Brussels by forming burgher guards and had thus joined in the revolution; and on the 20th a fresh rising of the populace of Brussels had overthrown the burgher guard and instituted a provisional government. This was followed by an attempt on the part of Prince Frederick of Orange, a younger son of the King of the Netherlands, to occupy Brussels with a military force. After five days' fighting he was compelled to retire, and when on the 30th the states-general gave their consent to the proposal for a separate administration, their decision fell upon deaf ears. All the Belgian provinces were in revolt.

It was now clear to everybody that the national party in Belgium would not consent even to a personal union with Holland. As the union of the two countries formed a part of the treaty of Vienna, every European power had a legal right to employ force to prevent its disruption, and Russia and Prussia both desired active intervention. In France, on the other hand, there was a loud popular demand for the reannexation of Belgium to France, of which it had formed a part from 1794 to 1814. Louis Philippe saw that he could not resist this demand if the Belgian insurgents were coerced on the side of Prussia, and therefore announced that Prussian aggression would be met by a French expedition to Belgium to keep the balance even, until the question should be settled by a congress of the powers. On September 25 Talleyrand had arrived in England. He quickly obtained the adhesion of Wellington to the principle of non-intervention. The duke had been among the first to grasp the fact that reconciliation of Dutch and Belgians was impossible, and that the intervention of the powers would necessitate a European war, to avoid which the union of the two countries had originally been designed. He agreed therefore to a separation of the countries on condition that France should bind herself to observe the arrangements of the congress of Vienna in 1815 and should take no separate action in Belgium.

On Talleyrand's suggestion it was decided to refer the question to the conference already sitting in London for the purpose of settling the Greek question, which would of course have to be reinforced by representatives of Austria and Prussia for the present purpose. Mole, the French foreign minister, would have preferred Paris as the seat of the congress, but the King of the Netherlands absolutely refused to entrust his cause to a conference meeting in a city where opinion ran so strongly against him. On October 5 he made a formal appeal to the powers for the aid guaranteed him by treaty, but the demand came too late to induce Wellington to swerve from the policy of non-intervention, and on November 4 the conference of London began its labours by proposing an armistice in Belgium, which was accepted by both parties. This left Maastricht and the citadel of Antwerp in the hands of Dutch garrisons, and Luxemburg in the hands of a garrison supplied by the German confederation. Every other place in Belgium was in the hands of the insurgents. But the further solution of the question was reserved for other hands. On the 3rd Louis Philippe was compelled to accept a revolutionary ministry, and on the 22nd Wellington and Aberdeen had to make way for a whig ministry with Grey as premier, and Palmerston as foreign secretary.

The new foreign secretary had served a long political apprenticeship as secretary at war in the successive administrations of Perceval, Liverpool, Canning, Goderich, and Wellington, and under the three last-mentioned premiers he had enjoyed a seat in the cabinet. It will be remembered that he had been a warm champion of Greece, and had resigned office along with Huskisson, Dudley, and Grant. He now returned in company with Grant as a member of a whig cabinet. Although this change of party involved the adoption of a domestic policy far removed from Canning's, Palmerston's foreign policy remained rather Canningite than whig. The interest and the honour of England ranked with Palmerston as with Canning before all questions which concerned the maintenance of European peace. But instead of Canning's versatile diplomacy he displayed too often a reckless disregard of the susceptibilities of foreign governments, and, if, like Canning, he lent the moral support of Great Britain to the liberal party in every continental country, it was not, as it had professedly been with Canning, because their success would promote the interests of Great Britain, but because he had a genuine sympathy with their cause. It is impossible to deny that in his earlier years at least Palmerston's policy met with a success such as Castlereagh and Wellington had not attempted to gain; real or imaginary dangers at home left the foreign governments too weak to oppose the will of the one strong man of the moment. Yet it is doubtful whether any resultant benefits were not more than counterbalanced by the distrust and ill-will with which the greater nations of Europe have learned to regard the British government and people.


During the first few weeks of the new administration, the Belgian question advanced far towards a settlement. On November 10 a Belgian national congress assembled at Brussels; on the 18th it voted the independence of Belgium; on the 22nd it resolved that the new state should be a constitutional monarchy, and on the 24th it proclaimed the total exclusion of the house of Nassau. Finally the outbreak of a Polish insurrection at Warsaw made it clear that Prussia and Russia would be too busily occupied in the east to be able to interfere effectively in the Belgian question. On December 20 a protocol was signed at London by the representatives of the five powers, providing for the separation of Belgium from Holland. When however the protocol was sent to the tsar for ratification, he would only ratify it subject to the condition that its execution should depend on the consent of the King of the Netherlands. Meanwhile the London conference was engaged in settling the boundary of the new kingdom. For the most part it went on the principle of leaving to Holland the districts that had belonged to the United Provinces before the wars of the French revolution. The remainder of the kingdom of the Netherlands, consisting chiefly of the former Austrian Netherlands, but including also territories which had belonged to France, Prussia, the Palatinate, the bishopric of Liege, and some minor ecclesiastical states, was assigned to Belgium. An exception was, however, made in the case of the grand duchy of Luxemburg. Luxemburg was reputed to be, next to Gibraltar, the strongest fortress in Europe. It was regarded as the key to the lower Rhine; it formed a part of the German confederation, and was garrisoned by German troops. Although Holland had no historical claim to its possession, the treaty of Vienna granted it to the Dutch branch of the house of Nassau, as compensation for its former possessions, merged in the duchy of Nassau; and it was now felt that a place so important to the safety of Germany could not safely be handed over to a state which seemed likely to fall under French influence. The powers therefore determined that this duchy should continue to belong to the king of the Netherlands.

