Beacon Lights of History, Volume X
Part 1 out of 4
BEACON LIGHTS OF HISTORY, VOLUME X
BY JOHN LORD, LL.D.,
AUTHOR OF "THE OLD ROMAN WORLD," "MODERN EUROPE,"
Social evils in England on the accession of William IV.
Premiership of Lord Grey.
Aristocratic character of the reformers.
Lord John Russell.
The Reform Bill.
Its final passage.
Lord Melbourne, Prime Minister.
Troubles in Ireland.
Sir Robert Peel, Prime Minister.
His short administration.
Succeeded by Lord Melbourne.
Abolition of West India slavery.
Thomas Babington Macaulay.
Reform of municipal corporations.
Death of William IV.
Second ministry of Sir Robert Peel.
The Duke of Wellington.
Agitations for repeal of the Corn Laws.
SIR ROBERT PEEL.
Birth and education of Sir Robert Peel.
His conservative views.
His High Church principle.
Enters the Cabinet of Lord Liverpool.
Resigns the representation of Oxford.
Member of Tamworth.
Opposes the Reform Bill.
Prime Minister in 1841.
His sliding scale.
The Factory Question.
Renewed charter of the Bank of England.
Agitation for Free Trade.
Cobden and Bright.
Free Trade leagues.
Free Trade Hall in Manchester.
Peel converted to Free Trade.
Disraeli leader of the Protectionists.
His virulent assaults on Peel.
Abolition of the Corn Laws.
Irish Coercion Bill.
Fall of the Peel Ministry.
Peel's great speech.
Death of Sir Robert Peel.
Character of Sir Robert Peel.
The Roman Catholic Church.
The temporal power.
General desire of Italians for liberty.
Varied fortunes of Mazzini.
His aspirations and labors.
Battle of Novara.
King Victor Emmanuel II.
His early days.
His prodigious labors.
His policy and aims.
Alliance with Louis Napoleon.
His wanderings and adventures.
Takes part in the freedom of Italy.
Garibaldi in Caprera.
Peace of Villa-Franca.
Liberation of Naples and Sicily.
Flight of Francis II. of Naples.
Battle of Volturno.
Annexation of Naples to Sardinia.
Victor Emmanuel, King of Italy.
Venetian provinces annexed to Italy.
Withdrawal of French troops from Italy.
All Italy united under Victor Emmanuel.
THE CRIMEAN WAR.
Origin of the Russians.
Extension of Russian conquests.
Conquests of Catherine I.
Conquests of Alexander I.
Conquests of Nicholas.
Treaty of Adrianople.
Ambition and aims of Nicholas.
Causes of the Crimean War.
England and France in alliance with Turkey.
Occupation by Russia of the Danubian provinces.
English and French at Varna.
Invasion of the Crimea.
Battle of Alma.
Siege of Sebastopol.
Battle of Balaklava.
"The Light Brigade".
"The Heavy Brigade".
Battle of Inkerman.
Horrors of the siege.
Sardinia joins the allies.
Assault of Sebastopol.
Death of Lord Raglan.
Treaty of Paris.
Indecisive results of the war.
The Eastern Question.
THE SECOND EMPIRE.
Fortunes and adventures of Louis Napoleon.
The political agitations of 1848.
Louis Napoleon, President of the French Republic.
The Coup d'Etat.
Usurpation of Louis Napoleon.
Hostility of the leading statesmen of France.
Character of Louis Napoleon.
The Crimean War.
Alliance of France and England.
Stability of the Empire.
Prosperity of France.
Splendid successes of Napoleon III.
War with Austria.
Peace of Villa-Franca.
Improvements of Paris.
Humiliations and shifts of Louis Napoleon.
War with Germany.
Indecision and incapacity of Louis Napoleon.
Battle of Worth.
Battle of Sedan.
Fall of Napoleon III.
Calamities of France.
THE GERMAN EMPIRE.
Humiliation of Prussia.
Her great deliverers.
Baron von Stein.
His financial genius.
His intense hatred of Napoleon.
His great reforms.
Disgrace of Stein.
Baron von Humboldt.
New military organization.
Frederick William III.
Diet of Frankfort.
Reaction of liberal sentiments.
Influence of Metternich.
Frederick William IV.
Rise of Bismarck.
Diplomatist at the Diet of Frankfort.
Ambassador at St. Petersburg.
Death of Frederick William IV.
Bismarck, Prime Minister.
Increase of the army.
The Schleswig-Holstein Question.
Treaty of Vienna, 1864.
War between Austria and Prussia.
Count von Moltke.
Battle of Sadowa.
Great increase of Prussian territory and population.
New German Constitution.
War clouds--France and Luxembourg.
Conference at London.
King William at Paris.
Preparations and pretext for war with France.
Mobilization of German troops.
King William at Mayence.
Battle of Gravelotte.
Fall of Louis Napoleon at Sedan.
Siege and surrender of Paris.
King William crowned Emperor of Germany.
Labors of Bismarck.
Quarrel with the Catholics.
Socialism in Germany.
Bismarck's domestic policy.
Bismarck's famous speech, 1888.
Death of Emperor William.
Retirement of Bismarck.
WILLIAM EWART GLADSTONE.
THE ENFRANCHISEMENT OF THE PEOPLE.
Precocity of Gladstone.
Life at Oxford.
Under-Secretary for the Colonies.
His eloquence as member of Parliament.
Essay on Church and State.
Letter on the Government of Naples.
Gladstone Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Opposes the Crimean War.
Great abilities as finance minister.
Conversion to Free Trade.
"Studies on Homer".
His mistake about the American War.
Defeat at Oxford.
Rivalry between Gladstone and Disraeli.
Gladstone, Prime Minister.
His great popularity.
Disestablishment of Irish Church.
Irish Land Bill.
Radical army changes.
Settlement of the Alabama claims.
Irish University Bill.
Fall of Gladstone's Ministry.
Influence of Gladstone in retirement.
Disraeli as Prime Minister.
Return of Gladstone to power.
His second administration.
Parliamentary defeat of Gladstone.
The Irish Question.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Bismarck at Versailles
_After the painting by Carl Wagner_.
William IV., King of England
_After the painting by Sir Thomas Lawrence_.
Sir Robert Peel
_From the engraving by Sartain_.
Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield
_From a photograph_.
Camillo Benso di Cavour
_From a photograph_.
Assassination of the Emperor Paul I. of Russia
_After the painting by H. Merte_.
Czar Nicholas I.
_After the painting by Horace Vernet_.
Capture of Napoleon III. at Boulogne
_After the painting by R. Gutschmidt_.
Louis Napoleon III.
_From a photograph_.
_After the painting by Franz von Lenbach_.
Count Von Moltke
_From a photograph from life_.
Proclamation of King William of Prussia as Emperor of
Germany, at Versailles
_After the painting by Anton von Werner_.
William Ewart Gladstone
_After a photograph from life_.
BEACON LIGHTS OF HISTORY.
On the death of George IV. in 1830, a new political era dawned on
England. His brother, William IV., who succeeded him, was not his equal
in natural ability, but was more respectable in his character and more
liberal in his views. With William IV. began the undisputed ascendency
of the House of Commons in national affairs. Before his day, no prime
minister could govern against the will of the sovereign. After George
IV., as in France under Louis Philippe, "the king reigned, but did not
govern." The chief of the ascendent political party was the real ruler.
When William IV. ascended the throne the Tories were still in power, and
were hostile to reform. But the agitations and discontents of the latter
days of George IV. had made the ministry unpopular. Great political
reformers had arisen, like Lords Grey, Althorp, and Russell, and great
orators like Henry Brougham and Macaulay, who demanded a change in the
national policy. The social evils which stared everybody in the face
were a national disgrace; they made the boasted liberty of the English a
mockery. There was an unparalleled distress among the laboring classes,
especially in the mining and manufacturing districts. The price of labor
had diminished, while the price of bread had increased. So wretched was
the condition of the poor that there were constant riots and
insurrections, especially in large towns. In war times unskilled
laborers earned from twelve to fifteen shillings a week, and mechanics
twenty-five shillings; but in the stagnation of business which followed
peace, wages suffered a great reduction, and thousands could find no
work at all. The disbanding of the immense armies that had been
necessary to combat Napoleon threw out of employ perhaps half a million
of men, who became vagabonds, beggars, and paupers. The agricultural
classes did not suffer as much as operatives in mills, since they got a
high price for their grain; but the more remunerative agriculture became
to landlords, the more miserable were those laborers who paid all they
could earn to save themselves from absolute starvation. No foreign grain
could be imported until wheat had arisen to eighty shillings a
"quarter," --which unjust law tended to the enrichment of
land-owners, and to a corresponding poverty among the laboring classes.
In addition to the high price which the people paid for bread, they were
taxed heavily upon everything imported, upon everything consumed, upon
the necessities and conveniences of life as well as its luxuries,--on
tea, on coffee, on sugar, on paper, on glass, on horses, on carriages,
on medicines,--since money had to be raised to pay the interest on the
national debt and to provide for the support of the government,
including pensions, sinecures, and general extravagance.
[Footnote 1: A quarter of a gross ton.]
In the poverty which enormous taxes and low wages together produced,
there were not only degradation and squalid misery in England at this
time, but violence and crime. And there was also great injustice in the
laws which punished crime. There were two hundred and twenty-three
offences punishable with death. If a starving peasant killed a hare, he
was summarily hanged. Catholics were persecuted for their opinions; Jews
were disqualified from holding office. Only men of comfortable means
were allowed to vote. The universities were closed against Dissenters.
No man stood any chance of political preferment unless he was rich or
was allied with the aristocracy, who controlled the House of Commons.
The nobles and squires not merely owned most of the landed property of
the realm, but by their "rotten boroughs" could send whom they pleased
to Parliament. In consequence the House of Commons did not represent the
nation, but only the privileged classes. It was as aristocratic as the
House of Lords.
In the period of repose which succeeded the excitements of war the
people began to see their own political insignificance, and to agitate
for reforms. A few noble-minded and able statesmen of the more liberal
party, if any political party could be called liberal, lifted up their
voices in Parliament for a redress of scandalous evils; but the
eloquence which distinguished them was a mere protest. They were in a
hopeless minority; nothing could be done to remove or ameliorate public
evils so long as the majority of the House of Commons were opposed to
reform. It is obvious that the only thing the reformers could do,
whether in or out of Parliament, was to agitate, to discuss, to hold
public meetings, to write political tracts, to change public opinion, to
bring such a pressure to bear on political aspirants as to insure an
election of members to the House of Commons who were favorable to
reform. For seven years this agitation had been going on during the
later years of the reign of George IV. It was seen and felt by everybody
that glaring public evils could not be removed until there should be a
reform in Parliament itself,--which meant an extension of the electoral
suffrage, by which more liberal and popular members might be elected.
On the accession of the new king, there was of course a new election of
members to the House of Commons. In consequence of the agitations of
reformers, public opinion had been changed, and a set of men were
returned to Parliament pledged to reform. The old Tory chieftains no
longer controlled the House of Commons, but Whig leaders like Brougham,
Macaulay, Althorp, and Lord John Russell,--men elected on the issue of
reform, and identified with the agitations in its favor.
