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 best safeguard against collision, however, was to be found in the latent conservatism of the house of commons itself. Reformed as it was, it had not ceased to be mainly a house of country gentlemen, and the non-payment of members was a security for its being composed, almost exclusively, of men with independent means and a stake in the country. A very large proportion of these had been educated at the great public schools, or the old English universities. They might accept on the hustings the doctrine, against which Burke so eloquently protested, that a representative is above all a delegate, and must go to parliament as the pledged mouthpiece of his constituency. But in the house itself they could not divest themselves of the sentiments derived from their birth, their education, and their own personal interests; nor was it found impossible, without a direct violation of pledges, to act upon their own opinions in many a critical division. Still, it has been well pointed out that, with the flowing tide of reform there arose a new and one-sided conception of statesmanship as consisting in progressive amendment of the laws rather than in efficient administration, so that it is now popularly regarded as a mark of weakness on the part of any government to allow a session to pass without effecting some important legislative change.[107]


The supreme interest of the reform bill and its incidents naturally dwarfed all other political questions, and the legislative annals of 1831-32 are otherwise singularly devoid of historical importance. The coronation of William IV., which, as has been seen, took place on September 8, 1831, was hardly more than an interlude in the great struggle, yet it served for the moment to assuage the animosities of party warfare. The king himself, who disliked solemn ceremonials, and the ministers, deeply pledged to economy, were inclined to dispense with the pageant altogether. It was found, however, that not only peers and court officials but the public would be grievously disappointed by the omission of what, after all, is a solemn public celebration of the compact between the sovereign and the nation. The coronation was, therefore, carried out with due pomp and all the time-honoured formalities, but without the profuse extravagance which attended the enthronement of George IV. There was no public banquet, and the public celebration ceased with the ceremony in Westminster Abbey. The Duke of Wellington and other leading members of the opposition had been duly consulted by the government; there was a welcome respite from parliamentary warfare; the king's returning popularity was confirmed; and all classes of the people were satisfied.


Two months later, the appearance of the cholera at Sunderland added another grave cause of anxiety to all the difficulties created by the defeat of the reform bill in the house of lords, and the ominous riots at Bristol. A similar but distinct and infinitely milder disease had long been known under the name of cholera morbus, or more correctly cholera nostras. Asiatic cholera, as the new disease was called, had no affinity with any other known disease, and excited all the greater terror by its novelty, as well as by the suddenness of its fatal effect. It was first observed by English physicians in 1817, when 10,000 persons fell victims to it in the district of Jessor in Bengal. About the same time it attacked and decimated the central division of the army of Lord Hastings, advancing against Gwalior. Before long it spread over the whole province of Bengal, and eastward along the coasts of Asia as far as China and Timur in the East Indies, crossed the great wall, and penetrated into Mongolia. In 1818 it broke out at Bombay, and during the next twelve years continued to haunt, at intervals, the cities of Persia and Asiatic Turkey, with the coasts of the Caspian Sea. It was not until 1829 that it reached the Russian province of Orenburg, by way of the river Volga, visiting St. Petersburg and Archangel in June, 1830. Thence it travelled slowly but steadily westward through Northern Europe, as well as southward into the valleys of the Danube and its tributaries, until it made its appearance at Berlin and Hamburg in the summer of 1831. Long before this, and while the reform crisis was in its acutest stage, the probability of its advent was fully realised in England, and orders in council were issued in June, 1831, placing in quarantine all ships coming from the Baltic. Notwithstanding the outcry against meddling with trade, men of war were appointed to enforce these orders, and when the news came that Marshal Diebitsch had died of the disease in Poland, the alarm increased and all regulations against plague were made applicable to cholera. Whether or not these precautions were ineffective, it swooped upon Sunderland on October 26, and prevailed there for two months, though its true character was very unwillingly recognised.[108]

The conflict between the newly created board of health and the merchants importing goods caused the government no little perplexity. The protests of the latter were strengthened by the somewhat remarkable fact that, once established at Sunderland, the cholera seemed to be arrested in its course and for a while spread no further. There seemed to be some ground for the belief that it was partly due to extreme overcrowding and neglect of all sanitary rules in that town, but this belief was soon dissipated by its appearance at Newcastle and progress over the north-eastern counties even during the winter months. Seven cases of it occurred on the banks of the Thames just below London early in February, 1832, and though its virulence in England was alleged to be less than on the continent, further experience hardly justified that opinion. The appalling violence of its first onslaught on some vulnerable districts may be illustrated by the example of Manchester, where a whole family just arrived from an infected locality was swept away within twenty-four hours. The government did its duty by disseminating instructions for its prevention and treatment among the local authorities, but the prejudices of the lower orders were against all interference for their benefit, and scenes of brutality were sometimes enacted such as may still be witnessed in oriental cities scourged by the plague. After a temporary decline, the visitation recurred in all its severity, and in July the deaths of a few persons in the highest circles occasioned a panic in the west end of London. Still the declared number of deaths in the metropolitan area was only 5,275, showing a far lower rate of mortality in London than in Paris at the same time, and much lower than in London itself during the epidemic of 1849, when statistics were more trustworthy. None of the cholera epidemics, however, approached in deadliness the plagues of 1625 and 1665. In the latter year the number of deaths in London from plague alone represented about one-fifth of the entire resident population—a proportion equivalent to a mortality of above 200,000 in the London of 1831-32. This comparative immunity was partly due to improved sanitation, the vigorous development of which may be said to date from the first visitation of cholera.

The census taken in 1831 revealed an increase of population, which, though not equal to that of the preceding decade, indicated a most satisfactory growth of wealth and employment. It was found that Great Britain contained about 16,500,000 inhabitants, but of these, as might be expected, a smaller percentage was employed in agriculture and a larger percentage in manufacturing industry than in 1821. It has been calculated that since the end of the great war the accumulation of capital had been twice as rapid as the multiplication of the people, but, in spite of this, pauperism, as measured by poor law expenditure, had increased almost continuously since 1823, and emigration received a startling impulse in 1831-32. Rick burning and frame breaking were the joint result of childish ignorance, miserable wages, mistaken taxes on the staple of food, and poor laws administered as if for the very purpose of encouraging improvidence and vice. All these causes were capable of being removed or mitigated by legislation, for even the rate of wages was kept down by the ruinous system of out-door relief. But it was only a few thoughtful persons who then appreciated either the extent or the real sources of the mischief, and the disputes which soon arose about the proper remedies to be applied have been handed on to a later age.

Next to parliamentary reform the state of Ireland was by far the most important subject which engaged the attention of the legislature in 1831-32. The population had increased from 6,801,827 in 1821 to 7,767,401 in 1831, and the increase, unlike that in England, had been almost exclusively in the agricultural districts. While the political motive for multiplying small freeholds had ceased, the motives for multiplying small tenancies were as strong as ever, and were felt by landlords no less than by cottiers. This class, often inhabiting huts like those of savage tribes and living in a squalor hardly to be seen elsewhere in western Europe, chiefly depended for their subsistence on potatoes—the most uncertain and the least nutritious of the crops used for human food. Many hundred thousands of them had no employment in their own country and no means of livelihood except the produce of the scanty patches around their own turf cabins. Tens of thousands flocked to England annually seeking harvest work, and a small number emigrated to Canada or the United States, the passage money for an emigrant being then almost prohibitive. Those who could not pay rent were liable to eviction, and eviction was a more cruel fate then than now, since there was no poor law in Ireland. Fever was rife in their miserable abodes, following in the steps of hunger, and for relief of any kind they could rely only on the mercy of their landlords or the charity of their neighbours. Under such conditions of life crime and disaffection could not but flourish, and the Irish peasant could hardly be blamed if he listened eagerly to the counsels of O'Connell. For him catholic emancipation had no meaning except so far as it gave him a hope that parliament, swayed by the great Irish demagogue, would abolish tithes, if not rent, and find some means of making Irishmen happy in their own country.


Had O'Connell been a true patriot, or even an honest politician, he would have devoted his vast powers and influence to practical schemes for the good of Ireland, and specially to a solution of the agrarian question. Unhappily, smarting under a not unfounded sense of injustice, when he was disabled from taking his seat for Clare, he threw his whole energy into a new campaign for the repeal of the union, which occupied the rest of his life. So far from acknowledging any gratitude to the whigs, through whose support emancipation had been carried, he exhausted all the resources of his scurrilous rhetoric upon them, lavishing the epithets "base, brutal, and bloody," with something like Homeric iteration. In December, 1830, Anglesey had returned to succeed the Duke of Northumberland, and Stanley occupied the post of chief secretary, in place of Hardinge. The ministers were privately advised to buy O'Connell at any price, and it was intimated that he would not object to become a law officer of the crown, or at least would not refuse a judicial appointment. It may well be doubted whether the offer of such a bargain to such a man could have been justified by success; it is more than probable that it would have failed, and it is quite certain that failure would have brought infinite discredit upon the government. At all events the attempt was not made, and other catholic aspirants to legal promotion were passed over with less excuse.

