John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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caiiie into office in 1880, and like them would rely upon
the ordinary law. On May 15 Mr. Gladstone announced in
terms necessarily vague, because the new bill was not settled,
that they proposed to continue what he described as certain
clauses of a valuable and equitable description in the exist-
ing Coercion Act.

No parliamentary situation could be more tempting to an
astute opposition. The signs that the cabinet was not united
were unmistakable. The leader of the little group of four
clever men below the gangway on the tory side gave signs
that he espied an opportunity. This was one of the occasions
that disclosed the intrepidity of Lord Randolph Churchill.
He made a speech after Mr. Gladstone's announcement of a

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renewal ,of portions of the Crimes Act, not in his place but CHAP,
at a tory club. He declared himself profoundly shocked -
that so grave an announcement should have been taken as a ^ Ea% 76,
matter of course. It was really a terrible piece of news.
Ireland must be in an awful state, or else the radical mem-
bers of the cabinet -wfould never have assented to such
unanswerable evidence that the liberal party could not
govern Ireland without resort to that arbitrary force which
their greatest orators had so often declared to be no remedy.
It did not much matter whether the demand was for large
powers or for small Why not put some kind thoughts
towards England in Irish minds, by using the last days of
this unlucky parliament to abrogate all that harsh legislation
which is so odious to England, and which undoubtedly
abridges the freedom and insults the dignity of a sensitive
and imaginative race? The tory party should be careful
beyond measure not to be committed to any act or policy
which should unnecessarily wound or injure the feelings of
our brothers on the other side of the channel of St. George. x
The key to an operation that should at once, with the aid
of the disaffected liberals and the Irish, turn out Mr. Glad-
stone and secure the English elections, was an understanding
with Mr. Parnell. The price of such an understanding was
to drop coercion, and that price the tory leaders resolved to
pay. The manoeuvre was delicate. If too plainly disclosed,
it might outrage some of the tory rank and file who would
loathe an Irish alliance, and it was likely, moreover, to deter
some of the disaffected liberals from joining in any motion
for Mr. Gladstone's overthrow. Lord Salisbury and his
friends considered the subject with 'immense deliberation
some weeks before the fall of the government.' They came
to the conclusion that in the absence of official information,
they could see nothing to warrant a government in applying
for a renewal of exceptional powers. That conclusion they
profess to have kept sacredly in their own bosoms. Why
they should give immense deliberation to a decision that in
their view must be worthless without official information,
and that was to remain for an indefinite time in mysterious

1 May 20, 1885.

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BOOK darkness, was never explained when this secret decisipn some
^ months later was revealed to the public. 1 If there was no

1885. intention of making the decision known to the Irishmen,
the purpose of so unusual a proceeding would be inscrutable.
Was it made known to them ? Mr. McCarthy, at the time
acting for his leader, has described circumstantially how
the Irish were endeavouring to obtain a pledge against
coercion ; how two members of the tory party, one of them
its recognised whip, came to him in succession declaring
that they came straight from Lord Salisbury with certain
propositions; how he found the assurance unsatisfactory,
and asked each of these gentlemen in turn on different
nights to go back to Lord Salisbury, and put further ques-
tions to him ; and how each of them professed to have gone
back to Lord Salisbury, to h^ve conferred with him, and to
have brought back his personal assurance. 2 On the other
hand, it has been uniformly denied by the tory leaders that
there was ever any compact whatever with the Irishmen at
this moment. We are not called upon here to decide in a
conflict of testimony which turns, after all, upon words so
notoriously slippery as pledge, compact, or understanding.
It is enough to mark what is not denied, that Lord Salisbury
and his confidential friends had resolved, subject to official
information, to drop coercion, and that the only visible
reason why they should form the resolution at that par-
ticular moment was its probable effect upon Mr. Parnell.