The old Tory ministers who had ruled the country for fifty years went
out of office, and the Whigs came into power under the premiership of
Lord Grey. Although he was pledged to parliamentary reform, his cabinet
was composed entirely of noblemen, with only one exception. There was no
greater aristocrat in all England than this leader of reform,--a cold,
reticent, proud man. Lord Russell was also an aristocrat, being a
brother of the Duke of Bedford; so was Althorp, the son and heir of Earl
Spencer. The only man in the new cabinet of fearless liberality of
views, the idol of the people, a man of real genius and power, was
Brougham; but after he was made Lord Chancellor, the presiding officer
of the Chamber of Peers, he could no longer be relied upon as the
mouthpiece of the people, as he had been for years in the House of
Commons. It would almost seem that the new ministry thought more and
cared more for the dominion of the Whigs than they did for a redress of
the evils under which the nation groaned. But the Whigs were pledged to
parliamentary reform, and therefore were returned to Parliament. More at
least was expected of them by the middle classes, who formed the
electoral body, than of the Tories, who were hostile to all
reforms,--men like Wellington and Eldon, both political bigots,
great as were their talents and services. In politics the Tories
resembled the extreme Right in the French Chamber of Deputies,--the
ultra-conservatives, who sustained the throne of Charles X. The Whigs
bore more resemblance to the Centre of the Chamber of Deputies, led by
such men as Guizot, Broglie, and Thiers, favorable to a constitutional
monarchy, but by no means radicals and democrats like Louis Blanc, Ledru
Rollin, and Lamartine. The Whigs, at the best, were as yet inclined only
to such measures as would appease popular tumults, create an intelligent
support to the throne, and favor _necessary_ reform. It was, with them,
a choice between revolution and a fairer representation of the nation in
Parliament. It may be reasonably doubted whether there were a dozen men
in the House of Commons that assembled at the beginning of the reign of
William IV. who were democrats, or even men of popular sympathies. What
the majority conceded was from fear, rather than from a sense of
justice. The great Whig leaders of the reform movement probably did not
fully foresee the logical consequences of the Reform Bill which was
introduced, and the change which on its enactment would take place in
the English Constitution.
Even as it was, the struggle was tremendous. It was an epoch in English
history. The question absorbed all other interests and filled all men's
minds. It was whether the House of Commons should represent the
privileged and well-to-do middle classes or the nation,--at least a
larger part of the nation; not the people generally, but those who ought
to be represented,--those who paid considerable taxes to support the
government; large towns, as well as obscure hamlets owned by the
aristocracy. The popular agitation was so violent that experienced
statesmen feared a revolution which would endanger the throne itself.
Hence Lord Grey and his associates determined to carry the Reform Bill
at any cost, whatever might be the opposition, as the only thing to be
done if the nation would escape the perils of revolution.
Lord John Russell was selected by the government to introduce the bill
into the House of Commons. He was not regarded as the ablest of the Whig
statesmen who had promised reform. His person was not commanding, and
his voice was thin and feeble; but he was influential among the
aristocracy as being a brother of the Duke of Bedford, head of a most
illustrious house, and he had no enemies among the popular elements.
Russell had not the eloquence and power and learning of Brougham; but he
had great weight of character, tact, moderation, and parliamentary
experience. The great hero of reform, Henry Brougham, was, as we have
said, no longer in the House of Commons; but even had he been there he
was too impetuous, uncertain, and eccentric to be trusted with the
management of the bill. Knowing this, his party had elevated him to the
woolsack. He would have preferred the office of the Master of the Rolls,
a permanent judicial dignity, with a seat in the House of Commons; but
to this the king would not consent. Indeed, it was the king himself who
suggested the lord chancellorship for Brougham.
Lord Russell was, then, the most prominent advocate of the bill which
marked the administration of Lord Grey. It was a great occasion, March
1, 1831, when he unfolded his plan of reform to a full and anxious
assembly of aristocratic legislators. There was scarcely an unoccupied
seat in the House. At six o'clock he arose, and in a low and humble
manner invoked reason and justice in behalf of an enlarged
representation. He proposed to give the right of franchise to all
householders who paid L10 a year in rates, and who qualified to serve on
juries. He also proposed to disfranchise the numerous "rotten
boroughs" which were in the gift of noblemen and great landed
proprietors,--boroughs which had an insignificant number of voters; by
which measure one hundred and sixty-eight parliamentary vacancies would
occur. These vacancies were to be partially filled by sending two
members each from seven large towns, and one member each from twenty
smaller towns which were not represented in Parliament. Lord Russell
further proposed to send two members each from four districts of the
metropolis, which had a large population, and two additional members
each from twenty-six counties; these together would add ninety-four
members from towns and counties which had a large population. To obviate
the great expenses to which candidates were exposed in bringing voters
to the polls (amounting to L150,000 in Yorkshire alone), the bill
provided that the poll should be taken in different districts, and
should be closed in two days in the towns, and in three days in the
counties. The general result of the bill would be to increase the number
of electors five hundred thousand,--making nine hundred thousand in all.
We see how far this was from universal suffrage, giving less than a
million of voters in a population of twenty-five millions. Yet even so
moderate and reasonable an enlargement of the franchise created
astonishment, and was regarded by the opponents as subversive of the
British Constitution; and not without reason, since it threw political
power into the hands of the middle classes instead of into those of the
Lord Russell's motion was, of course, bitterly opposed by the Tories.
The first man who arose to speak against it was Sir H. Inglis, member of
the university of Oxford,--a fine classical scholar, an accomplished
gentleman, and an honest man. He maintained that the proposed alteration
in the representation of the country was nothing less than revolution.
He eulogized the system of rotten boroughs, since it favored the return
to Parliament of young men of great abilities, who without the patronage
of nobles would fail in popular elections; and he cited the cases of
Pitt, Fox, Burke, Canning, Perceval, and others who represented Appleby,
Old Sarum, Wendover, and other places almost without inhabitants. Sir
Charles Wetherell, Mr. Croker, and Sir Robert Peel, substantially took
the same view; Lord Althorp, Mr. Hume, O'Connell, and others supported
the government. Amid intense excitement, for everybody saw the momentous
issues at stake, leave was at length granted to Lord John Russell to
bring in his bill. No less than seventy-one persons in the course of
seven nights spoke for or against the measure. The Press, headed by the
"Times," rendered great assistance to the reform cause, while public
meetings were everywhere held and petitions sent to Parliament in favor
of the measure. The voice of the nation spoke in earnest and
On the 21st of March, 1831, Lord John Russell moved the second reading
of the bill; but the majority for it was so small that ministers were
compelled to make modifications. After a stormy debate there was a
majority of seventy-eight against the government. The ministers,
undaunted, at once induced the king to dissolve Parliament, and an
appeal was made to the nation. A general election followed, which sent
up an overwhelming majority of Liberal members, while many of the
leading members of the last Parliament lost their places. On the 21st of
June the new Parliament was opened by the king in person. He was
received with the wildest enthusiasm by the populace, as he proceeded in
state to the House of Lords in his gilded carriage, drawn by eight
cream-colored horses. On the 24th of June Lord John Russell again
introduced his bill, this time in a bold, manly, and decisive manner, in
striking contrast with the almost suppliant tone which he assumed
before. On the 4th of July the question of the second reading was
brought forward. The discussion was carried on for three nights, and on
division the great majority of one hundred and thirty-six was with the
government. The only hope of the opposition was now in delay; and
factious divisions were made on every point possible as the bill went
through the committee. The opposition was most vexatious. Praed made
twenty-two speeches against the bill, Sugden eighteen, Pelham
twenty-eight, Peel forty-eight, Croker fifty-seven, and Wetherell
fifty-eight. Of course the greater part of these speeches were
inexpressibly wearisome, and ministers were condemned to sit and listen
to the stale arguments, which were all that the opposition could make.
Never before in a legislative body was there such an amount of quibbling
and higgling, and "speaking against time;" and it was not till September
19 that the third reading came on, the obstructions in committee having
been so formidable and annoying. On the 22d of September the bill
finally passed in the House of Commons by a majority of one hundred and
six, after three months of stormy debate.
But the parliamentary battles were only partially fought; victory in the
end was certain, but was not yet obtained. It was necessary that the
bill should pass the House of Lords, where the opposition was
On the very evening of September 22 the bill was carried to the Lords,
and Lords Althorp and Russell, with one hundred other members of the
Commons, entered the Upper House with their message. The Lord Chancellor
Brougham advanced to the bar with the usual formalities, and received
the bill from the hands of Lord John Russell. He then resumed his seat
on the woolsack, and communicated to the assembled peers the nature of
the message. Earl Grey moved that the bill be read a first time, and the
time was agreed to. On the 3d of October the premier addressed the House
in support of the bill,--a measure which he had taken up in his youth,
not so much from sympathy with the people as from conviction of its
imperative necessity. There was great majesty in the manner of the
patrician minister as he addressed his peers; his eye sparkled with
intelligence, and his noble brow betokened resolution and firmness,
while his voice quivered with emotion. Less rhetorical than his great
colleague the Lord Chancellor, his speech riveted attention. For
forty-five years the aged peer had advocated parliamentary reform, and
his voice had been heard in unison with that of Fox before the French
Revolution had broken out. Lord Wharncliffe, one of the most moderate
and candid of his opponents, followed. Lord Melbourne, courteous and
inoffensive, supported the bill, because, as he said, he dreaded the
consequences of a refusal of concession to the demands of the people,
rather than because he loved reform, which he had previously opposed.
The Duke of Wellington of course uttered his warning protest, and was
listened to more from his fame as a warrior than from his merits as a
speaker. Lord Brougham delivered one of the most masterly of his great
efforts in favor of reform, and was answered by Lord Lyndhurst in a
speech scarcely inferior in mental force. The latter maintained that if
the bill became a law the Constitution would be swept away, and even a
republic be established on its ruins. Lord Tenterden, another great
lawyer, took the side of Lord Lyndhurst, followed in the same strain by
Dr. Howley, Archbishop of Canterbury. On a division, there was a
majority of forty-one peers against the bill.
The news spread with rapidity to every corner of the land that the Lords
had defeated the reform for which the nation clamored. Never in England
was there greater excitement. The abolition of the House of Lords was
everywhere discussed, and in many places angrily demanded. People could
do nothing but talk about the bill, and politics threw all business into
the shade. An imprudent speech from an influential popular leader might
have precipitated the revolution which the anti-reformers so greatly
dreaded. The disappointed people for the most part, however, restrained
their wrath, and contented themselves with closing their shops and
muffling their church bells. The bishops especially became objects of
popular detestation. The Duke of Newcastle and the Marquis of
Londonderry, being peculiarly obnoxious, were personally assailed by a
mob of incensed agitators. The Duke of Cumberland, brother of the king,
was dragged from his horse, while the mob demolished the windows of the
palace which the nation had given to the Duke of Wellington. Throughout
the country in all the large towns there were mobs and angry meetings
and serious disturbances. At Birmingham a rude and indignant meeting of
one hundred and fifty thousand people vented their wrath against those
who opposed their enfranchisement. The most alarming of the riots took
place in Bristol, of which Sir Charles Wetherell was the recorder, and
he barely escaped being murdered by the mob, who burned most of the
principal public buildings. The example of Bristol was followed in other
towns, and the whole country was in a state of alarm.