Lord Anglesey proved a resolute viceroy, and proclaimed the various associations, meetings, and processions organised by O'Connell, with little regard for his own popularity. O'Connell's policy, carried out with the cunning of a skilful lawyer, was to obey the law in the letter, but to break it almost defiantly in the spirit. At last, however, he went a step too far by advising the people who had come for a prohibited meeting to reassemble and hold it elsewhere. He was arrested on January 18, 1831, and pleaded "Not guilty," but on February 17, when his trial came on, he allowed judgment to go by default against him on those counts of the indictment which charged him with a statutable offence, provided that other counts, which charged him with a conspiracy at common law, should be withdrawn. The attorney-general assented, and the case was adjourned until the first day in Easter term. Before that day arrived, however, the reform bill had been introduced, and O'Connell had made a powerful speech in support of it. In the desperate struggle which ensued, the ministers shrunk from estranging so formidable an ally, a further adjournment of the case was allowed, a sudden dissolution of parliament took place, the act under which O'Connell was to be sentenced expired with the parliament, and no further action was taken.

[Pageheading: "TITHE-WAR" IN IRELAND.]

During the year 1831, the agitation for repeal which O'Connell had set on foot, as soon as the emancipation act had been passed, was for a while thrust into the shade by the fiercer agitation against tithes. This agitation was connected, in theory, with the demand for the abolition or reduction of the Irish Church establishment, but was, in fact, entirely independent of that or any other constitutional movement. It may seem inexplicable to political students of a later age that Irish questions of secondary importance, and eminently capable of equitable treatment, should have convulsed the whole island and disturbed the whole course of imperial politics, during the reign of William IV. The rebellion against tithes or "tithe-war," as it was called, had not the semblance of justification in law or reason. Every tenant who took part in it had inherited or acquired his farm, subject to payment of tithes, and might have been charged a higher rent if he could have obtained it tithe-free. The tithe was the property of the parson as much as the land was the property of the landlord, and the wilful refusal of it was from a legal point of view sheer robbery. On the other hand, the mode of collection was extremely vexatious, perhaps involving the seizure of a pig, a bag of meal, or a sack of potatoes; and a starving cottier, paying fees to his own priest, was easily persuaded by demagogues that it was an arbitrary tribute extorted by clerical tyrants of an alien faith.

Thus it came to pass that the history of the Irish "tithe-war" exhibits the Irish peasantry in their very worst moods, and it is stained with atrocities never surpassed in later records of Irish agrarian conspiracy. It is among the strange and sad anomalies of national character that a people so kindly in their domestic relations, so little prone to ordinary crime, and so amenable to better influences, should have shown, in all ages, down to the very latest, a capacity for dastardly inhumanity, under vindictive and gregarious impulses, only to be matched by Spanish and Italian brigands among the races of modern Europe. Yet so it is, and no "coercion" (so-called) ultimately enforced by legal authority was comparable in severity with the coercion which bloodthirsty miscreants ruthlessly applied to honest and peaceable neighbours, only guilty of paying their lawful debts. It is not too much to say that anarchy prevailed over a great part of Ireland, especially of Leinster, during the years 1831 and 1832. The collection of tithes became almost impossible. The tithe-proctors were tortured or murdered; the few willing tithe-payers were cruelly maltreated or intimidated; the police, unless mustered in large bodies, were held at bay; cattle were driven, or, if seized and offered for sale, could find no purchasers; and the protestant clergy, who had acted on the whole with great forbearance, were reduced to extremities of privations. Five of the police were shot dead on one occasion; on another, twelve who were escorting a tithe-proctor were massacred in cold blood. A large number of rioters were killed in encounters with the police, which sometimes assumed the form of pitched battles and closely resembled civil war. Special commissions were sent down into certain districts, and a few executions took place, but in most cases Irish juries proved as regardless of their oaths as they ever have on trials of prisoners for popular crimes. O'Connell, and even Sheil, tacitly countenanced these lawless proceedings, and openly palliated them in the house of commons.

The whig government, engaged in a life-and-death contest with the English borough-mongers, hesitated to crush the Irish insurgents by military force, or to initiate a sweeping reform of the Irish Church. Early in 1832, however, committees of both houses reported in favour of giving the clergy temporary relief out of public funds, and of ultimately commuting tithes into a charge upon the land. A preliminary bill for the former purpose was promptly carried by Stanley, and made the government responsible for recovering the arrears. The committee, pursuing their inquiries, produced fuller reports, and again recommended a complete extinction of tithes in Ireland. But the method proposed and embodied in three bills introduced by Stanley in the same year, was too complicated to serve as a permanent settlement, and was denounced as illusory by the Irish members. The first bill was, in fact, a compulsory extension of acts already passed in 1822 and 1823, the former of which had permitted the tithe-owner to lease the tithe to the landlord, while the latter permitted the tithe-owner and tithe-payers of each parish to arrange a composition. Unfortunately, the act of 1823 had provided that the payment in commutation of tithe should be distributed over grass-lands hitherto tithe-free in Ireland as well as over land hitherto liable to tithe. The act was in consequence unpopular with a section of farmers, while at the same time the bishops resented the commutation, as likely to diminish the value of beneficies. But in spite of this opposition the act of 1823 had been widely adopted. Stanley's bill to render such commutations compulsory passed, but his other two bills, providing a new ecclesiastical machinery for buying up tithes, were abandoned at the end of the session. Of course the substitution of the government for the clergyman as creditor in respect of arrears had no soothing effect on the debtors. The reign of terror continued unabated, and O'Connell contented himself with pointing out that without repeal there could be no peace in Ireland. We may so far anticipate the legislation of 1833 as to notice the inevitable failure of the experiment which converted the government into a tithe-proctor. It was then replaced by a new plan, under which the government abandoned all processes under the existing law, advanced L1,000,000 to clear off all arrears of tithe, and sought reimbursement by a land tax payable for a period of five years.


It reflects credit on the unreformed house of commons that in its very last session, harassed by the irreconcilable attitude of the catholic population in Ireland, it should have found time and patience not only for the pressing question of Irish tithes, but for the consideration of a resolution introductory to an Irish poor law, of a bill (which became law) for checking the abuses of Irish party processions, and of a grant for a board to superintend the mixed education of Irish catholic and protestant children. The discussion of Sadler's motion in favour of an Irish poor law was somewhat academic, and produced a division among the Irish members, O'Connell, with gross inconsistency, declaring himself vehemently opposed to any such measure. The ministers professed sympathy with its principle, but would not pledge themselves to deal immediately with so difficult and complicated a subject, perhaps foreseeing the necessity of radical change in the English poor law system. The processions bill was vigorously resisted on behalf of the Orangemen, as specially aimed at their annual demonstrations on July 12, but it was so manifestly wise to remove every wanton aggravation of party spirit in Ireland, that it was passed just before the prorogation.

The experiment of mixed education in Ireland had already been made with partial success, first by individuals, and afterwards by an association known as the Kildare Place Society. On the appointment of Dr. Whately to the archbishopric of Dublin, it received a fresh impulse, and Stanley, as chief secretary, definitely adopted the principle, recommended by two commissions and two committees, of "a combined moral and literary and separate religious instruction". A board of national education was established in Dublin, composed of eminent Roman catholics as well as protestants, to superintend all state-aided schools in which selections from the Bible, approved by the board, were to be read on two days in the week. Though provision was made for unrestricted biblical teaching, out of school hours, on the other four days, protestant bigotry was roused against the very idea of compromise. A shrewd observer remarked, "While the whole system is crumbling to dust under their feet, while the Church is prostrate, property of all kind threatened, and robbery, murder, starvation, and agitation rioting over the land, these wise legislators are debating whether the brats at school shall read the whole Bible or only parts of it".[109] The opponents of the national board failed to defeat the scheme in parliament, and it was justly mentioned with satisfaction by the king in his prorogation speech of August 16. But its benefits, though lasting, were seriously curtailed by sectarian jealousy. Most of the protestant clergy frowned upon the national schools, as the Roman catholic priesthood had frowned upon the schools of the Kildare Place Society, and a noble opportunity of mitigating religious strife in Ireland was to a great extent wasted. Thus ended the eventful session of 1832.