Let us now return to the ministerial camp. There the
whig wing of the cabinet, adhering to Lord Spencer, were
for a modified renewal of the Coercion Act, with the balm
of a land purchase bill and a limited extension of self-
government in local areas. The radical wing were averse
to coercion, and averse to a purchase bill, but they were
willing to yield a milder form of coercion, on condition that
the cabinet would agree not merely to small measures of
self-government in local areas, but to the erection of a

1 The story was told by Lord R. * Mr. McCarthy's speech at Hull,
Churchill iu a speech at Sheffield, Dec. 15, 1887.
Sept. 4, 1885.

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central board clothed with important administrative func-
tions for the whole of Ireland. In the House of Commons <
it was certain that a fairly strong radical contingent would -**• 76#
resist coercion in any degree, and a liberal below the gang-
way, who had not been long in parliament but who had been
in the press a strong opponent of the coercion policy of 1881,
at once gave notice that if proposals were made for the
renewal of exceptional law, he should move their rejection.
Mr. Gladstone had also to inform the Queen that in what is
considered the whig or moderate section of the House
there had been recent indications of great dislike to special
legislation, even of a mild character, for Ireland. These
proceedings are all of capital importance in an eventful
year, and bear pretty directly upon the better known crisis
of the year following.

A memorandum by Mr. Gladstone of a conversation
between himself and Lord Granville (May 6), will best
show his o#n attitude at this opening of a momentous
controversy : —

... I told him [Granville] I had given no pledge or indication
of my future conduct to Mr. Chamberlain, who, however, knew
my opinions to be strong in favour of some plan for a Central
Board of Local Government in Ireland on something of an elective
basis. . . . Under the circumstances, while the duty of the hour
evidently was to study the means of possible accommodation, the
present aspect of affairs was that of a probable split, independently
of the question what course I might individually pursue. My
opinions, I said, were very strong and inveterate. I did not
calculate upon Parnell and his friends, nor upon Manning and his
bishops. Nor was I under any obligation to follow or act with
Ohamberlain. But independently of all questions of party, of
support, and of success, I looked upon the extension of a strong
measure of local government like this to Ireland, now that the
question is effectually revived by the Crimes Act, as invaluable
itself, and as the only hopeful means of securing crown and state
from an ignominious surrender in the next parliament after a
mischievous and painful struggle. (I did not advert to the
difficulties which will in this session be experienced in carrying on

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BOOK a great battle for the Crimes Act.) My difficulty would lie not in
' , my pledges or declarations (though these, of a public character, are
1885. serious), but in my opinions.

Under these circumstances, I said, I take into view the freedom
of my own position. My engagements to my colleagues are
fulfilled; the great Russian question is probably settled; if we
stand firm on the Soudan, we are now released from that embarrass-
ment ; and the Egyptian question, if the financial convention be
safe, no longer presents any very serious difficulties. I am entitled
to lay down my office as having done my work.

Consequently the very last thing I should contemplate is
opening the Irish difficulty in connection with my resignation,
should I resign. It would come antecedently to any parliamentary
treatment of that problem. If thereafter the secession of some
members should break up the cabinet, it would leave behind it an
excellent record at home and abroad. Lord Granville, while ready
to resign his office, was not much consoled by this presentation of
the case.

Late in the month (May 23) Mr. Gladstone wrote a long
letter to the Queen, giving her ' some idea of the shades of
opinion existing in the cabinet with reference to legislation for
Ireland/ He thought it desirable to supply an outline of
this kind, because the subject was sure to recur after a short
time, and was 'likely to exercise a most important influence
in the coming parliament on the course of affairs/ The two
points on which there was considerable divergence of view
were the expiry of the Crimes Act, and the concession of
local government. The Irish viceroy was ready to drop a large
portion of what Mr. Gladstone called coercive provisions,
while retaining provisions special to Ireland, but favouring
the efficiency of the law. Other ministers were doubtful
whether any special legislation was needed for Irish criminal
law. Then on the point whether the new bill should be for
two years or one, some, including Mr. Gladstone and
Lord Spencer, were for the longer term, others, including
Mr. Chamberlain and Sir Charles Dilke, for the shorter. At
last the whole cabinet agreed to two years. Next for local
government, — some held that a liberal move in this region

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would possibly obviate all need for special criminal legis- CHAP,
lation, and would at any rate take the sting out of it. To <
this 'vastly important subject' the prime minister presumed
to draw the Queen's special attention, as involving great
and far-reaching questions. He did not, he said, regard the
differences of leaning in the cabinet upon these matters
with either surprise or dismay. Such difficulties were due
to inherent difficulties in the matters themselves, and were
to be expected from the action of independent and energetic
minds in affairs so complex.