In the midst of these commotions Parliament was prorogued. But the
passage of the bill became more than ever an obvious necessity in order
to save the country from violence; and on December 12 Lord John Russell
brought forward his third Reform Bill, which, substantially like the
first, passed its second reading January 17, 1832, by the increased
majority of one hundred and sixty-two. When considered in committee the
old game of obstruction and procrastination was played by the
opposition; but in spite of it, the bill finally passed the House on the
23d of March.
The question which everybody now asked was, What will the Lords do? It
was certain that they would throw out the bill, as they did before,
unless extraordinary measures were taken by the government. The creation
of new peers, enough to carry the bill, was determined upon if
necessary, although regretted by Lord Grey. To this radical measure
there was great opposition on the part of the king, although he had thus
far given the bill his support; but the reformers insisted upon it, if
reform could not be accomplished in any other way. To use a vulgar
expression, Lord Brougham fairly "bulldozed" his sovereign, and the king
never forgave him. His assent was at last most reluctantly given; but
the peers, dreading the great accession to their ranks of sixty or
severity Liberal noblemen, concluded to give way, led by the Duke of
Wellington, and the bill passed the House of Lords on the 4th of June.
The Reform Bill of 1832 was the protest of the middle classes against
evils which had been endured for centuries,--a protest to which the
aristocracy was compelled to listen. Amid terrible animosities and
fearful agitations, reaching to the extremities of the kingdom, the bill
was finally passed by the Liberal members, who set aside all other
matters, and acted with great unanimity and resolution.
As noted above, during this exciting parliamentary contest the great
figure of Henry Brougham had disappeared from the House of Commons; but
more than any other man, he had prepared the way for those reforms which
the nation had so clamorously demanded, and which in part they had now
achieved. From 1820 to 1831 he had incessantly labored in the lower
House, and but little was done without his aid. It would have been
better for his fame had he remained a commoner. He was great not only as
a parliamentary orator, but as a lawyer. His labors were prodigious.
Altogether, at this period he was the most prominent man in England, the
most popular among the friends of reform, and the most hated by his
political enemies,--a fierce, overbearing man, with great talent for
invective and sarcasm, eccentric, versatile, with varied rather than
profound learning. When Lord Melbourne succeeded Lord Grey as premier,
Brougham was left out of the cabinet, being found to be irascible,
mischievous, and unpractical; he retired, an embittered man, to private
life, but not to idleness, He continued to write popular and scientific
essays, articles for reviews, and biographical sketches, taking an
interest in educational movements, and in all questions of the day. He
was always a lion in society, and, next to Sir Walter Scott, was the
object of greatest curiosity to American travellers. Although great as
statesman, orator, lawyer, and judge, his posthumous influence is small
compared with that which he wielded in his lifetime,--which, indeed, may
be said of most statesmen, the most noted exception to the rule being
With Brougham in the upper House, Lord John Russell had become the most
prominent man in the lower; but being comparatively a poor man, he was
contented to be only paymaster of the forces,--the most lucrative office
in the government. His successful conduct of the great Reform Bill gave
him considerable prestige. In the second ministry of Lord Melbourne,
1834-1841, Lord Russell was at first colonial and afterward home
secretary. Whatever the post he filled, he filled it with credit, and
had the confidence of the country; for he was honest, liberal, and
sensible. He was not, however, an orator, although he subsequently
became a great debater. I have often heard him speak, both in and out of
Parliament; but I was never much impressed, or even interested. He had
that hesitating utterance so common with aristocratic speakers, both
clerical and lay, and which I believe is often assumed. In short, he
had no magnetism, without which no public speaker can interest an
ordinary audience; but he had intelligence, understood the temper of the
House, and belonged to a great historical family, which gave him
parliamentary influence. He represented the interests of the wealthy
middle classes,--liberal as a nobleman, but without any striking
sympathy with the people. After the passage of the Reform Bill, he was
unwilling to go to any great lengths in further reforms, and therefore
was unpopular with the radicals, although his spirit was progressive. It
was his persistent advocacy of parliamentary reform which had made him
prominent and famous, and it was his ability as a debater which kept him
at the head of his party. Historians speak of him without enthusiasm,
but with great respect. The notable orators of that day were O'Connell
and Brougham. As a platform speaker, probably no one ever surpassed the
After the passage of the Reform Bill, the first thing of importance to
which the reform Parliament turned its attention was the condition of
Ireland. The crimes committed in that unfortunate country called loudly
for coercive measures on the part of the government. The murders, the
incendiary fires, the burglaries and felonious assaults, were
unprecedented in number and atrocity. The laws which had been passed for
the protection of life and property had become a dead letter in some of
the most populous districts. Jurors were afraid to attend the assizes,
and the nearest relatives of the victims dared not institute
proceedings; even magistrates were deterred from doing their duty. In
fact, crime went unpunished, and the country was rapidly sinking into
semi-barbarism. In the single year of 1832 there were two hundred and
forty-two homicides, eleven hundred and seventy-nine robberies, four
hundred and one burglaries, five hundred and sixty-eight house-burnings,
one hundred and sixty-one serious assaults, two hundred and three riots,
besides other crimes,--altogether to the number of over nine thousand. A
bill was accordingly brought into the Upper House by Lord Grey to give
to the lord-lieutenant power to substitute courts-martial for the
ordinary courts of justice, to enter houses for the purpose of searching
for arms, and to suspend the act of _habeas corpus_ in certain
districts. The bill passed the Lords without difficulty, but encountered
severe opposition in the House of Commons from the radical members and
from O'Connell and his followers. Nevertheless it passed, with some
alterations, and was at once put in force in the county of Kilkenny,
with satisfactory results. The diminution of crime was most marked; and
as the excuse for disturbances arose chiefly from the compulsory tithes
which the Catholic population were obliged to pay in support of the
Protestant Church, the ministry wisely attempted to alleviate the
grievance. It was doubtless a great injustice for Catholics to be
compelled to support the Established Church of England; but the ministry
were not prepared to go to the length which the radicals and the Irish
members demanded,--the complete suppression of the tithe system; in
other words, "the disestablishment of the Irish Church." They were
willing to sacrifice a portion of the tithes, to reduce the number of
bishops, and to apply some of the ecclesiastical property to secular
purposes. But even this concession called out a fierce outcry from the
conservatives, in and out of Parliament. A most formidable opposition
came from the House of Lords, headed by Lord Eldon; but the ministers
were at last permitted to carry out their measure.
Nothing satisfactory, however, was accomplished in reference to the
collection of tithes, in spite of the concession of the ministers. The
old difficulty remained. Tithes could not be collected except at the
point of the bayonet, which of course was followed by crimes and
disturbances that government could not prevent. In 1833 the arrears of
tithes amounted to over a million of pounds, and the Protestant clergy
were seriously distressed. The cost of collecting tithes was enormous,
from the large coercive force which the government was obliged to
maintain. When the pay of soldiers and policemen is considered, it took
L25,000 to collect L12,000. The collection of tithes became an
impossibility without a war of extermination. Every expedient failed.
Even the cabinet was divided on all the schemes proposed; for every
member of it was determined to uphold the Established Church, in some
form or other.
At last Mr. Ward, member for St. Albans, in 1834 brought forward in the
Commons a measure which had both reason and justice to commend it. After
showing that the collection of tithes was the real cause of Irish
discontents, that only a fourteenth of the population of Ireland were in
communion with the English Church, that nearly half of the clergy were
non-residents, and that there was a glaring inequality in the salaries
of clergymen,--so that some rectors received from L500 to L1,000 in
parishes where there were only ten or twelve Protestants, while some of
the resident clergy did duty for less than L20 per annum,--he moved the
following: "Resolved, that as the Protestant Episcopal Establishment of
Ireland exceeds the spiritual wants of the Protestant population, it is
the opinion of the House that the temporal possessions of the Church of
Ireland ought to be reduced." The motion was seconded by Mr. Grote, the
celebrated historian; but Lord Althorp rose and requested the House to
adjourn, in consequence of circumstances he was not prepared to mention.
All understood that there was trouble in the cabinet itself; and when
the House reassembled, it was found that the Duke of Richmond, Earl
Ripon, Lord Stanley (colonial secretary), and Sir James Graham, being
opposed to the appropriation of the funds of the Irish Church to other
than ecclesiastical purposes, had resigned. The king himself was
strongly opposed to the motion, to say nothing of the peers; and the
conservative part of the nation, from the long-inherited jealousy of the
Catholic Church, stood upon the same ground.
While ministers were tinkering on the affairs of Ireland, without lofty
purpose or sense of justice or enlightened reason even, the gigantic
figure of O'Connell appeared in striking contrast with the statesmen who
opposed him and tried in vain to intimidate him. The great agitator had
made his power felt long before the stormy debates in favor of reform
took place, which called out the energies of Brougham,--the only man in
England to be compared with O'Connell in genius, in eloquence, in
intellect, and in wrath, but inferior to him in the power of moving the
passions of an audience, yet again vastly superior to him in learning.
While Brougham was thundering in the senate in behalf of reform,--the
most influential and the most feared of all its members, without whose
aid nothing could be done,--O'Connell was haranguing the whole Catholic
population of Ireland in favor of a repeal of the Union, looking upon
the evils which ground down his countrymen as beyond a remedy under the
English government. He also made his voice ring with startling vehemence
in the English Parliament, as soon as the Catholic Emancipation bill
enabled him to enter it as the member from Clare, always advocating
justice and humanity, whatever the subject under consideration might be.
So long as O'Connell was "king of Ireland," as William IV declared him
to be, nothing could be done by English ministers on Irish matters. His
agitations were tremendous, and yet he kept within the laws. His mission
was to point out evils rather than to remove them. No man living was
capable of pointing out the remedy. On all Irish questions the wisdom
and experience of English statesmen were in vain. Yet amid the storms
which beat over the unhappy island, the voice of the great pilot was
louder than the tempests, which he seems to control as if by magic. Mr.
Gladstone, in one of his later contributions to literature, has done
justice to the motives and the genius of a man whom he regards as the
greatest that Ireland has ever produced, if Burke may be excepted, yet a
man whom he bitterly opposed in his parliamentary career. Faithful alike
to the interests of his church and his country, O'Connell will ever be
ranked among the most imposing names of history, although he failed in
the cause to which he consecrated his talents, his fortune, his
energies, and his fame. Long and illustrious is the list of reformers
who have been unsuccessful; and Mr. O'Connell must be classed with
these. Yet was he one who did not live in vain.