[104] See Professor Dicey's observations on this clause, Law and Opinion in England, p. 54, n.

[105] Wellington, Despatches, etc., viii., 206; Parker, Sir Robert Peel, ii., 207.

[106] Parker, Sir Robert Peel, ii., 206.

[107] Goldwin Smith, United Kingdom, ii., 354; Dicey, Law and Opinion in England, p. 85.

[108] C. Creighton, History of Epidemics in Britain, ii., 768, 793-97, 860-62.

[109] Greville, Memoirs (March 9, 1832), ii., 267.



It was assumed in 1832, and has been held ever since, that a redistribution act must be speedily followed by a dissolution, so as to give the new constituencies the power of returning new members. Accordingly, parliament, having been prorogued until October 16, was further prorogued until December 3, and then finally dissolved. The general election which followed, though awaited with much anxiety, was orderly on the whole, and produced less change than had been expected in the personnel of the house of commons. The counties, for the most part, elected men from the landed aristocracy, the great towns elected men of recognised distinction, and few political leaders were excluded, though Croker abjured political life and refused to solicit a seat in the reformed house of commons. The good sense of the country asserted itself; while Cobbett was returned for Oldham, "Orator" Hunt was defeated at Preston, and no general preference was shown for violent demagogues by the more democratic boroughs. The age of members in the new house was higher, on the average, than in the old; its social character was somewhat lower, and the high authority of William Ewart Gladstone, who now entered parliament for the first time, may be quoted for the opinion that it was inferior, in the main, as a deliberative assembly. But it was certainly superior as a representative assembly, it contained more capable men of business, and its legislative productions, as we shall hereafter see, claim the gratitude of posterity. A certain want of modesty in the new class of members was observed by hostile critics, and was to be expected in men who had won their seats by popular oratory and not through patronage. The house of commons had already ceased to be "the best club in London," and later reforms have still further weakened its title to be so regarded, but they have also shown the wonderful power of assimilation inherent in the atmosphere of the house itself, and the spirit of freemasonry which springs up among those who enter it by very different avenues.


The change wrought by the reform act in the strength and distribution of parties was immediate and conspicuous. The ancient division of whigs and tories, which had become well-nigh obsolete in the reign of George IV., had been revived by the great struggle of 1831-32. It was now superseded to a great extent by the combination of the radicals with O'Connell's followers into an independent section, and by the growth of a party under Peel, distinct from the inveterate tories and known by the name of "conservative," which first came into use in 1831.[110] The preponderance of liberalism, in its moderate and extreme forms, was overwhelming. It was roughly computed that nearly half the house were ministerialists and about 190 members radicals, Irish repealers, or free lances, while only 150 were classed as "conservatives," apparently including tories.[111] In such circumstances the attitude to be adopted by Peel was of the highest constitutional importance. It is some proof of the respect for statesmanship instinctively felt by the new house of commons that Peel, as inexorable an opponent of reform as Canning himself, should at once have assumed a foremost position and soon obtained an ascendency in an assembly so largely composed of his opponents.

But Peel himself was no longer a mere party leader. Unlike Wellington and Eldon, he saw the necessity of accepting loyally the accomplished fact and shaping his future course in accordance with the nation's will. He, therefore, took an early opportunity of declaring that he regarded the reform act as irrevocable, and that he was prepared to participate in the dispassionate amendment of any institution that really needed it. In a private letter to Goulburn he stated that, in his judgment, "the best position the government could assume would be that of moderation between opposite extremes of ultra-toryism and radicalism," intimating further that "we should appear to the greatest advantage in defending the government" against their own extreme left wing.[112] In this policy he persevered; his influence did much to quell the confusion and disorder of the first debate, and his followers swelled the government majorities in several of the early divisions. When he came to review the first session of the reformed parliament he remarked in a private letter that what had been foreseen took place, that "the popular assembly exercised tacitly supreme power," and, without abolishing the crown or the house of lords, overawed the convictions of both.[113]


The passion for reform, far from spending itself in remodelling the house of commons, filled the statute-book with monuments of remedial legislation. No session was more fruitful in legislative activity than that of 1833. But the way of legislation was at first blocked against all projects of improvement by the urgent necessity of passing an Irish coercion bill. This had been indicated in the king's speech, and on February 15, 1833 Grey introduced the strongest measure of repression ever devised for curbing anarchy in Ireland. It combined, as he explained, the provisions of "the proclamation act, the insurrection act, the partial application of martial law, and the partial suspension of the habeas corpus act". But the barbarities and terrorism which it was designed to put down were beyond precedent and almost beyond belief. The attempt to collect the arrears of tithe, even with the aid of military force, had usually failed, and less than an eighth of the sum due was actually levied. The organised defiance of law was not, however, confined to refusal of tithes; it embraced the refusal of rent and extended over the whole field of agrarian relations. The Whiteboys of the eighteenth century reappeared as "Whitefeet," and other secret associations, under grotesque names, enforced their decrees by wholesale murder, burglary, arson, savage assaults, destruction of property, and mutilation of cattle. In two counties, Kilkenny and Queen's County, nearly a hundred murders or attempted murders were reported within twelve months, and the murderous intimidation of witnesses and jurors secured impunity to perpetrators of crimes. No civilised government could have tolerated an orgy of lawlessness on so vast a scale, and nothing but the exigencies of the reform bill can excuse Grey and his colleagues for not having grappled with it earlier. Nor does it appear that any remedy less stern would have been effectual. Where unarmed citizens have not the courage either to protect themselves or to aid the constabulary employed for their protection, soldiers, accustomed to face death and inflict it upon others under lawful command, must be called in to maintain order. Where civil tribunals have become a mockery, summary justice must be dealt out by military tribunals. Force may be no remedy for grievances, but it is the one sovereign remedy for organised crime, and this was soon to be proved in Ireland.

The viceroy, Anglesey, true to his liberal instincts, would have postponed coercion to measures of relief, such as a settlement of the church question. Stanley, on the other hand, insisted on the prompt introduction of a stringent peace preservation bill, and his energetic will prevailed. The bill contained provisions enabling the lord-lieutenant to suppress any meeting, establishing a curfew law in disturbed districts, and placing offenders in such districts under the jurisdiction of courts martial with legal assessors. It passed the house of lords with little discussion on the 22nd, and was laid before the house of commons a few days later by Althorp, who had already brought in an Irish Church temporalities bill. The debate on the address had already given warning of the reception which the Irish members would accord to any coercion bill, and of their malignant hostility to Stanley. Efforts were made to delay its introduction, and full advantage was taken of Althorp's statement that one special commission had been completely successful. His opening speech, tame and inconclusive, discouraged his own followers. The fate of the bill appeared doubtful, but Stanley, who had twice staked the existence of the ministry on its adoption, reversed the whole tendency of the debate by a speech of marvellous force and brilliancy, which Russell afterwards described as "one of the greatest triumphs ever won in a popular assembly by the powers of oratory".[114] It was in this speech that he proved himself at least a match for O'Connell, whom he scathed with fierce indignation as having lately called the house of commons a body of scoundrels. It cost many nights of debate to carry the bill, with slight amendments, but Stanley's appeal had a lasting effect, and it became law in April, to the great benefit of Ireland.


Meanwhile, the Irish Church temporalities bill was pressed forward as a counterpoise to coercion. It imposed a graduated tax upon all episcopal, capitular, and clerical incomes above L200 a year, and placed the proceeds, estimated at L60,000 or L70,000 a year, in the hands of commissioners, to be expended in the repairs of churches, the erection of glebe-houses, and other parochial charges. In this way Irish ratepayers might be relieved of the obnoxious "vestry cess," a species of Church rate, at the expense of the clergy. A further saving of L60,000 a year or upwards was to be effected by a reduction of the Irish episcopate, aided by a new and less wasteful method of leasing Church lands attached to episcopal sees. Two out of four Irish archbishoprics and eight out of eighteen bishoprics were doomed to extinction, as vacancies should occur. Dioceses and benefices were to be freely consolidated, clerical sinecures were to cease, and the more scandalous abuses of the Irish Church were to be redressed.