There was also some difficulty over the apportionment of the debt. Belgium was the more populous and the richer of the two countries, but the greater part of the debt had been contracted by Holland before the union. Belgium was, however, already responsible for its share of the whole debt, and the powers can hardly be accused of injustice when they determined to divide the debt in the proportion in which the debt-charges had been borne in the three previous years, assigning sixteen thirty-firsts to Belgium, and fifteen thirty-firsts to Holland. Belgium was moreover to possess the right of trading with the Dutch colonies and to contribute towards their defence. These provisions were embodied in two protocols which were issued at London on January 20 and 27, 1831. As compared with the status quo the Dutch were slightly the gainers. The protocol permitted them to keep Maastricht and Luxemburg, but required them to abandon the citadel of Antwerp; while the Belgians were required to surrender those less important places which they had occupied in Dutch Limburg and in the grand duchy of Luxemburg. Talleyrand considered the present a favourable opportunity for claiming for France the cession of Mariembourg and Philippeville which she had been compelled to surrender to the kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815. Palmerston, however, absolutely refused to hear of any extension of French territory, for fear of imperilling the security of Europe. The two protocols were accepted by Holland on February 13 but rejected by Belgium. Though Talleyrand had signed the protocol of January 20, it was repudiated by Sebastiani, the French foreign minister, on the ground that the object of the conference was to effect a mediation, not to dictate a settlement.


Meanwhile the national congress at Brussels had attempted to elect a king. At first the most favoured candidate was Auguste Beauharnais, Duke of Leuchtenberg, the grandson of Napoleon's first consort. Louis Philippe naturally objected to the establishment on his frontier of a prince so closely connected with the house of Bonaparte. The pliant Belgians accordingly transferred their preference to the Duke of Nemours, the second son of Louis Philippe. It was in vain that Sebastiani declared that France could not allow such a selection, as it would be interpreted by the powers as evidence of a French design to reincorporate Belgium in France. On February 3, 1831, the Duke of Nemours was actually elected king by the Belgian national congress. But the conference of London had, two days earlier, adopted a resolution, excluding from the Belgian throne all members of the reigning dynasties of the five powers. Still there was a strong party in France, including Laffitte, the revolutionary premier, who advocated the claims of Nemours. Louis Philippe, however, stood firm on the side of European peace, and on the 17th definitively declined the crown offered to his son. The French now recommended the Prince of Naples, but the Belgians declined to accept him, and on the 25th the national congress appointed a regent to hold office till a king should be elected. On March 13 the accession to office of an anti-revolutionary ministry in France rendered the complete co-operation of the powers easier.

On April 17 France declared her adhesion to the protocol of January 20, and by a new protocol the other four powers consented to the demolition of some of the Belgian fortresses on the French frontier. Another protocol of the same date ordered the Belgians to evacuate the grand duchy of Luxemburg. On May 10 a further protocol even threatened Belgium with the rupture of diplomatic relations in case she did not by June I accept the protocol of January 20. But the powers soon adopted a more conciliatory attitude. France and Great Britain desired that Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, who in the previous year had resigned the crown of Greece, should now be offered that of Belgium. Prince Leopold would not accept the crown so long as Belgium continued to defy the powers, and on the other hand there was no chance of securing his election by the Belgian congress unless he undertook to maintain the Belgian claim to the possession of Luxemburg. Lord Ponsonby, the British minister at Brussels, succeeded in inducing the London conference to sign a new protocol, undertaking to negotiate with Holland for the cession of Luxemburg to Belgium, in return for an indemnity elsewhere, provided that Belgium should first accept the protocol of January 20. The Belgian congress gathered that the acceptance of Prince Leopold was regarded by the powers as more important than the maintenance of the terms of that protocol, and they accordingly elected him as their king on June 4 without accepting the protocol. In answer to Dutch complaints Ponsonby and General Belliard, the French minister, were recalled from Brussels as the protocol of May 10 required. Leopold refused to accept the crown until the conference should have offered better terms, and on the 26th the conference signed another protocol, which differed from that of January 20 in that it left the Luxemburg question open for future negotiation, and rendered Holland liable for the whole of the debt that it had incurred before the union of the two countries. On the same day Leopold accepted the Belgian crown. The Belgian congress accepted this last protocol on July 7, and on the 21st Leopold was proclaimed king, and immediately recognised by Great Britain and France. The other great powers were not long in following their example.

It was now Holland's turn to feel aggrieved. She refused to recognise the changes proposed by the powers in the terms which she had already accepted. On May 21 she had declared that if the protocol of January 20 were not accepted by June 1 she would consider herself free to act on her own account, and on July 12 that the acceptance in Belgium of a king who had not agreed to that protocol would be an act of hostility. Feeling herself betrayed by the conference she gave notice on August 1 that the armistice which had existed since the previous November would terminate on the 4th. It was soon seen how much Holland had lost in the preceding year by being found in a state of military unpreparedness. When hostilities began the Dutch carried everything before them. On the 8th the Belgians were routed at Hasselt, and on the 13th Leopold in person was compelled to surrender Louvain. But Holland was now arrested in the full tide of her success. The opportunity that French patriots had long desired had presented itself, and Louis Philippe would only have endangered his own throne if he had failed to come to the assistance of Belgium against Holland. On the 4th he received Leopold's appeal for assistance; on the 12th the first French division reached Brussels, and on the following day the Prince of Orange, who led the main Dutch army, received orders from the Hague to retire within the Dutch frontier.

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