Incapable of effectively dealing with the problem, the government
temporized and resolved to stave off the difficulty. A commission was
appointed to visit every parish in Ireland and report the state of
affairs to Parliament, when everybody already knew what this state
was,--one of glaring inequality and injustice, exceedingly galling to
the Catholic population. Nor was this the only Irish Church question
that endangered the stability of the ministry. Tithe bill after tithe
bill had been passed, and all alike had failed. Mr. Ward had argued for
the entire abolition of the tithe system, from the expense and
difficulty of collecting tithes, leaving the clergy to be supported by
the crown. A new tithe bill was, however, introduced, by which the
clergy should accept something short of what they were entitled to by
law. Not only was the tithing system an apparently inextricable tangle,
but there was trouble about the renewal of the Coercion Act. Lord Grey,
wearied with political life, resigned the premiership, and Lord
Melbourne succeeded him,--a statesman who cared next to nothing for
reform; not an incapable man, but lazy, genial, and easy, whose
watchword was, "Can't you let it alone?" But he did not long retain
office, the king being dissatisfied with his ministers; and Sir Robert
Peel, being then at Rome, was sent for to head the new administration in
July, 1834. It may be here remarked that Mr. Gladstone first took office
under this government. Parliament, of course, was dissolved, and a new
election took place. The Whigs lost thereby much of their power, but
still were a majority in the House, and the new Tory government found
that the Irish difficulties were a very hard nut to crack.
The new Parliament met Feb. 15, 1835; and as the new government came
into power by defeating the Whigs on the subject of the Irish Church, it
was bound to offer some remedy for the trouble which existed.
Accordingly, Lord Morpeth, the eldest son of the Earl of Carlisle, and
closely allied with the Duke of Sutherland and other great
families,--agreeable, kindly, and winning in his manners, and of very
respectable abilities,--on June 26 introduced his Tithe Bill, by which
he proposed to convert the tithe itself into a rent-charge, reducing it
to a lower amount than the late Whig government had done. His bill,
however, came to nothing, since any appropriation clearly dealing with
surplus revenues failed to satisfy the Lords.
Before anything could be done with Ireland, the Peel ministry was
dissolved, and the Whigs returned to power, April 18, 1835, with Lord
Melbourne again as prime minister. But the Irish difficulties remained
the same, the conservatives refusing to agree to any bill which dealt
with any part of the revenues of the State church; and the question was
not finally settled for Ireland till after it was settled in England.
Thus the reformed Parliament failed in its attempt to remove the
difficulties which attended Irish legislation. It failed from the
obstinacy of the conservatives, among Whigs as well as Tories, to render
justice in the matter of rates and tithes,--the great cause of Irish
discontent and violence at that time. It will be seen that new
complications arose with every successive Parliament from that time to
this, landlords finding it as difficult to collect their rents as the
clergy did their tithes. And these difficulties appear to be as great
to-day as they were fifty years ago. It still remains to be seen how
Ireland can be satisfactorily governed by any English ministry likely to
be formed. On that rock government after government, both liberal and
conservative, has been wrecked, and probably will continue to be wrecked
long after the present generation has passed away, until the English
nation itself learns to take a larger view, and seeks justice rather
than the conservation of vested interests.
But if the reformed Parliament failed to restore order in Ireland, and
to render that justice which should have followed the liberal principles
it invoked, yet in matters strictly English great progress was made in
the removal of crying evils.
Among these was the abolition of slavery in the British West India
Islands, which as early as 1833 occupied the attention of the House,
even before the discussion on Irish affairs. The slave-trade had been
suppressed long before this, through the untiring labors and zeal of
Wilberforce, Zachary Macaulay (father of the historian), and other
philanthropists. But the evils of slavery still existed,--cruelty and
oppression on the part of slave-owners, and hardships and suffering on
the part of slaves. Half-caste women were bought and sold, and flogged
and branded. As early as 1823 Fowell Buxton, then in Parliament,
furnished with facts by Zachary Macaulay, who had been manager of a West
India estate, brought in a motion for the abolition of slavery. Canning
was then the leading member of the House of Commons; although he did not
go so far as Buxton, still he did something to remedy the evils of the
system, and was supported by Brougham, Mackintosh, and Lushington,--so
that the flogging of women was abolished, and married slaves were not
separated from their children. In 1830, Henry Brougham introduced a
motion for the total abolition of slavery in the British colonies, and
thrilled the House by his eloquence and passion; but his motion was
defeated. When the new reform Parliament met in 1831, more pressing
questions occupied its attention; but at length, in 1833, Buxton made a
forcible appeal to ministers to sweep away the greatest scandal of the
age. He was supported by Lord Stanley, then colonial secretary, who
eloquently defended the cause of liberty and humanity; and he moved that
effectual measures be at once taken to abolish slavery altogether, with
some modifications. Thomas Babington Macaulay, who had entered
Parliament in 1830, also brought all his eloquence to bear in behalf of
the cause; and the upshot of the discussion was that Parliament set free
the slaves, and their masters received twenty millions of pounds as a
compensation. Thus the long agitation of fifty years pertaining to negro
emancipation in the British dominions was closed forever. The heart of
England was profoundly moved by this act of blended justice, humanity,
and generosity, which has been quoted with pride by every Englishman
from that time to this. Possibly a similar national assumption of the
vast expense of recompensing English owners of Irish lands may at some
time relieve Ireland of alien landlordism and England of her
The condition of Hindostan next received the attention of Parliament;
and on the renewal of the charter of the East India Company, in 1833,
its commercial monopoly was abolished, and trade with the East was
thrown open to the merchants of all the world. The political
jurisdiction of the Company was, however, retained.
The new Parliament then turned its attention to a reduction of taxes.
The duty on tiles was repealed; also the two-shilling stamp duty on
advertisements, together with the vexatious duty on soap. Dramatic
copyrights also received protection, and an improvement in the judicial
administration was effected. Sinecure offices were abolished in the
Court of Chancery, and the laws of dower and inheritance were amended.
The members most active in these reforms were Lord Althorp, Daniel
O'Connell, Joseph Hume, and William Cobbett. Lord Althorp, afterward
Earl Spencer, made not less than one thousand speeches, and O'Connell
six hundred, in support of these reforms,--all tending to a decrease
in taxation, made feasible by the great increase of wealth and the
abolition of useless offices.
The Trade Unions (a combination of operatives to secure improvement in
their condition) marked the year 1834, besides legislative enactments to
reduce taxation. Before 1824 it was illegal for workmen to combine, even
in the most peaceable manner, for the purpose of obtaining an increase
of wages. This injustice was removed the following year, and strikes
became numerous among the different working-classes, but were generally
easily suppressed by the capitalists, who were becoming a great power
with the return to national prosperity. For fifty years the vexed social
problem of "strikes" has been discussed, but is not yet solved, giving
intense solicitude to capitalists and corporations, and equal hope to
operatives. The year 1834, then, showed the commencement of the great
war between capital and labor which is so damaging to all business
operations, and the ultimate issue of which cannot be predicted with
certainty,--but which will probably lead to a great amelioration of the
condition of the working-classes and the curtailment of the incomes of
rich men, especially those engaged in trade and manufactures. There will
always be, without doubt, disproportionate fortunes, and capitalists can
combine as well as laborers; but if the strikes which are multiplying
year by year in all the countries of Europe and the United States should
end in a great increase of wages, so as to make workmen comfortable (for
they will never be contented), the movement will prove beneficent.
Already far more has been accomplished for the relief of the poor by a
combination of laborers against hard-hearted employers than by any
legislative enactments; but when will the contest between capital and
labor cease? Is it pessimism to say that it is likely to become more
and more desperate?
The "Poor Law Amendment" was passed July, 1834, during the
administration of Lord Melbourne,--Lord Grey having resigned, from the
infirmities of age and the difficulties of carrying on the government.
He had held office nearly four years, which exceeded the term of his
predecessor the Duke of Wellington; and only four premiers have held
office for a longer period since 1754. The Poor Law Amendment, supported
by all political parties, was passed in view of the burdensome amount of
poor rates and the superior condition of the pauper to that of many an
The ill management of the beer-houses led to another act in 1834,
requiring a license to sell beer, which was granted only to persons who
could produce a certificate of good character from six respectable
inhabitants of a parish.
The session of Parliament in 1834 was further marked by a repeal of the
house tax, by grants for building schoolhouses, by the abolition of
sinecure offices in the House of Commons, and by giving new facilities
for the circulation of foreign newspapers through the mails. There was
little or no opposition to reforms which did not interfere with landed
interests and the affairs of Ireland. Even Sir Robert Peel, in his
short administration, was not unfriendly to extending privileges to
Dissenters, nor to judicial, municipal, and economical reform generally.
The most important of the measures brought forward by Whig ministers
under Lord Melbourne was the reform of municipal corporations. For two
hundred years the abuses connected with these corporations had been
subjects of complaint, but could not easily be remedied, in consequence
of the perversion of municipal institutions to political ends. The venal
boroughs, which both Whig and Tory magnates controlled, were the chief
seats of abuses and scandals. When these boroughs were disfranchised by
the Reform Bill, a way was opened for the local government of a town by
its permanent residents, instead of the appointment of magistrates by a
board which perpetuated itself, and which was controlled by the owners
of boroughs in the interests of the aristocracy. In consequence of the
passing of the municipal reform act, through the powerful advocacy of
Lord John Russell, the government of the town passed to its own
citizens, and became more or less democratic, not materially differing
from the government of cities in the United States. Under able popular
leaders, the towns not only became a new political power in Parliament,
but enjoyed the privilege of electing their own magistrates and
regulating their domestic affairs,--such as the police, schools, the
lighting of streets, and public improvements generally.
Besides this important act, some other salutary measures for the general
good were carried by parliamentary leaders,--such as enlarging the
copyrights of authors, lecturers, and dramatists; abolishing
imprisonment for debt for small sums; amending the highway and the
marriage laws; enforcing uniformity in weights and measures, regulating
prison discipline, and commuting death punishment for many crimes. These
reforms, having but little reference to partisan politics, received the
approbation of both Whigs and Tories. Most of the important bills which
passed the Parliament from the accession of William IV., however, were
directly or indirectly the result of the Reform Bill of 1832, which had
enlarged the representation of the people.
William IV. died in January, 1837, after a short but prosperous reign of
seven years, much lamented by the nation. He was a frank, patriotic, and
unconventional king, who accepted the reforms which made his reign an
epoch. At his death there were more distinguished men in all departments
of politics, literature, science, and art in Great Britain than at any
previous period, and the condition of the people was more ameliorated
than had been known since the Reformation. A great series of reforms had
been peaceably effected without revolution; the kingdom was unusually
prosperous; so that Queen Victoria, William's niece, the daughter of his
brother the Duke of Kent (whose previous death had made Victoria
heir-apparent to the throne), entered upon her illustrious reign under
hopeful auspices, June 21, 1837. The reform spirit had passed through no
reactions, and all measures which were beneficent in their tendency were
In 1837 Mr. Rowland Hill proposed the startling suggestion that all
existing rates of postage should be abolished, and the penny postage
substituted for all parts of the kingdom, irrespective of distance. This
was not at first accepted by the government or post-office officials;
but its desirableness was so apparent that Parliament yielded to the
popular voice and it became a law, with increased gain ultimately to the
national finances, to say nothing of its immense influence in increasing
knowledge. The old postage law had proved oppressive to all classes
except members of Parliament, who had the franking privilege, which the
new law abolished. Under the old system, the average of letters mailed
was annually only four to each person. In 1875 it was thirty-three, and
the net revenue to the nation was nearly two million pounds sterling.