As a scheme for ecclesiastical rearrangement within the Church itself, the bill was sound and liberal, but it was utterly futile to imagine that it would be welcomed, except as a mere instalment of conciliation, by Roman catholics who looked upon the protestant Church itself as a standing national grievance. The only boon secured to them was exemption from their share of vestry cess, for, though Althorp intimated that the ultimate surplus to be realised by the union of sees and livings would be at the disposal of parliament, they well knew how many influences would operate to prevent its reaching them. Not even O'Connell, still less the ministry, ventured to propose "concurrent endowment" as it was afterwards called, and the very idea of diverting revenues from the protestant establishment to Roman catholic uses was disclaimed with horror. More than a century earlier, a partition of these revenues between the great protestant communions had been seriously entertained, and Pitt had notoriously contemplated a provision for the Roman catholic priests out of state funds. But no such demand was now made, and the one feature of the bill which commanded the vigorous support of O'Connell and his adherents was the 147th section, or "appropriation clause," which enabled parliament to apply the expected surplus of some L60,000 in income, or some L3,000,000 in capital, to whatever purposes, secular or otherwise, it might think fit to approve. The far-reaching importance of this principle was fully understood on both sides. To radicals and Roman catholics it was the sole virtue of the bill; to friends of the Irish Church and tories it was a blot to be erased at any cost.

The progress of the measure was not rapid. Its nature had been explained by Althorp on February 12, but it was not in print on March 11 when, notwithstanding the reasonable protest of Peel, he induced the house to fix the second reading for the 14th. It was then found that, owing to its form, it must be preceded by resolutions, in order to satisfy the rules of the house. These resolutions, containing the essence of the bill, were proposed on April 1, but were not adopted without a long debate, and the debate on the second reading did not begin until May 6. It ended in a majority of 317 to 78 for the government, chiefly due to a moderate speech from Sir Robert Peel, who, however, denounced the policy of "appropriation". The discussion in committee was far more vehement, and radicals like Hume did not shrink from avowing their desire to pull down the Irish establishment, root and branch. The attack on the conservative side was mainly concentrated on the appropriation clause. In vain was it argued that a great part of the expected surplus was not Church property, inasmuch as it would result from improvements in the system of episcopal leases to be carried out by the agency of the state. Every one saw that, however disguised, and whether legitimate or not, appropriation of the surplus for secular purposes would be an act of confiscation, and must needs be interpreted as a precedent.

The cabinet itself was divided on the subject, and despaired of saving the bill in the house of lords, without sacrificing the disputed clause. On June 21, therefore, Stanley announced in the house of commons that the appropriation clause would be withdrawn, and that any profits arising out of financial reforms within the Church would be allowed to fall into the hands of the ecclesiastical commissioners. The fury of O'Connell was unbounded, and not so devoid of excuse as many of his passionate outbreaks. He treated the Church bill as the stipulated price to be paid for the coercion bill, and the appropriation clause as the only part of it, except relief from vestry cess, which could possess the smallest value for Irish Roman catholics. There was no valid answer to his argument, except that another collision with the house of lords must be avoided at any tolerable cost, for, as Russell bluntly said, "the country could not stand a revolution once a year". Thus lightened, and slightly modified in the interest of Irish incumbents, the bill passed through committee and was read a third time by very large majorities, the minority being mainly composed of its old radical partisans. Peel's letters show how anxious he was to "make the reform bill work," by protecting the government against this extreme faction,[115] and the parliamentary reports show how much he did to frustrate the attempt to intimidate the lords by a resolution of the commons.

The debate in the upper house lasted three nights in July, but is almost devoid of permanent interest. The appropriation question being dropped, there was little to discuss except the historical origin of Irish dioceses, the precedents for their consolidation, and the economical details of the scheme for equalising, in some degree, the incomes of Irish clergymen. Two or three peers, headed by the Duke of Cumberland, took their stand once more on the coronation oath, and Bishop Phillpotts of Exeter availed himself of this objection in one of the most powerful speeches delivered against the bill. On the other hand, Bishop Blomfield of London, and the Duke of Wellington, now acting in concert with Peel, gave it a grudging support, as the less of two evils. After passing the second reading by a majority of 157 to 98, it was subjected to minute criticism in committee, and one amendment was carried against the government, but Grey wisely declined to relinquish it except on some vital issue. The majority on the third reading was 135 to 81, and on August 2 the commons agreed to the lords' amendments, O'Connell remarking that, after all, the peers had not made the bill much worse than they found it. More than a generation was to elapse before this "act to alter and amend the laws relating to the temporalities of the Church in Ireland" was completed by an act severing that Church from the state. But the ulterior aims of those who first challenged the sanctity of Church endowments were not concealed, and the more than Erastian tendency of the liberal movement was henceforth clearly perceived by high Churchmen. We know, on the authority of Dr. Newman, that he and his early associates regarded the Anglican revival of which they were the pioneers as essentially a reaction against liberalism, and liberalism as the most formidable enemy of sacerdotal power.


Long before the Irish church bill had passed the house of commons Stanley exchanged the chief secretaryship of Ireland for the higher office of colonial secretary, to which he was gazetted on March 28. His uncompromising advocacy of the coercion bill, and his known hostility to direct spoliation of the Church, alike provoked the hatred of Irish Roman catholics, and Brougham had already advised his retirement from Ireland. His promotion was facilitated by the resignation of Durham, nominally on grounds of health, but also because he was in constant antagonism to his own father-in-law, Grey, and his moderate colleagues in the cabinet. He received an earldom, and was succeeded as lord privy seal by Goderich, who became Earl of Ripon. This opened the colonial office to Stanley, who instantly found himself face to face with a question almost as intractable as the pacification of Ireland. Sir John Hobhouse became chief secretary for Ireland, but without a seat in the cabinet. He resigned in May, and was succeeded by Edward John Littleton, who was married to a natural daughter of the Marquis Wellesley.

Among the statutes passed in 1833, there are several, besides those relating to Ireland, of sufficient importance to confer distinction upon any parliamentary session. One of these is entitled "an act for the better administration of justice in His Majesty's privy council"; a second, "an act for the abolition of slavery throughout the British colonies, for promoting the industry of the manumitted slaves, and for compensating the persons hitherto entitled to the services of such slaves"; a third, "an act for the abolition of fines and recoveries, and for the substitution of more simple methods of assurance"; a fourth, "an act to regulate the trade to China and India"; a fifth, "an act for giving to the corporation of the governor and company of the Bank of England certain privileges, for a limited period, under certain conditions"; a sixth, "an act to regulate the labour of children and young persons in the mills and factories of the United Kingdom". Not one of these salutary measures was forced upon the legislature by popular clamour, every one of them represents a sincere zeal for what has been ridiculed as "world-bettering," and the parliament that passed them must have been thoroughly imbued with the spirit of reform.

Foremost of these measures, as a monument of philanthropic legislation, will ever stand the act for the abolition of colonial slavery. No class in the country was concerned in its promotion; the powerful interests of the planters were arrayed against it; and humanity, operating through public opinion, was the only motive which could induce a government to espouse the anti-slavery cause. Stanley had not occupied his new office many weeks when on May 14 it became his lot to explain the ministerial scheme in the house of commons. Its essence consisted in the immediate extinction of absolute property in slaves, but with somewhat complicated provisions for an intermediate state of apprenticeship, to last twelve years. During this period negroes were to be maintained by their former masters, under an obligation to serve without wages for three-fourths of their working hours, and were to earn wages during the remaining fourth. All children under six years of age were to become free at once, and all born after the passing of the act were to be free at birth. The proprietors were to receive compensation by way of loan, to the extent of L15,000,000, and additional grants were promised for the institution of a stipendiary magistracy and a system of education.

Several resolutions embodying the scheme were carried, with little opposition, though some abolitionists, headed by Mr. Fowell Buxton, a wealthy brewer and eminent philanthropist, who sat for Weymouth, took strong exception to compulsory apprenticeship, as perpetuating the principle of slavery, however mitigated by the recognition of personal liberty and the suppression of corporal punishment. It was found expedient, however, in deference to a very strong remonstrance from West Indian proprietors, to convert the proposed loan of L15,000,000 into an absolute payment of L20,000,000, and this noble donation, for conscience' sake, was actually ratified by parliament and the country. The bill founded on the resolutions met with no serious opposition, but an amendment by Buxton for adopting free labour at once was lost by so narrow a majority that Stanley consented to reduce the period of apprenticeship to an average of six years. In this instance the lords followed the guidance of the commons, and a measure of almost quixotic liberalism was endorsed by them without hesitation. It must be confessed that experience has not verified the confident prediction that free labour would prove more profitable than slave labour, but Great Britain has never repented of the abolition act, and its example was followed, thirty years later, by the United States.