Another great reform was effected in the early part of the reign of
Victoria,--that of the criminal code, effected chiefly through the
persevering eloquence of Sir James Mackintosh; although Sir Samuel
Romilly, an eminent and benevolent barrister, as early as 1808, had
labored for the same end. But thirty years had made a great change of
opinion in reference to the punishment of crime, which was cruelly
severe. Capital offences numbered at the beginning of the century nearly
two hundred and fifty, some of which were almost venial; but in 1837
only seven crimes were punishable with death, and the accused were
allowed benefit of counsel. Before this, the culprit could be condemned
without a hearing,--a gross violation of justice, which did not exist
even under the imperial despotism of the Caesars.
Such were the most important measures passed by the reformed Parliament
during the ten years' administration of the Whigs, most of which were
the logical results of the Reform Bill of 1832, which made the reign of
William IV. the most memorable in the domestic history of England since
the great Revolution which hurled the Stuarts from their throne. But the
country was not satisfied with these beneficent reforms. A great
agitation had already begun, under the leadership of Cobden and Bright,
for a repeal of the Corn Laws. The half measures of the Liberal
government displeased all parties, and the annual deficit had made it
unpopular. After vainly struggling against the tide of discontent, the
Melbourne ministry was compelled to resign, and in 1841 began the second
ministry of Sir Robert Peel, which gave power to the Tories for five or
six years. Lord Lyndhurst returned to his seat on the woolsack, Mr.
Goulburn was appointed chancellor of the exchequer, Sir James Graham
became home secretary, Lord Aberdeen took the foreign department, and
Lord Stanley the colonial office. Into this cabinet Mr. Gladstone
entered as president of the board of trade, on the retirement of
The Duke of Wellington also had a seat in the cabinet, but held no
office, his age and infirmities preventing him from active duties. He
was "the grand old man" of his generation, and had received unparalleled
honors, chiefly for his military services,--the greatest general whom
England has produced, if we except Marlborough. Although his fame rests
on his victories in a great national crisis, he was also an able
statesman,--sensible, practical, patriotic; a man of prejudices, yet not
without tact; of inflexible will, yet yielding to overpowering
necessities, and accepting political defeat as he did the loss of a
battle, gracefully and magnanimously. If he had not, however, been a
popular idol for his military exploits, he would have been detested by
the people; for no one in England was more aristocratic in his
sympathies than he, no one was fonder of honors and fashionable
distinctions, no one had a more genuine contempt for whatever was
plebeian and democratic.
In coming lectures,--on Sir Robert Peel, Gladstone, etc.,--we shall find
occasion to trace the course of Victoria's beneficent reign over Great
Britain, beginning (as it did) after the abuses and distresses
culminating under George IV. had been largely relieved during the
memorable reform epoch under William IV.
Miss Martineau's History of England; Molesworth's History of England;
Mackenzie's History of the Nineteenth Century, Alison's History of
Europe; Annual Register; Lives of Lord Brougham, Wellington, Lord
Melbourne, Lord John Russell, Lord Liverpool, and Sir Robert Peel. These
are the most accessible authorities, but the list is very large.
SIR ROBERT PEEL.
Among the great prime ministers of England Sir Robert Peel is to be
classed. He ranks with Pitt, Canning, and Gladstone for his intellectual
force, his services, and his patriotism. He was to England what Guizot
and Thiers were to France,--a pre-eminent statesman, identified with
great movements, learned, eloquent, and wise. He was a man of unsullied
character, commanding the respect and veneration of superior
minds,--reserved and cold, perhaps; not a popular idol like Fox and
O'Connell, but a leader of men.
There was no man in his cabinet more gifted or influential than he. Lord
Liverpool, Lord Melbourne, and Lord Aberdeen were placed in their
exalted posts, not for remarkable abilities, but by the force of
circumstances, for the purpose of uniting greater men than they in a
coalition in order to form a strong government. Thus, Canning really was
the master spirit in the cabinet of Lord Liverpool, as Lord Palmerston
was in that of Lord Aberdeen. Peel, however, was himself the controlling
intellect of the government of which he was the head, and was doubtless
superior in attainments and political genius to Wellington, to Earl
Grey, and Lord John Russell,--premiers like him, and prominent as
statesmen. Lord Goderich, Lord Stanley, Lord Althorp, Sir James Graham,
Mr. Goulburn, Lord Wharncliffe, Lord Howick, Earl Ripon, Mr. C. Wood,
Mr. Macaulay, Mr. Croker, were all very able ministers, but not to be
compared with Sir Robert Peel in shaping the destinies of the country.
His administration was an epoch in English political history, to be long
remembered as singularly successful and important.
Sir Robert Peel came from the people, although his father was a baronet
and a very wealthy man, proud and aristocratic as he was rich. His
riches were acquired by manufacturing cotton goods, like those of his
father before him, whose business he inherited; but the
great-grandfather of Sir Robert was a plain and unimportant cotton
spinner in Lancashire, of no social rank whatever. No noble blood flowed
in the veins of the great premier, nor was he ever ambitious of
aristocratic distinction. He declined an earldom, though rich enough to
maintain its rank. He accepted no higher social rank than what he
inherited, and which came from successful business.
But Peel was educated with great care by an ambitious father. He was
sent to Harrow and Christ Church, and was distinguished as a boy for his
classical attainments, as was Canning before him. At an early age he
reached all the honors that Oxford could bestow; and when he was only
twenty-one was brought into Parliament for the close borough of Cashel,
in Ireland, in the gift of some noble lord. He entered the House of
Commons in 1809, at the same time with Palmerston, and a few years
earlier than Lord John Russell, during that memorable period when
Napoleon was in the midst of his victories, and when a noble
constellation of English statesmen combined their energies for the good
of their country,--Wilberforce, Wyndham, Tierney, Perceval, Grattan,
Castlereagh, Canning, Romilly, Brougham, Mackintosh, Huskisson, and
others,--all trained in the school of Pitt, Fox, or Burke, who had
passed away. Among these great men Peel made his way, not so much by
force of original genius--blazing and kindling like the eloquence of
Canning and Brougham--as by assiduity in business, untiring industry,
and in speech lucidity of statement, close reasoning, and perfect
mastery of his subject in all its details. He was pre-eminently a man of
facts rather than theories. Like Canning and Gladstone, he was
ultra-conservative in his early political life,--probably in a great
measure from his father's example as well as from the force of his
university surroundings,--and, of course, joined the Tory party, then
all-powerful. So precocious were his attainments, and so promising was
he from the force of his character, that at the age of twenty-four he
was made, by Mr. Perceval, under-secretary for the Colonies; the year
after (in 1812) he was promoted, by Lord Liverpool, to the more
important post of secretary for Ireland. In the latter post he had to
combat Canning himself in the matter of Catholic emancipation, but did
his best to promote secular education in that priest-ridden and unhappy
country. For his High Church views and advocacy of Tory principles,
which he had been taught at Oxford, he was a favorite with the
university; and in 1817 he had the distinguished honor of representing
it in Parliament. In 1819 he made his financial reputation by advocating
a return to specie payments,--suspended in consequence of the Napoleonic
wars. In 1820 he was married to a daughter of General Sir John Floyd,
and his beautiful domestic life was enhanced by his love of art, of
science, of agriculture, and the society of eminent men. In 1822 he
entered Lord Liverpool's cabinet as home secretary; and when the
ministry was broken up in 1827, he refused to serve in the new
government under Canning, on account of the liberal views which the
premier entertained in reference to Catholic emancipation.
The necessity of this just measure Sir Robert Peel was made to feel
after Canning's death, during the administration of the Duke of
Wellington. Conservative as he was, and opposed to all agitations for
religious or political change even under the name of "reform," the fiery
eloquence of O'Connell and the menacing power of the Catholic
Association forced upon him the conviction of the necessity of Catholic
emancipation, as the cold reasoning of Richard Cobden afterward turned
him from a protectionist to a free-trader. He was essentially an honest
man, always open to reason and truth, learning wisdom from experience,
and growing more liberal as he advanced in years. He brought the Duke of
Wellington to his views in spite of that minister's inveterate
prejudices, and the Catholics of Ireland were emancipated as an act of
expediency and state necessity. Peel, although only home secretary under
Wellington, was the prominent member of the administration, and was
practically the leader of the House of Commons, in which character he
himself introduced the bill for Catholic relief. This great service was,
however, regarded by the ultra Tories as an act of apostasy, and Peel
incurred so much reproach from his former friends that he resigned his
seat as member for Oxford University, and accepted the constituency of
Westbury. During this administration, too, Sir Robert, as home
secretary, reorganized the police force of London (whence their popular
nicknames of "Peelers" and "Bobbies"), and performed other
In 1830 the Whigs came into power under Lord Grey, and for ten years,
with the brief interval of his first administration, Sir Robert Peel was
the most able leader of the opposition. In 1833 he accepted the
parliamentary membership for Tamworth, which he retained to the end of
his great career. He persistently opposed the Reform Bill in all its
stages; but when it was finally passed, he accepted it as unmistakably
the will of the nation, and even advocated many of the reforms which
grew out of it. In 1841 he again became prime minister, in an alarming
financial crisis; and it was his ability in extricating the nation from
financial difficulties that won for him general admiration.
Thus for thirty years he served in Parliament before he reached the
summit of political ambition,--half of which period he was a member of
the ministry, learning experience from successive administrations, and
forging the weapons by which he controlled the conservative party, until
his conversion to the doctrines of Cobden again exposed him to the
bitter wrath of the protectionists; but not until he had triumphantly
carried the repeal of the corn laws,--the most important and beneficent
act of legislation since the passage of the Reform Bill itself.
It was this great public service on which the fame of Sir Robert Peel
chiefly rests; but before we can present it according to its Historical
importance, we must briefly glance at the financial measures by which he
extricated his country from great embarrassments, and won public
confidence and esteem. He did for England what Alexander Hamilton did
for the United States in matters of finance, although as inferior to
Hamilton in original genius as he was superior to him in general
knowledge and purity of moral character. No one man can be everything,
even if the object of unbounded admiration. To every great man a
peculiar mission is given,--to one as lawgiver, to another as conqueror,
to a third as teacher, to a fourth as organizer and administrator; and
these missions, in their immense variety, constitute the life and soul
of history. Sir Robert Peel's mission was that of a financier and
political economist, which, next to that of warrior, brings the greatest
influence and fame in a commercial and manufacturing country like
England. Not for lofty sentiments, such as Burke uttered on the eve of
the French Revolution, are the highest rewards given in a material
country like that of our ancestors, but for the skill a man shows in
expounding the way in which a nation may become prosperous and rich. It
was Sir Robert Peel's mission to make England commercially prosperous,
even as it was that of Brougham and Russell to give it liberty and
political privileges, that of Pitt and Castlereagh to save it from
foreign conquest, and that of Wilberforce to rescue it from the disgrace
and infamy of negro slavery.
Sir Robert Peel came into power in 1841, the Russell Whig ministry
having failed to satisfy the country in regard to financial questions.
There had been an annual deficit, and the distress of both the
agricultural and manufacturing classes was alarming. The new premier
proceeded with caution in the adoption of measures to relieve the
burdens of the people and straighten out the finances, which were in
great disorder. His first measure had reference to the corn laws, for
the price of food in England was greater than in other European
countries. He finally proposed to the assembled Parliament, in 1842, to
make an essential alteration in the duties; and instead of a fixed duty
he introduced a sliding scale, by which the duty on corn should be
thirteen shillings a quarter when the price was under sixty
shillings, increasing the duty in proportion as the price should fall,
and decreasing it as the price should rise,--so that when the price of
corn was under fifty shillings the duty should be fixed at twenty
shillings, and when the price was above seventy-three the duty should be
only a shilling a quarter. This plan, after animated discussion, was
approved; for although protection still was continued, the tendency of
the measure was towards free-trade, for which the reformers were
clamoring. Notwithstanding this measure, which was triumphantly carried
through both Houses, the prevailing distress continued, and the revenue
was steadily diminishing. To provide revenue, Peel introduced an income
tax of seven pence in the pound, to stand for three years; and to offset
that again lowered the import duties on domestic animals, dairy
products, other articles of food, and some drugs.
[Footnote 2: "The fourth of a ton in weight, or eight bushels of
When Parliament assembled in 1843 the discussions centred on free-trade.
Sir Robert Peel and Mr. Gladstone and Sir James Graham admitted the
general soundness of the principles of free-trade, but felt that the
time had not yet come for their adoption, fearing an increased distress
among the agricultural population. At that time, and for a long period
before, the interests of agriculture were regarded as paramount, and
those of manufacturing secondary; but, as time passed, it was generally
felt that reduced taxes on all the necessities of life were imperative.
Fifty years earlier, England produced corn enough for all the wants of
the country; but with a population increasing at the rate of two hundred
thousand a year, it was obvious that the farmers could not supply the
demand. In consequence of which, at then existing tariffs, bread became
yearly still dearer, which bore hard on the manufacturing operatives.
The year 1844 opened under happier auspices. The financial measures of
the government had answered public expectations, and changed the growing
deficiency into an increasing surplus. Improvements in machinery had
increased the gains of the manufacturers; a war in India had been
terminated successfully, and England was at peace with all the world.
The only formidable troubles were in Ireland,--the standing difficulty
with all administrations, Conservative or Liberal, and which no
administration has ever been able to surmount. Sir Robert Peel had hoped
that the Catholic Emancipation Act would lead to the tranquillity of
Ireland. But that act did not content the Irish reformers. The fiercest
agitation was conducted by O'Connell for the repeal of the Union itself
and the restoration of the Irish parliament. At bottom, the demands of
the great agitator were not unreasonable, since he demanded equal
political privileges for both Ireland and England if the Union should
continue,--that, in short, there should be one law for both countries.
But since the ministry insisted on governing Ireland as a foreign and
conquered country, denying equality of rights, the agitation grew to
fearful proportions, chiefly in the shape of monster meetings. At last
the government determined on the prosecution of O'Connell and some
others for seditious conspiracy, and went so far as to strike off the
name of every Catholic on the jury which was to try him. The trial
lasted twenty-four days, and the prisoners were convicted. The hard and
unjust sentence on O'Connell himself was imprisonment for twelve months
and a fine of two thousand pounds. Against this decision an appeal was
made to the House of Lords, and the judgment of the court was reversed.
But the old man had already been imprisoned several weeks; his
condemnation and imprisonment had told on his rugged constitution. He
was nearly seventy years of age, and was worn out by excitement and
unparalleled labors; and although he tried to continue his patriotic
work, he soon after sickened, and in 1847 died on his way to Rome in
search of rest.
O'Connell's death did not end the agitations, which have continued from
that time to this with more or less asperity, and probably will continue
until justice shall be done to Ireland. It is plain that either Ireland
should be left free to legislate for herself, which would virtually be
the dismemberment of the empire; or should receive equal privileges with
the English; or should be coerced with an iron hand, which would
depopulate the country. It would seem that Ireland, if it is to form
part of the empire,--not as a colony, but an integral part, like the
different States of the American Union,--should be governed by the same
laws that England has, and enjoy the same representation of its
population. Probably there never will be order or tranquillity in the
island until it shall receive that justice which the prejudices of the
English will not permit them at present to grant,--so slow are all
reforms which have to contend with bigotry, ignorance, and selfishness.
The chain which binds nations and communities together must be a chain
of love, without reference to differences in color, religion, or race.
In the session of 1844 the factory question occupied a large share of
public attention. Lord Ashley, whose philanthropic aims commanded great
respect, contended for a limitation of the hours of labor. The ministry
insisted upon twelve hours; but Lord Ashley carried his measure, with
some amendments, the government being brought over to the side of
humanity. The result was that the working-hours of children under
thirteen was limited to six and a half hours, and the amount of fines
imposed for a violation of the laws was lowered; while a provision was
made for the instruction of children employed in the mills of three
hours in summer, and two and a half in the winter.
The confidence in the government showed itself in the rise of public
securities, so that it became practicable to reduce the interest on
consols (the consolidated government debt) from three and a half to
three percent, by which a saving accrued to the country of L1,250,000,
indicating general prosperity. The income increased with the revival of
trade and commerce, and the customs alone increased to nearly
L2,500,000, chiefly from duties on tea and sugar, which increasing
prosperity enabled the poorer classes to use more freely. The surplus of
the revenue amounted to over L4,000,000 sterling, owing largely to the
income tax, which now the ministers proposed to reduce. The charter of
the Bank of England was renewed in a form which modified the whole
banking system in England. The banking business of the Bank was placed
on the same footing with other institutions as to its power of issuing
notes, which beyond a certain amount should depend on the amount of
bullion in the Bank. Substantially, this was the same principle which
Daniel Webster advocated in the United States Senate,--that all
bank-notes should be redeemable in gold and silver; in other words, that
a specie basis is the only sound principle, whether in banking
operations or in government securities, for the amount of notes issued.
This tended to great stability in the financial world, as the Bank of
England, although a private joint-stock association, has from its
foundation in 1694 been practically the fiscal agent of the
government,--having the management of the public debt, paying dividends
upon it, holding the government moneys, making advances when necessary,
helping the collection of the public revenue, and being the central bank
of the other banks.
In addition to the financial measures by which Sir Robert Peel increased
the revenues of the country, and gave to it a greater degree of material
prosperity than it had enjoyed during the century, he attempted to
soothe the Catholics of Ireland by increasing the grant to the Roman
Catholic College of Maynooth, in Ireland; indeed, he changed the annual
grant to a permanent endowment, but only through a fierce opposition. He
trebled the grant for national education, and exhibited increasing
liberality of mind as he gained experience. But his great exploit was
the repeal of the corn laws, in a Parliament where more than three
quarters of the members represented agricultural districts, and were
naturally on the side of a protection of their own interests. In order
to appreciate more clearly the magnitude of this movement, we must trace
it from the beginning.
The centre of agitation for free-trade, especially in breadstuff's, was
Manchester,--the second city of the kingdom for wealth, population, and
influence, taking in the surrounding towns,--a very uninteresting place
to the tourist and traveller; dingy, smoky, and rainy, without imposing
architecture or beautiful streets; but a town of great intellectual
activity in all matters pertaining to industrial enterprise and
economical science,--the head centre of unpoetical materialism, where
most of the well-to-do people dined at one o'clock.
As soon as this town was permitted to send members to Parliament it
selected eminent free-traders,--Poulett Thomson and Mark Phillips,--who
distinguished themselves for the fearlessness of their speeches on an
unpopular subject. The agitation in Parliament had begun in 1836, at a
period of great depression in all kinds of business and consequent
suffering among the poor; but neither London nor the House of Commons
was so favorable to the agitation of the principles of free-trade as
Manchester was, and the subject began to be discussed throughout the
country. An unknown man by the name of Poulton was the first to gain
attention by his popular harangues; and he was soon followed by Richard
Cobden,--a successful calico printer.
An Anti-Corn-Law Association was started by these pioneers, and L1,800
were raised by small subscriptions to enlighten the people on the
principles of free-trade, when protection was the settled policy of the
government. The Association was soon after reinforced by John Bright, an
exceedingly brilliant popular orator, who was rich enough to devote a
large part of his time to the spread of his opinions. Between him and
Cobden a friendship and cordial co-operation sprang up, which lasted to
the death of the latter. They were convinced that the cause which they
had so much at heart could be effectually advanced only by the widest
dissemination of its principles by public meetings, by tracts and by
lectures. It was their aim to change public opinion, for all efforts
would be in vain unless the people--and especially their leaders--were
enlightened on the principles they advocated. They had faith in the
ultimate triumph of these principles because they believed them to be
true. From simple faith in the power of truth they headed the most
tremendous agitation known in England since the passage of the Reform
Bill. It was their mission to show conclusively to all intelligent
people that it was for the interest of the country to abolish the corn
laws, and that the manufacturing classes would be the most signally
benefited. To effect this purpose it was necessary to raise a large sum
of money; and the friends and advocates of the movement most liberally
subscribed to circulate the millions of tracts and newspapers which the
Association scattered into every hamlet and private family in England,
besides the members personally giving their time and effort in public
speeches and lectures in all parts of the country. "It was felt that the
battle of free-trade must be fought first by the conversion of
individuals, then at the hustings, and lastly in the House of Commons."
The principle of protecting the country against the importation of
foreign breadstuffs was upheld as fostering the agricultural interests,
as inciting the larger cultivation of poor lands, as providing against
dangerous dependence on foreign countries, and as helping the large
landowners and their tenants to patronize manufactures and trade; so
that, although the high prices of breadstuffs were keeping vast numbers
of people in misery and the country on the edge of revolution, the
protectionist doctrine was believed in religiously by the laboring
classes, the small shopkeepers, nearly all the educated classes, and a
large majority of the members of Parliament.
To combat this unshaken traditional belief was a gigantic undertaking.
It was the battle of reason and truth against prejudice and
bigotry,--the battle of a new enlightenment of general interests against
the selfishness of unenlightened classes. While Villiers and Thomson
appealed to members in the House of Commons, Cobden and Bright with
still greater eloquence directly addressed the people in the largest
halls that could be found. In 1838 Cobden persuaded the Chamber of
Commerce in Manchester to petition Parliament for a repeal of the duties
on corn. In 1839, the agitation spreading, petitions went up from
various parts of the country bearing two million signatures. The motion
to repeal, however, was lost by a large majority in the Commons. Then
began the organization of Free-Trade Leagues. In 1841 a meeting in
Manchester was held, at which were present seven hundred nonconformist
ministers, so effectually had conversions been made among intelligent
men. Nor did the accession of the conservative Sir Robert Peel to power
discourage the agitators, for in the same year (1841) Cobden was sent to
Parliament. Meetings were still more frequently held in all the towns of
the kingdom, A bazaar held in favor of the cause in the Theatre Royal,
Manchester, in 1842, produced a clear profit of L10,000. In 1843 the
great Free-Trade Hall was opened in Manchester, built expressly for
public meetings for the anti corn-law agitation, and the sum of L150,000
was raised by private subscription to disseminate knowledge. At last,
recognizing with keen instinct the inevitable turn in public opinion,
the "Times" came out with a leading article of great power, showing a
change of views on the subject of protection. Great noblemen, one after
another, joined the League, and the Marquis of Westminster contributed
L500 to the cause.