[Pageheading: FACTORY ACTS.]

The first of the general factory acts was marked by the same philanthropic character, but here the manufacturing capitalists, introduced by the reform act, were induced by self-interest to oppose it. Ever since the beginning of the century the sufferings and degradation of children in factories had occasionally engaged the attention of parliament, but the full enormity of the factory system was known to few except those who profited by it. It seems incredible, but it was shown afterwards by irresistible evidence, that children of seven years old and upwards were often compelled to work twelve or fourteen hours a day, with two short intervals for meals, in a most unwholesome atmosphere, exposed not only to ill-treatment but to every form of moral corruption. A very partial remedy was applied by a law passed in 1802 which restricted the hours of labour to twelve for mills in which apprentices were employed. The same limit of hours was extended to cotton mills generally in 1816, and, but for the resistance of the house of lords, it would have been reduced to ten, as a select committee had recommended on the initiative of the first Sir Robert Peel. A few years later the question was revived by Sir John Hobhouse, but left unsettled. In 1831 Sadler introduced a ten hours bill for children, and obtained a select committee, before which disclosures were made well calculated to shock the country. At the general election of 1832, Sadler was defeated by Macaulay for the new borough of Leeds, but his mantle fell on Lord Ashley, afterwards Earl of Shaftesbury, one of the noblest philanthropists of modern times.

Early in the session of 1833 Ashley introduced a ten hours bill, applicable, like that of Sadler, to all young persons under eighteen years of age working in factories. It also prohibited the employment of children under nine, and provided for the appointment of inspectors. It was strongly opposed by the Lancashire members as interfering with freedom of labour even for adults, since mills could not be kept running without the labour of boys under eighteen. They also objected to the evidence already reported as one-sided, and succeeded in procuring the appointment of a royal commission. This commission prosecuted its inquiries with unusual despatch, but its report was not in the hands of members on July 5, when the bill came on for its second reading. Though Althorp, unwilling to offend the manufacturing interest, pleaded for deliberation and urged that a select committee should frame the regulations to be adopted, the majority of the house was impatient of delay, and he encountered a defeat. The question now resolved itself into a choice between a greater or less limitation of hours. On this question, a compromise proposed by Althorp prevailed, and Ashley resigned the conduct of the bill into his hands. It was further modified in committee, but ultimately became law in a form which secured the main objects of its promoters. No child under nine years of age could be employed at all in a factory, after two years none under thirteen could be worked more than eight hours, and no young person under eighteen could be required to work more than sixty-nine hours a week, while the provisions for inspection were retained along with others which contained the germ of education on the half-time system.


The trading monopoly of the East India Company, though confined to China by the act of 1813, had been regarded ever since with great jealousy by the mercantile community. As the revised charter was now on the point of expiring, it was for the government to frame terms of renewal which might satisfy the growing demand for free trade. Their scheme, which few were competent to criticise, met with general approval, and the only determined opposition to it was offered in the house of lords by Ellenborough, who lived to come into sharp collision with the court of directors as governor-general. It was embodied in three simple resolutions, the first of which recommended the legislature to open the China trade without reserve, the second provided for the assumption by the crown of all the company's assets and liabilities but with the obligation of paying the company a fixed subsidy, while the last affirmed the expediency of entrusting the company with the political government of India. Grant, who moved these resolutions, as president of the board of control, had no occasion to defend the policy of setting free the China trade which no one disputed; but he undertook to show that it had declined in the hands of the company, and that private competition had already crept in on a large scale. He also dwelt on the advantage of bringing the political relations arising out of commercial intercourse more directly under the control of the government. His reasoning was sound, and the China trade rapidly developed, nor could he be expected to foresee the course of events whereby the government afterwards became embroiled with the Chinese empire, on the importation of opium, and other economical questions. As compensation for the loss of its exclusive privileges, the company was to receive an annuity of L630,000, charged on the territorial revenues of India.

The policy of continuing the company's rule in India for twenty years longer would have excited more earnest discussion in a session less crowded with legislative projects. The way had been paved for the concession of complete free trade in the eastern seas by the reports of select committees and parliamentary debates under former governments. The consumers of tea, numbered by millions, promised themselves a better quality at a lower price, and a keen spirit of enterprise was kindled by the idea of breaking into the unknown resources of China. But public interest in the administration of India was languid. It might well have appeared that a board sitting in Leadenhall Street was fitter to conduct shipping and mercantile operations than to govern an imperial dependency like British India. But the contrary alternative was almost tacitly accepted. The directors were "to remain princes, but no longer merchant princes," and Ellenborough complained that whereas "hitherto the court had appeared in India as beneficent conquerors, henceforth they would be mortgagees in possession". Perhaps the ministry shrunk from provoking the storm of obloquy which must have resulted from placing the vast patronage of the company in the hands of the crown. At all events, it was agreed, with little dissent, that under the new charter the company should nominally retain the reins of power, checked, however, by Pitt's "board of control," the president of which, in reality, shared a despotic authority with the governor-general of Bengal, who was hereafter to be in name what he had long been in fact, governor-general of India. The bill strengthened his council, and enabled him to legislate for all India.

At the same time Europeans were permitted to settle and hold land in India without the necessity of applying for a licence. Lastly, the principle was laid down, pregnant with future consequences, that all persons in India, without distinction of race or creed, should be subject to the same law and eligible for all offices under the government. Such was the last charter of the great company. It is interesting to observe that Grant, in admitting that the government of India under its sway had not been prone "to make any great or rapid strides in improvement," paid a just tribute to its eminently pacific character. "It excited vigilance," he said, "against any encroachment of violence or rapacity; it ensured to the people that which they most required—repose, security, and tranquillity." The immense annexations of territory and far-reaching reforms which have created the British India of the twentieth century were either most reluctantly sanctioned by the court of directors or have been carried out since its dominion was transferred to the crown. Irrevocable as they are, and beneficent as they may be on the whole, they have certainly imposed difficulties of portentous magnitude upon the rulers of India, nor would it be surprising if some native survivors of the olden days in far-off recesses of the country should remember with sad regret the paternal, though unprogressive, despotism of the sovereign company.

[Pageheading: THE BANK CHARTER ACT.]

The bank charter act of 1833, having been superseded by that of 1844, fills a less important place than it otherwise would in the history of legislation on currency. The bill was founded, however, on the report of a secret committee which embraced Peel as well as Althorp and several other members of high financial repute or great experience in the city. Since the subject of it was familiar to a large section of members engaged in business, and touched the pockets of bankers all over the country, it was discussed in the house of commons far more earnestly than the bill renewing the charter of the East India Company. In the end two provisions were dropped, which directly encouraged the increase of joint stock banks. The rest were passed, and contained important modifications of the banking system as it then existed. The main privileges of the Bank of England were continued, in spite of a strong opposition and of protests against the one-sided inquiry said to have been conducted by the secret committee. These privileges embraced the exclusive possession of the government balances, the monopoly of limited liability, then refused to other banks, and the right, shared by no other joint stock bank, of issuing its own notes. Though private London banks might have legally exercised this power they did not actually do so, and nearly all of them deposited their reserves with the Bank of England.

Another part of the scheme, which even Peel condemned, was thus briefly stated in a preliminary resolution: "That, provided the Bank of England continued liable, as at present, to defray in the current coin of the realm all its existing engagements, it was expedient that its promissory notes should be constituted a legal tender for sums of L5 and upwards". In other words, country bankers would no longer be compelled to cash their own notes, or pay off their deposits in gold, but might use Bank of England notes instead, above the value of L5. The Bank of England, however, and all its branches, remained liable to cash payments, as before, so that, as Baring argued, only one intermediate stage was interposed between the presentation of a country note and the exchange of it for specie. Peel's objection, which did not prevail, chiefly rested on the danger of the Bank of England closing its branches in its own interests, in order to check the demand for cash. Though his fears were not literally realised, experience disclosed the danger of country banks multiplying unduly, and, by their over-issue of notes, causing a severe drain upon the Bank of England for gold. For the present, however, the critics of the measure were less concerned in forecasting such remote consequences than in protesting against the charge to be made by the bank for managing the public debt. This charge was, in fact, to be reduced by L120,000 a year, but one-fourth part of the advances made by the bank to the public (or L3,671,700) was to be paid off, and the proposed remuneration was denounced as exorbitant. Althorp hardly denied that it was a good bargain for the bank, though he persuaded the house of commons to endorse the arrangement, rather than incur the dislocation of national finance and commercial business certain to ensue if the bank should withdraw from its connexion with the government and use its vast influence for its own interest alone.

[Pageheading: LEGAL REFORMS.]

Two great law reforms close the series of important remedial measures passed in the first session of the reformed parliament—a session, be it remembered, which embraced all the furious and protracted debates on the Irish coercion act and the Irish Church temporalities act. The first of these was Brougham's valuable bill constituting a permanent "judicial committee of the privy council," and transferring to it the judicial functions theoretically belonging to "the king in council," but practically exercised by committees selected ad hoc on each occasion. Charles Greville, to whose memoirs all historians of this period are greatly indebted, and who in 1833 was clerk of the council, was inclined to disparage the proposed change as one of Brougham's fanciful projects, designed to gratify his own self-importance.[116] Even Greville, however, saw reason to modify his view, and the new court has ever since commanded general respect, except from those high Churchmen who resented its assumption of the appellate jurisdiction in ecclesiastical causes, formerly vested, along with a similar jurisdiction in admiralty causes, in the king in chancery, and exercised by a "court of delegates," usually consisting of three common law judges and three or four civilians selected ad hoc.

The essential defects of such a court were fully stated in the report of a very strong commission, including six bishops, appointed in 1830. Probably the expediency of reforming the jurisdiction of the privy council for the purpose of hearing these ecclesiastical appeals may have suggested to Brougham the idea of constructing a standing appellate tribunal within the privy council, for the purpose of hearing all appeals that might come before that body. Accordingly, after carrying a bill in 1832 whereby the privy council, as such, took over the powers of the "court of delegates," he introduced the general bill whereby the judicial committee was created, and under which it still acts. It was to consist of the lord chancellor, with the present and past holders of certain high judicial offices, and two privy councillors to be appointed by the sovereign; to whom prelates, being privy councillors, were to be added for ecclesiastical appeals. The system thus founded, and since developed, is capable of indefinite expansion, in case still closer relations should be established between Great Britain and the colonies.

The act for the abolition of fines and recoveries, though scarcely intelligible except to lawyers, was a masterpiece not only of draughtsmanship, but of honest law amendment. It swept away grotesque and antiquated forms of conveyance, which had lost their meaning for centuries, and which nothing but professional self-interest kept alive. Had it been followed up by legislation in a like spirit on other departments of law, the profits of lawyers and the needless expenses of clients might have been reduced to an extent of which the unlearned public has no conception. As it was, it simplified the process of selling land in a remarkable degree, though it left untouched the complications of title and transfer affecting real property, which no lord chancellor since Brougham has been courageous enough to attack in earnest, and which remain the distinctive reproach of English law. It is not without shame that we read in the king's prorogation speech, delivered on August 29, 1833, the assurance that he will heartily co-operate with parliament in making justice easily accessible to all his subjects. He adds that, with this view, a commission has been issued "for digesting into one body the enactments of the criminal law, and for inquiring how far, and by what means, a similar process may be extended to the other branches of jurisprudence". Seventy years have since elapsed, yet this royal promise of codification is not even in course of fulfilment. On the other hand, Brougham's scheme for establishing local courts in certain parts of the kingdom was destined to bear ample fruit in the next reign. It was described by Eldon as "a most abominable bill," and, being generally opposed by the law lords, was rejected by a small majority, but it was the germ of the county courts, which have since done so much to bring justice within the reach and the means of poor suitors.

Notwithstanding its legislative exploits, the whig government was declining in popularity at the end of 1833, and was beginning to discover how vain it is to rely on political gratitude. Other reforming governments have since undergone the same bitter experience, the causes of which are by no means obscure. No reform can be effected without "harassing interests," and the sense of resentment in the sections of the community thus harassed is far stronger and more efficacious than any appreciation of the benefits reaped by the general public at home, or by mankind at large. Again, the expectations excited by the agitation of such a question as parliamentary reform are far beyond the power of any legislature to satisfy. Grey and his colleagues were too well aware of this, and Stanley, for one, manfully championed the government measures on their own merits, disdaining to flatter the radicals, but his discretion was not equal to his valour, and every debate brought into stronger relief the more statesmanlike capacity and moderation of Peel. There was no tory reaction, but a growing distrust of heroic remedies for national disorders, and a growing faith in the possible development of a liberal policy in a conservative spirit. Even the Duke of Wellington found himself restored insensibly to popular favour, and was again received in the streets with marks of public respect.


Of all the ministers, no one enjoyed a greater share of confidence both in and out of parliament than Althorp. He was not a great financier, but he was an honest and prudent chancellor of the exchequer, a free-trader by conviction, and incapable of those artifices by which a plausible balance-sheet may be made out at the cost of future liabilities. Yet his budgets of 1831, 1832, and 1833 undoubtedly helped to shake the credit of the government. The first had been far too ambitious, and became almost futile, when the proposed tax on transfers was abandoned, and the timber duties left undisturbed. The second was modest enough, and was saved from damaging criticism by the absorbing interest of the reform bill. Considerable reductions were made in the estimates, the revenue yielded somewhat more than had been expected, and Althorp was enabled to present a favourable account in 1833. He anticipated a surplus of about a million and a half, out of which he was prepared to abolish certain vexatious duties and to decrease others. But the country gentlemen, headed by Ingilby, member for Lincolnshire, insisted on a reduction of the malt duty by one-half, while the borough members, headed by Sir John Key, clamoured for a repeal of the house tax and window tax. The former motion was actually carried against the government by a small majority, but its effect was annulled, and the latter motion was defeated, by a skilful manoeuvre. This consisted in the proposal by Althorp of a counter-resolution, declaring that, if half of the malt tax and the whole tax on windows and houses were to be taken off, it would be necessary to meet the deficiency by a general income tax. Such a prospect was equally alarming to the landed interest and the householders, whose rival demands were mutually destructive, the result being that Althorp's amendment was carried by a large majority, and the government escaped humiliation, though not without some loss of prestige.

It was perhaps to be expected that private members in the first session of the reformed parliament should be eager to gain a hearing for their special projects of improvement. So it was, but two only of these projects deserved historical mention. One of these was the abortive attempt of Attwood, the radical member for Birmingham, to reverse the policy of 1819 by inducing parliament to initiate the return to a paper currency. Cobbett actually followed up this failure by moving for an address praying the king to dismiss Sir Robert Peel from his councils, a motion defeated by a majority of 295 to 4.


[110] The Croker Papers, ii., 198.

[111] Mahon to Peel (Jan, 8, 1833), Parker, Sir Robert Peel, ii., 209.

[112] Jan. 3, 1833, Parker, Sir Robert Peel, ii., 213.

[113] Peel to Croker (Sept. 28, 1833), ibid., p. 224.

[114] Russell, Recollections and Suggestions, p. 113.

[115] Parker, Sir Robert Peel, ii., 212-16.

[116] Greville, Memoirs, ii., 364, 365.



The year 1833, so fruitful in legislation, may be said to have witnessed the birth of a religious movement which has profoundly affected the character of the national Church. The neo-catholic revival, which afterwards took its popular name from Pusey but drew its chief inspiration from Newman, was in a great degree the outcome of the reform act and a reaction against the more than Erastian tendencies of the reformed parliament. In the early part of the century, as we have seen, personal and practical religion was mainly represented by the evangelical or low Church party, which did admirable service in the cause of philanthropy, as well as in reclaiming the masses from heathenism. The high Church party was comparatively inactive, but co-operated with its rival in opposition to catholic emancipation. The clergy, as a body, were hostile to reform, and the bishops incurred the fiercest obloquy by voting against the first reform bill, which had unfortunately been rejected by a majority exactly corresponding with the number of their votes.[117] The democratic outcry against the Church became louder and louder, as the evils of nepotism, pluralism, and sinecurism were exposed to public criticism, and a growing disposition was shown to deal with Church endowments both in England and in Ireland, if not as the property of the state, yet as under its paramount control.