The free-trade movement was now recognized as a great fact which it was
folly to ignore. Encouraged by the constant accession to the ranks of
reform, the leaders of the League turned their attention to the
registration of voters, by which many spurious claims for seats were
annulled, and new members of Parliament were chosen to advocate
free-trade. At last, in 1846, Sir Robert Peel himself, after having been
for nearly his whole career a protectionist, gave in his adhesion to the
new principles. Cobden, among others, had convinced him that the
prosperity of the country depended on free-trade, and he nobly made his
recantation, to the intense disgust of many of his former
followers,--especially of Disraeli, who now appears in Parliament as a
leader of the protectionists.
This brilliant man, who in 1837, at the age of thirty-two, took his seat
in Parliament, had made no impression in that body for several years;
but having learned from early failures his weak points, and by careful
study of the successes of others trained himself to an effective style
of parliamentary speech, he became, at the critical time of Peel's
change of front, the representative of Shrewsbury, and gradually
organized about himself the dissatisfaction and indignation of the
landed proprietors with Sir Robert Peel's concessions to the free-trade
movement. His strictures on Peel were severe, caustic, and bitter.
"What," said this eloquent speaker, "shall we think of the eminent
statesman, who, having served under four sovereigns, who, having been
called to steer the ship on so many occasions and under such perilous
circumstances, has only during the last three or four years found it
necessary entirely to change his convictions on that most important
topic, which must have presented itself for more than a quarter of a
century to his consideration? I must, sir, say that such a minister may
be conscientious, but he is unfortunate.... It is all very well for the
right honorable gentleman to come forward and say, 'I am thinking of
posterity; my aim is heroic; and, appealing to posterity, I care neither
for your cheers nor for your taunts,' It is very well for the right
honorable gentleman to take this high-flying course, but I can but say
that my conception of a great statesman is one who represents a great
idea,--I do not care whether he is a manufacturer or a manufacturer's
son. I care not what may be the position of a man who never originates
an idea,--a watcher of the atmosphere,--a man who, as he says, 'takes
his observations,' and when he finds the wind in a certain quarter trims
his sails to suit it. Such a man may be a powerful minister, but he is
no more a great statesman than a man who gets up behind a carriage is a
All this tirade was very unjust,--though it pleased the
protectionists,--for Sir Robert Peel was great enough to listen to
arguments and reason, and give up his old sentiments when he found them
untenable, even if he broke up his party. His country was greater in
his eyes than any party.
As prime minister, Peel then unfolded his plans. He announced his
intention to abandon the sliding scale entirely, and gradually reduce
the duty on corn and other articles of necessity so that at the end of
three or four years the duty would be taken off altogether. This plan
did not fully satisfy the League, who argued for immediate repeal.
Indeed, there was a necessity. The poor harvests in England and the
potato-rot in Ireland were producing the most fearful and painful
results. A large part of the laboring population was starving. Never
before had there been greater distress. On the 2d of March, 1846, the
ministerial plan had to go through the ordeal of a free-trade attack.
Mr. Villiers proposed an amendment that would result in the immediate
and total repeal of the corn laws. Nevertheless, the original bill
passed the Commons by a majority of ninety-eight.
It was at once carried to the House of Lords, where it encountered, as
was expected, the fiercest opposition, no less than fifty-three lords
taking part in the discussion. The Duke of Wellington, seeing that the
corn laws were doomed, and that further opposition would only aggravate
the public distress, supported the bill, as did Lord Aberdeen and other
strong conservatives, and it was finally carried by a majority of
Before the bill for the virtual repeal of the corn laws was passed by
the House of Lords, the administration of Sir Robert Peel abruptly
closed. An Irish coercion bill had been introduced by the government,
not very wisely, even while the corn bill was under discussion by the
Commons. The bill was of course opposed by the Irish followers of
O'Connell, and by many of the Liberal party. The radical members, led by
Cobden and Bright, were sure to oppose it. The protectionists, full of
wrath, and seeing their opportunity to overthrow the government, joined
the Liberals and the Irish members, and this coalition threw out the
bill by a majority of seventy-three. The government of course resigned.
Nor was the premier loath to throw off his burdens amid calumny and
reproach. He cheerfully retired to private life. He concluded the
address on his resignation, after having paid a magnificent tribute to
Cobden--by whose perseverance, energy, honesty of conviction, and
unadorned eloquence the great corn-law reform had been thus far
advanced--in these words: "In quitting power, I shall leave a name
severely blamed, I fear, by many men, who, without personal interest but
only with a view of the public good, will bitterly deplore the rupture
of party ties, from a belief that fidelity to party engagements and the
maintenance of great parties are powerful and essential means of
government. [I fear also] that I shall be blamed by others who, without
personal interest, adhere to the principles of protection, which they
regard as necessary to the prospects of the country; that I shall leave
a name detested by all monopolists, who, from less honorable motives,
claim a protection by which they largely profit. But I shall perhaps
leave a name which will sometimes be pronounced by expressions of
good-will by those whose lot in this world is to labor, who in the sweat
of their brow eat their daily bread; and who may remember me when they
renew their strength by food at once abundant and untaxed, and which
will be the better relished because no longer embittered by any feeling
of injustice." He then resumed his seat amidst the loudest applause from
all sides of the House; and when he left Westminster Hall, leaning on
the arm of Sir George Clark, a vast multitude filled the street, and
with uncovered heads accompanied him in respectful silence to the door
of his house.
Sir Robert Peel continued to attend the meetings of Parliament as an
independent member, making no factious opposition, and giving his
support to every measure he approved,--more as a sage than a partisan,
having in view mainly the good of the country whose government he no
It was soon after Peel's retirement from office that O'Connell, too,
made his last speech in the House of Commons, not as formerly in
trumpet tones, but with enfeebled voice. "I am afraid," said the
fainting athlete, "that the House is not sufficiently aware of the
extent of the misery in Ireland. I do not think that members understand
the accumulated miseries under which the people are at present
suffering. It has been estimated that five thousand adults and ten
thousand children have already perished with famine, and that
twenty-five per cent of the whole population will perish, unless the
House will afford effective relief. I assure the House most solemnly
that I am not exaggerating; I can establish all that I have said by many
and painful proofs. And the necessary result must be typhus fever, which
in fact has already broken out, and is desolating whole districts; it
leaves alive only one in ten of those whom it attacks." This appeal
doubtless had its effect in demonstrating the absolute need of a repeal
of the corn laws. But it is as the "liberator" of the Roman Catholic
population of Ireland in the great emancipation struggle,--triumphantly
concluded as early as 1829,--and the incessant labors after that for the
enlargement of Irish conditions, that O'Connell will be remembered.
"Honor, glory, and eternal gratitude," exclaimed Lacordaire, "to the man
who collected in his powerful hand the scattered elements of justice and
deliverance, and who, pushing them to their logical conclusions with a
vigorous patience which thirty years could not exhaust, at last poured
on his country the unhoped-for delight of liberty of conscience, and
thus deserved not only the title of Liberator of his Country but the
oecumenical title of Liberator of his Church."
O'Connell, Cobden, and Sir Robert Peel,--what great names in the history
of England in the agitating period between the passage of the Reform
Bill and that of the repeal of the corn laws! I could add other
illustrious names,--especially those of Brougham and Lord John Russell;
but the sun of glory around the name of the first was dimmed after his
lord chancellorship, while that of the latter was yet to blaze more
brightly when he assumed the premiership on the retirement of his great
predecessor, with such able assistants as Lord Palmerston, Earl Grey,
Macaulay, and others. These men, as Whigs, carried out more fully the
liberal and economic measures which Sir Robert Peel had inaugurated amid
a storm of wrath from his former supporters, reminding one of the fury
and disappointment of the higher and wealthy classes when Mr.
Gladstone--a still bolder reformer, although nursed and cradled in the
tenets of monopolists--introduced his measures for the relief
During the administration of Sir Robert Peel there was another agitation
which at one time threatened serious consequences, but as it came to
nothing it has not the historical importance of the Anti-Corn-Law
League. It was a fanatical uprising of the lower classes to obtain still
greater political privileges, led by extreme radicals, of whom Mr.
Feargus O'Connor was the most prominent leader, and Mr. Henry Vincent
was the most popular speaker. The centre of this movement was not
Manchester, but Birmingham. The operatives of Manchester wanted cheaper
bread; those of Birmingham wanted an extension of the franchise: and as
Lord John Russell had opposed the re-opening of the reform question, the
radicals were both disappointed and infuriated. The original leaders of
parliamentary reform had no sympathy with such a rabble as now clamored
for extended reform. They demanded universal suffrage, annual
Parliaments, vote by ballot, abolition of property qualifications,
payment of members of Parliament, and the division of the country into
equal electoral districts. These were the six points of the people's
charter,--not absurd to the eyes of Americans, but utterly out of the
question in such an aristocratic country as England, and advocated only
by the working-classes and their incendiary leaders. Discontent and
misery were the chief causes of the movement, which was managed without
ability. The agitation began in 1836 and continued to 1848. At first the
government allowed it, so far as it was confined to meetings, speeches,
and the circulation of tracts,--knowing full well that, as it made no
appeal to the influential and intelligent classes, it would soon expend
itself. I was lecturing at the time in Birmingham, and the movement
excited contempt rather than alarm among the people I met. I heard
Vincent two or three times in his chapel,--for I believe he was educated
as a dissenting minister of some sort,--but his eloquence made no
impression upon me; it was clever and fluent enough, but shallow and
frothy. At last he was foolishly arrested by the government, who had
really nothing to fear from him, and imprisoned at Newport in Wales.
In England reforms have been effected only by appeals to reason and
intelligence, and not by violence. Infuriated mobs, successful in France
in overturning governments and thrones, have been easily repressed in
England with comparatively little bloodshed; for power has ever been
lodged in the hands of the upper and middle classes, intolerant of
threatened violence. In England, since the time of Cromwell, revolutions
have been bloodless; and reforms have been gradual,--to meet pressing
necessities, or to remove glaring injustice and wrongs, never to
introduce an impractical equality or to realize visionary theories. And
they have ever been effected through Parliament. All popular agitations
have failed unless they have appealed to reason and right.
Thus the People's Charter movement, beginning about 1838, was a signal
failure, because from the practical side it involved no great principles
of political economy, nothing that enriches a nation; and from the side
of popular rights it was premature, crude, and represented no
intelligent desire on the part of the people. It was a movement nursed
in discontent, and carried on with bitterness and illegal violence. It
was wild, visionary, and bitter from the start, and arose at a period
when the English people were in economic distress, and when all Europe
was convulsed with insurrectionary uprisings, and revolutionary
principles were mixed up with socialism and anarchy. The Chartist
agitation continued with meetings and riots and national conventions
until 1848, when the Revolution in France gave a great impulse to it.