The recent infusion of Irish Roman catholics into the house of commons, following that of Scotch presbyterians a century earlier, rendered it less and less fit, in the opinion of high Churchmen, to legislate for the Church of England, and every concession to religious liberty shocked them as a step towards "National Apostasy". This was, in fact, the impressive title of a sermon preached by John Keble, in July, 1833, before the university of Oxford. From this sermon Newman himself dated the origin of the Oxford or "Tractarian" movement, but its inward source lay deeper. Having lost all confidence in the state and even in the Anglican hierarchy as a creature of the state, a section of the clergy had already been looking about for another basis of authority, and had found it in theories of apostolical succession and Church organisation. The university of Oxford was a natural centre for such a reaction, and it was set on foot with the deliberate purpose of defending the Church and the Christianity of England against the anti-catholic aggressions of the dominant liberalism. It was not puritanism but liberal secularism which Newman always denounced as the arch-enemy of the catholic faith. For, as Wesley's sympathies were originally with high Church doctrines, so Newman's sympathies were originally with evangelical doctrines, nor were they ever entirely stifled by his ultimate secession to the Roman Church.

The later development of this movement, which had its cradle in the common room of Oriel College, belongs rather to ecclesiastical history, and to the reign of Queen Victoria. But from the first it rallied a considerable body of support. Many who were not influenced by the movement, shared its earlier aspirations. Shortly after the formation of an association, under Newman and Keble's auspices, seven or eight thousand of the clergy signed an address to the Archbishop of Canterbury, insisting upon the necessity of restoring Church discipline, maintaining Church principles, and checking the progress of latitudinarianism. A large section of the laity ranged themselves on the side of the revival, and meetings were held throughout England. The king himself volunteered a declaration of his strong affection for the national Church now militant, and prepared to assert itself, not merely as a true branch of the catholic Church, but as a co-ordinate power with the state. In the autumn of 1833, Newman and one of his colleagues launched the first of that series of tracts from which his followers derived the familiar name of Tractarians. From that day he was their recognised leader, yet he claimed no allegiance and issued no commands. He felt himself, not the creator of a new party, but a loyal son of the old Church, at last awakened from her lethargy. The spell which he exercised over so many young minds was due to a personal influence of which he was almost unconscious, but which spread from the pulpit of St. Mary's Church and his college rooms at Oriel over a great part of the university and the Church. It was broken some years later, when he gave up the via media which he had so long been advocating, accepted the logical consequences of his own teaching, and reproached others for not discovering that Anglicanism was but a pale and deformed counterfeit of the primitive Christianity represented, in its purity, by the Church of Rome.

Looking back at this movement across an interval of seventy years, we may well feel astonished that it satisfied the aspirations of inquisitive minds in contact with the ideas of their own times. For this was the age of Benthamism in social philosophy and "German neology" in biblical criticism. Though national education was in its infancy, a new desire for knowledge, and even a free-thinking spirit, was permeating the middle classes, and had gained a hold among the more intelligent of the artisans. The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, established by Brougham, circulated a mass of instructive and stimulating literature at a cheap rate; popular magazines and cyclopaedias were multiplying yearly; and the British Association, which held its first meeting at Oxford in 1832, brought the results of natural science within the reach of thousands and tens of thousands incapable of scientific research. The Bridgwater Treatises, which belong to the reign of William IV., are evidence of a widespread anxiety to reconcile the claims and conclusions of science with those of the received theology. Thoughtful and religious laymen in the higher ranks of society were earnestly seeking a reason for the faith that was in them, and pondering over fundamental problems like the personality of God, the divinity of Christ, the reality of supernatural agency, and the awful mystery of the future life. Yet the tractarians passed lightly over all these problems, to exercise themselves and others with disputations on points which to most laymen of their time appeared comparatively trivial.


To them Church authority was supreme, and every catholic dogma a self-evident truth. What engrossed their reason and consciences was the discussion of questions affecting Church authority, for example, whether the Anglican Church possessed the true note of catholicity or was in a state of schism, whether its position in Christendom was not on a par with that of the monophysite heretics, whether its articles could be brought into conformity with the Roman catholic doctrines expressly condemned by them, or whether its alliance with Lutheranism in the appointment of a bishop for Jerusalem did not amount to ecclesiastical suicide. Their message, unlike that of the early Christian or methodist preachers, was for the priestly order, and not for the masses of the people; their appeals were addressed ad clerum not ad populum; still less were they suited to influence scientific intellects. But their propaganda was carried on by men of intense earnestness and holy lives, few in number but strong in well-organised combination, and they carried with them for a time many to whom any "movement" seemed better than lifeless "high and dry" conformity. Herein consisted the secret of their early success. Their subsequent failure was inevitable when they were fairly confronted with protestant sentiment and with the independent spirit of the age. How their aims were taken up and partially realised in a new form by new leaders and through new methods, is an inquiry which must be reserved for a later chapter in the history of the English Church.

The strange religious movement which resulted in the foundation of the so-called Catholic Apostolic Church was of somewhat earlier date, and its author had already been disavowed as a minister by the presbyterian Church before the Tracts for the Times began to startle the religious world. The most brilliant part of Edward Irving's career falls within the reign of George IV., when his chapel in London was crowded by the fashionable world, and even attended occasionally by statesmen like Canning. According to all contemporary testimony he was among the most remarkable of modern preachers, and his visionary speculations in the field of biblical prophecy failed to repel hearers attracted by his wonderful religious enthusiasm. Compared with the adherents of the methodist or of the neo-catholic revival, his followers were a mere handful, and his name would scarcely merit a place in history but for the impression which he made upon men of high ability and position. What brought him into discredit with his own communion and with the public was his introduction into his services of fanatics professing the gift of speaking with "unknown tongues". These extravagances led to his deposition in 1832, and probably hastened his early death in 1834. But his creed did not die with him, and a small body of earnest believers has carried on into the twentieth century a definite tradition of the gospel which he taught.

Far deeper and more lasting in its effects was the change wrought in current ideas by the almost unseen but steady advance of science in all its branches. During this epoch perhaps the most formidable enemy of orthodoxy was the rising study of geology, challenging, as it did, the traditional theories of creation. The discoveries of astronomy—the law of gravitation, the rotation of the earth, its place in the solar system, and, above all, the infinite compass of the universe—were in themselves of a nature to revolutionise theological beliefs more radically than any conclusions respecting the antiquity of the earth. But it may be doubted whether it was so in fact; at all events, theologians had slowly learned to harmonise their doctrines with the conception of immeasurable space, when they were suddenly required to admit the conception of immeasurable time, and staggered under the blow. The pioneers of English geology were careful to avoid shocking religious opinion, and Buckland devotes a chapter of his famous Treatise on Geology to showing "the consistency of geological discoveries with sacred history". His explanation is that an undefined interval may have elapsed after the creation of the heaven and the earth "in the beginning" as recorded in the first verse of Genesis; and he rejects as opposed to geological evidence "the derivation of existing systems of organic life, by an eternal succession, from preceding individuals of the same species, or by gradual transmutation of one species into another". But speculations of this order were utterly ignored by such religious leaders as Newman and Irving, whose spiritual fervour, however apostolical in its influence on the hearts of their disciples, was confined within the narrowest circle of intellectual interests.

[Pageheading: POOR LAW.]

The great event of parliamentary history in 1834, and the crowning achievement of the first reformed parliament, was the enactment of the "new poor law," as it was long called. No measure of modern times so well represents the triumph of reason over prejudice; none has been so carefully based on thorough inquiry and the deliberate acceptance of sound principles; none has so fully stood the conclusive test of experience. It is not too much to say that it was essentially a product of the reform period, and could scarcely have been carried either many years earlier or many years later. In the dark age which followed the great war, contempt for political economy, coupled with a weak sentiment of humanity, would have made it impossible for a far-sighted treatment of national pauperism and distress to obtain a fair hearing. After the introduction of household suffrage, and the growth of socialism, any resolute attempt to diminish the charge upon ratepayers for the immediate relief but ultimate degradation of the struggling masses would have met with the most desperate resistance from the new democracy. The philosophical whigs and radicals, trained in the school of Bentham, and untainted as yet by a false philanthropy, found themselves in possession of an opportunity which might never have recurred. They deserved the gratitude of posterity by using it wisely and courageously.

The irregular development of the poor laws, from the act of Elizabeth down to that of 1834, belongs to economic rather than to general history. It is enough to say here that in later years, and especially since the system of allowances adopted by the Berkshire magistrates at Speenhamland in 1795 had become general, the original policy of relieving only the destitute and helpless, and compelling able-bodied men to earn their own living, had been entirely obscured by the intrusion of other ideas. The result was admirably described in the report of a commission, appointed in 1832, with the most comprehensive powers of investigation and recommendation. The commissioners were the Bishops of London (Blomfield) and Chester (Sumner), Sturges Bourne, Edwin Chadwick, and four others less known, but well versed in the questions to be considered. A summary of the information collected by them, ranging over the whole field of poor-law management, was published in February, 1834. It astounded the benighted public of that day, and it still remains on record as a wonderful revelation of ruinous official infatuation on the largest possible scale. The evil system was found to be almost universal, but the worst examples of it were furnished by the southern counties of England. There, an actual premium was set upon improvidence, if not on vice, by the wholesale practice of giving out-door relief in aid of wages, and in proportion to the number of children in the family, legitimate or illegitimate. The excuse was that it was better to eke out scanty earnings by doles than to break up households, and bring all their inmates into the workhouse. The inevitable effect of such action was that wages fell as doles increased, that paupers so pensioned were preferred by the farmers to independent labourers because their labour was cheaper, and that independent labourers, failing to get work except at wages forced down to a minimum, were constantly falling into the ranks of pauperism.

Had some theorists of a later generation witnessed the social order then prevailing in country districts, they would have found several of their favourite objects practically attained. There was no competition between the working people; old and young, skilled and unskilled hands, the industrious and the idle, were held worthy of equal reward, the actual allowance to each being measured by his need and not by the value of his work; while the parochial authorities, figuring as an earthly providence, exercised a benevolent superintendence over the welfare and liberty of every day-labourer in the village community. The fruits of that superintendence were the decline of a race of freemen into a race of slaves, unconscious of their slavery, and the gradual ruin of the landlords and farmers upon whom the maintenance of these slaves depended.[118]

[Pageheading: NEW POOR LAW.]

The evidence laid before the commissioners not only showed how intolerable the evil had become in many counties, but also how purely artificial it was. While the aggregate amount of the poor rate had risen to more than eight millions and a half, while some parishes were going out of cultivation and in others the rates exceeded the rental, there were certain oases in the desert of agricultural distress where comparative prosperity still reigned. These were villages in which an enlightened squire or parson had set himself to strike at the root of pauperism, and to initiate local reforms in the poor-law system. It was clearly found that, where out-door relief was abolished or rigorously limited, where no allowances were made in aid of wages, and where a manly self-reliance was encouraged instead of a servile mendicity, wages rose, honest industry revived, and the whole character of the village population was improved. Fortified by these successful experiments, the commissioners took a firm stand on the vital distinction, previously ignored, between poverty and pauperism. They did not shrink from recommending that, after a certain date, "the workhouse test" should be enforced against all able-bodied applicants for relief, except in the form of medical attendance, and even that women should be compelled to support their illegitimate children. They also advised a liberal change in the complicated and oppressive system of "parish settlement," whereby the free circulation of labour was constricted. They further proposed a very large reform in the administrative machinery of the poor laws, by the formation of parishes into unions, the concentration of workhouses, the separation of the sexes in workhouses, and, above all, the creation of a central poor-law board, to consist of three commissioners, and to control the whole system about to be transformed.

A bill framed upon these lines, and remedying some minor abuses, was introduced by Althorp on April 17, having been foreshadowed in the speech from the throne, and carefully matured by the cabinet. So wide and deep was the conviction of the necessity for some radical treatment of an intolerable evil that party spirit was quelled for a while, and the bill met with a very favourable reception, especially as its operation was limited to five years. It passed the second reading by a majority of 299 to 20 on May 9, notwithstanding a violent protest from De Lacy Evans, an ultra-radical, who had displaced Hobhouse at Westminster. The keynote of the radical agitation which followed was given by his declaration that "the cessation of out-door relief would lead to a revolution in the country," and by Cobbett's denunciation of the "poor man robbery bill". The Times newspaper, already a great political force, took up the same cry, and had not Peel, with admirable public spirit, thrown his weight into the scale of sound economy, a formidable coalition between extremists on both sides might have been organised. He stood firm, however; radicals like Grote declined to barter principle for popularity, and the bill emerged almost unscathed from committee in the house of commons. It passed its third reading on July 2 by a majority of 157 to 50. Peel's example was followed by Wellington in the house of lords, and Brougham delivered one of his most powerful speeches in support of the measure. With some modification of the bastardy clauses and other slighter amendments it was carried by a large majority, and received the royal assent on August 4.

No other piece of legislation, except the repeal of the corn laws, has done so much to rescue the working classes of Great Britain from the misery entailed by twenty years of war. Its effect in reducing the rates was immediate; its effect in raising the character of the agricultural poor was not very long deferred. Happily for them, though not for the farmers, bread was cheap for two years after it came into force. Still, the sudden cessation of doles and pensions in aid of wages could not but work great hardship to individuals in thousands of rural parishes, and there was perhaps too little disposition on the part of the commissioners to allow any temporary relaxation of the system. The rigorous enforcement of the workhouse test, and the harsh management of workhouses, continued for years to shock the charitable sensibilities of the public, and actually produced some local riots. When the price of bread rose the clamour naturally increased, and petitions multiplied until a committee was appointed in 1837 to review the operation of the act. In the end the committee found, as might have been expected, that, however painful the state of transition, the change had permanently improved the condition of the poor in England.


While the bill was still in the house of commons the ministry which framed it was torn by dissensions; before it came on for its second reading in the lords Grey had ceased to be premier. The disruption of his government had been foreseen for months, but it was directly caused by hopeless discord on Irish policy. Anglesey had been forced by ill-health to resign the vice-royalty, and the Marquis Wellesley, who succeeded him, was more acceptable to Irish nationalists. But the king's speech at the opening of the session contained a stern condemnation of the repeal movement. O'Connell at once declared war, and the angry feelings of his followers were inflamed by a personal and public quarrel between Althorp and Sheil. Another incident, in itself trivial, disclosed the discord prevailing in the cabinet on Irish affairs, and, though O'Connell was defeated on a motion against the union by a crushing majority of 523 to 38, the disturbed state of Ireland continued to distract the ministerial councils. The ingenious devices of Stanley and Littleton for solving the insoluble Irish tithe question had proved almost abortive; the government officials employed to collect tithe were almost as powerless to do so as the old tithe-proctors, and a new proposal to convert tithe into a land tax was naturally ridiculed by O'Connell as delusive. He made a speech so conciliatory in its tone as to startle the house, but no words, however smooth, could now conjure away the irreconcilable difference of purpose between those who regarded Church property as sacred and those who regarded it not only as at the disposal of the state, but as hitherto unjustly monopolised by a single religious communion. It was reserved for Lord John Russell to "upset the coach" by openly declaring his adhesion to "appropriation," in the sense of diverting to other objects, secular or otherwise, such revenues of the established Church as were not strictly required for the benefit of its own members. After this act of mutiny against the collective authority of the cabinet Grey's ministry was doomed.

Its ruin was consummated by a motion of Henry Ward, member for St. Albans, which expressly affirmed the right of the state to regulate the distribution of Church property and the expediency of reducing the Irish establishment. This motion was supposed to have been instigated by Durham, who had never been loyal to his colleagues. The government was notoriously divided upon it; Brougham suggested a commission of inquiry, by way of compromise; other ministerialists were in favour of meeting the difficulty by moving the previous question. Peel was prepared to support the conservative section of the government, and deprecated in strong terms "all manoeuvring, all coquetting with radicals" in order to snatch a temporary party triumph.[119]

Ward's resolution was introduced on May 27, 1834, and seconded by Grote, but Althorp, instead of replying, announced the receipt of sudden news so important that he induced the house to adjourn the debate. This news was the resignation of Stanley, Graham, Richmond, and Ripon, whose views on appropriation, as afterwards appeared, were shared by Lansdowne and Spring Rice. The ministry was reconstructed by the accession of Lord Conyngham as postmaster-general, without a seat in the cabinet, and of Lord Auckland, son of Sidmouth's colleague, as first lord of the admiralty, by the appointment of Carlisle (already in the cabinet) to be lord privy seal, and the substitution of Spring Rice for Stanley at the colonial office. Edward Ellice, the secretary at war, was included in the cabinet, and James Abercromby, afterwards Lord Dunfermline, a son of the famous general, Sir Ralph Abercromby, became master of the mint with a seat in the cabinet. Poulett Thomson became president of the board of trade, and minor offices were assigned to Francis Baring, and other whig recruits. Grey himself, sick of nominal power, was dissuaded with difficulty from retiring; Althorp, conscious of failing authority, was retained in his post only by a high sense of duty. Unfortunately, he was very soon entangled by his colleague Littleton in something like an intrigue with O'Connell, which precipitated the final resignation of Grey together with his own temporary secession.

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