At last some danger was apprehended from the monster meetings and
inflammatory speeches of the Chartists, and government resolved to
suppress the whole movement by the strong arm. The police force
throughout the kingdom was strengthened, and one hundred and seventy
thousand special constables were sworn in, while extensive military
preparations were intrusted to the Duke of Wellington. The Chartists,
overrating their strength, held a great meeting on Kensington Common,
and sent a petition of more than five millions of names to the House of
Commons; but instead of half a million who were expected to assemble on
the Common with guns and pikes, only a few thousand dared to meet, and
the petition itself was discovered to be forged, chiefly with fictitious
names. It was a battle on the part of the agitators without ball
cartridges, in which nothing was to be seen but smoke. Ridicule and
contempt overwhelmed the leaders, and the movement collapsed.
Although the charter failed to become law, the enfranchisement of the
people has been gradually enlarged by Parliament in true deliberate
English fashion, as we shall see in future lectures. Perhaps the
Chartist movement may have ripped up the old sod and prepared the soil
for the later peaceful growth; but in itself it accomplished nothing for
which it was undertaken.
The repeal of the corn laws in 1846 was followed, as was the Reform Bill
of 1832, by a series of other reforms of a similar kind,--all in the
direction of free-trade, which from that time has continued to be the
established principle of English legislation on all the great
necessities of life. Scarcely had Lord John Russell in 1846 taken the
helm of state, when the duties on sugar were abolished, no
discrimination being shown between sugar raised in the British colony of
Jamaica and that which was raised in Cuba and other parts of the world.
The navigation laws, which prohibited the importation of goods except
in British ships, or ships which belonged to the country where the goods
were produced, were repealed or greatly modified. The whole colonial
system was also revised, especially in Canada; and sanitary measures
were taken to prevent disease in all the large towns of the country.
In the midst of these various reforms, which the government under Lord
John Russell prosecuted with great zeal and ability, and by which a
marked improvement took place in the condition of the people, Sir Robert
Peel was thrown from his horse in London, June 29, 1850, and survived
but a few days. His accidental death created universal lamentation, for
everybody felt that a great national loss had occurred. In spite of the
bitterness of the monopolists, disappointed in their gains, no death was
ever more seriously and universally lamented in England. Other statesmen
blazed upon their contemporaries with more brilliant original genius
than Peel, but no one ever had more force of character than he, or was
more respected for his candor, truthfulness, and patriotism. If he had
not the divination to originate, he showed transcendent ability in
appropriating and making his own the worthy conceptions of others. He
was among those few statesmen who are willing to renounce the dearest
opinions of youth and the prejudices of manhood when convinced of their
Peel was a great administrator and a great debater. His character was
austere, his temperament was cold, his manners were awkward and shy; he
was chary in the bestowal of pensions and rewards; and by reason of his
rather unsympathetic nature he never was a favorite with artists and
literary men. It was his conviction that literary men were not
sufficiently practical to be intrusted with political office. Hence he
refused to make Monckton Milnes an under-secretary of state. When
Gladstone published his book on Church and State, being then a young
man, it is said that Peel threw it contemptuously on the floor,
exclaiming, "What a pity it is that so able a man should injure his
political prospects by writing such trash!" Nor was Peel sufficiently
passionate to become a great orator like O'Connell or Mirabeau; and yet
he was a great man, and the nation was ultimately grateful for the
services he rendered to his country and to civilization. Had his useful
and practical life been prolonged, he probably would again have taken
the helm of state. He was always equal to the occasion; but no occasion
was sufficiently great to give him the _eclat_ which Pitt enjoyed in the
wars of Napoleon. Under the administration of Peel the country was at
peace, and no such internal dangers threatened it as those which marked
the passage of the Reform Bill.
Sir Robert Peel was one of the most successful ministers that England
ever had. Certainly no minister was ever more venerated than he; and
even the Duke of Wellington did nothing without his advice and
co-operation. In fact, he led the ministry of the duke as Canning did
that of the Earl of Liverpool; and had he been less shy and reserved, he
would not have passed as so proud a man, and would have been more
popular. There is no trait of character in a great man less understood
than what we call pride, which often is not pride at all, but excessive
shyness and reserve, based on sensitiveness and caution rather than
self-exaggeration and egotism.
Few statesmen have done more than Peel to advance the material interests
of the people; yet he never was a popular idol, and his history fails to
kindle the enthusiasm with which we study the political career of Pitt
or Canning or Disraeli or Gladstone. He was regarded as a great
potentate rather than as a great genius; and he loved to make his power
felt irrespective of praise or censure from literary men, to whom he was
civil enough, but whose society he did not court. Politics were the
element in which he lived, and politicians were his chief associates
outside the family circle, which he adorned. And yet when distinguished
merit in the Church or in the field of literature was brought to his
notice, he was ready to reward it.
As a proof of the growing fame of Sir Robert Peel, no less than three
biographies of him have lately been issued from the Press. Such, after a
lapse of forty years, indicates the lasting reputation he has won as a
statesman; but as a statesman only. He filled no other sphere. He was
not a lawyer like Brougham; not a novelist like Beaconsfield; not a
historian like Macaulay; not an essayist and reviewer like Gladstone. He
was contented to be a great parliamentary leader alone.
Molesworth's History of England; Miss Martineau's History of England;
Justin McCarthy's Life of Sir Robert Peel; Alison's History of
Europe,--all of which should be read in connection with the Lives of
contemporary statesmen, especially of Cobden, Bright, and Lord John
Russell. The Lives of foreign statesmen shed but little light, since the
public acts of Sir Robert Peel were chiefly confined to the domestic
history of England.
The most interesting and perhaps important event in the history of
Europe in the interval between the fall of Napoleon I. and that of
Napoleon III., a period of fifty-six years,--from 1815 to 1871,--was
that which united the Italians under the government of Victor Emmanuel
as a constitutional monarchy, free of all interference by
The freedom and unity of Italy are to be considered, however, only from
a political point of view. The spiritual power still remains in the
hands of the Pope, who reigns as an ecclesiastical monarch over not only
Italy but all Roman Catholic countries, as the popes have reigned for a
thousand years. That venerable and august despotism was not assailed, or
even modified, in the separation of the temporal from the spiritual
powers. It was rather, probably, increased in influence. At no time
since the Reformation has the spiritual authority of the Roman Pontiff
been greater than it is at the present day. Nor can any one, however
gifted and wise, foretell when that authority will be diminished. "The
Holy Father" still reigns and is likely long to reign as the vicegerent
of the Almighty in all matters of church government in Catholic
countries, and as the recognized interpreter of their religious faith.
So long as people remain Roman Catholics, they must remain in allegiance
to the head of their church. They may cease to be Catholics, and no
temporal harm will happen to them; but the awful power remains over
those who continue to abide within the pale of the Church. Of his
spiritual subjects the Pope exacts, as he has exacted for centuries,
absolute and unconditional obedience through his ministers,--one great
hierarchy of priests; the most complete and powerful mechanism our world
has seen for good or evil, built up on the experience of ten centuries,
and generally directed by consummate sagacity and inflexibility
I have nothing here to say against this majestic sovereignty, which is
an institution rather than a religion. Most of the purely religious
dogmas which it defends and enforces are equally the dogmas of a
majority of the Protestant churches, founded on the teachings of Christ
and his apostles. The doctrines of Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas,
the great authorities of the Catholic Church, were substantially
embraced by Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, and the Westminster divines. The
Protestants rebelled mainly against the usurpations and corruptions of
the Catholic Church as an institution, not against the creed of the
Fathers and schoolmen and theological doctors in all Catholic countries.
The Nicene and Apostles' creeds bind together all orthodox Christians,
whether of the Roman or Greek or Protestant churches.
Thus, in speaking of the liberation and unity of Italy as effected by an
illustrious band of patriots, aided by friendly powers and fortunate
circumstances, I mean freedom in a political sense. The papal yoke, so
far as it was a yoke, was broken only in a temporal point of view. The
Pope lost only his dominions as a temporal sovereign,--nothing of his
dignity as an ecclesiastical monarch; and we are to consider his
opposition to Victor Emmanuel and other liberators chiefly as that of a
temporal prince, like Ferdinand of Naples. The great Italian revolution
which established the sovereignty of the King of Sardinia over the whole
peninsula was purely a political movement. Religious ideas had little or
nothing to do with it. Communists and infidels may have fought under the
standards of Mazzini and Garibaldi, but only to gain political
privileges and rights. Italy remained after the revolution, as before, a
In considering this revolution, which destroyed the power of petty
tyrants and the authority of foreign despots, which gave a free
constitution and national unity to the whole country,--the rule of one
man by the will of the people, and the checks which a freely elected
legislature imposes,--it will be my aim to present chiefly the labors
and sacrifices of a very remarkable band of patriots, working in
different ways and channels for the common good, and assisted in their
work by the aid of friendly States and potentates. But underneath and
apart from the matchless patriotism and ability of a few great men like
D'Azeglio, Mazzini, Garibaldi, Manin, Cavour, and, not least, the King
of Sardinia himself,--who reigned at Turin as a constitutional monarch
before the revolution,--should be mentioned the almost universal passion
of the Italian people to throw off the yokes which oppressed them,
whether imposed by the King of Naples, or by the Pope as a temporal
prince, or by Austria, or by the various princes who had divided between
them the territories of the peninsula,--diverse, yet banded together to
establish their respective tyrannies, and to suppress liberal ideas of
government and all reforms whatsoever. All who could read and write, and
even many who could not, except those who were dependent on the
government or hopelessly wedded to the ideas and institutions of the
Middle Ages,--that conservative class to be found in every country, who
cling to the past and dread the future,--had caught the contagion
spread by the apostles of liberty in France, in Spain, in Greece, in
England. The professors and students in the universities, professional
men, and the well-to-do of the middle classes were foremost in their
discontent and in their zeal for reform. They did not agree in their
theories of government, nor did they unite on any definite plan
for relief. Many were utterly impractical and visionary; some
were at war with any settled government, and hated all wholesome
restraints,--communists and infidels, who would destroy, without
substituting anything better instead; some were in favor of a pure
democracy, and others of representative governments; some wanted a
republic, and others a constitutional monarchy: but all wanted a change.
There was one cry, one watchword common to all,--_Personal
liberty_!--freedom to act and speak without the fear of inquisitions,
spies, informers, prisons, and exile. In Naples, in Rome, in Bologna, in
Venice, in Florence, in Milan, in Turin, there was this universal desire
for personal liberty, and the resolution to get it at any cost. It was
the soul of Italy going out in sympathy with all liberators and patriots
throughout the world, intensified by the utterances of poets and
martyrs, and kept burning by all the traditions of the past,--by the
glories of classic Rome; and by the aspirations of the _renaissance_,
when art, literature, and commerce revived. The common people united
with their intellectual leaders in seeking something which would break
their chains. They alike responded to the cries of patriotism, in some
form or other. "Emancipate us from our tyrants, and we will follow you
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