There were two main opinions. One favoured the erection
of a system of representative county government in Ireland.
The other view was that besides the county boards, there
should be in addition a central board for all Ireland,
essentially municipal and not political ; in the main executive
and administrative, but also with a power to make bye-laws,
raise funds, and pledge public credit in such modes as
parliament should provide. The central board would take
over education, primary, in part intermediate, and perhaps
even higher; poor law and sanitary administration; and
public works. The whole charge of justice, police, and
prisons would remain with the executive. This board would
not be directly elective by the whole Irish people ; it would
be chosen by the representative county boards. Property,
moreover, should have a representation upon it distinct from
numbers. This plan, 'first made known to Mr. Gladstone
by Mr. Chatnberlain/ would, he believed, be supported by
six out of the eight Commons ministers. But a larger
number of ministers were not prepared to agree to any plan
involving the principle of an elective central board as the
policy of the cabinet On account of this preliminary bar,
the particular provisions of the policy of a central board
were not discussed.

All this, however, was for the moment retrospective and
historic, because a fortnight before the letter was written,
the policy of the central board, of which Mr. Gladstone
so decisively approved, had been killed. A committee
of the cabinet was appointed to consider it; some re-
mained stubbornly opposed ; as the discussion went on,

VOL. II. 2 E

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BOOK some changed their minds and, having resisted, at last
vm * - inclined to acquiesce. Ministers were aware from the corre-
,88e * spondence of one of them with an eminent third person, that
Mr. Parnell approved the scheme, and in consideration of it
would even not oppose a very limited Crimes bill. This,
however, was no temptation to all of them ; perhaps it had
the contrary effect. When it came to the full cabinet, it
could not be carried. All the peers except Lord Granville
were against it. All the Commoners except Lord Hartington
were for it. As the cabinet broke up (May 9), the prime
minister said to one colleague, 'Ah, they will rue this
day ' ; and to another, ' Within six years, if it please God to
spare their lives, they will be repenting in sackcloth and
ashes/ Later in the day he wrote to one of them, ' The
division of opinion in the cabinet on the subject of local
government with a central board for Ireland was so marked,
and if I may use the expression, so diametrical, that I
dismissed the subject from my mind, and sorrowfully
accepted the negative of what was either a majority, or
a moiety of the entire cabinet.'

This decision, more profoundly critical than anybody
excepting Mr. Gladstone and perhaps Mr. Chamberlain
seemed to be aware, left all existing difficulties as acute as
ever. In the middle of May things looked very black.
The scheme for a central board was dead, though, wrote
Mr. Gladstone to the viceroy, ' for the present only. It will
quickly rise again, as I think, perhaps in larger diwrtewsions.'
Some members of the cabinet, he knew not how many, would
resign rather than demand from parliament, without* a
Central Board bill, the new Coercion Act. If such resigna-
tions took place, how was a Coercion bill to be fought
through the House, when some liberals had already declared
that they would resist it ?

On May 15 drafts not only of a Coercion bill, but of a bill
for land purchase came before the cabinet. Much objection
was taken to land purchase, especially by the two radical
leaders, and it was agreed to forego such a bill for the pre-
sent session. The viceroy gravely lamented this decision,
and Mr. Gladstone entered into communication with Mr.

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Chamberlain and Sir C. Dilke. From them he understood
that their main anxiety sprang from a fear lest the future
handling of local government should be prejudiced by pre- iET# 76,
mature disposal of the question of land purchase, but that
in the main they thought the question of local government
would not be prejudiced if the purchase bill only provided
funds for a year. Under this impression and with a full
belief that he was giving effect to the real desire of his
colleagues in general to meet the views of Lord Spencer, and
finding the prospects of such a bill favourable, Mr. Glad-
stone proceeded (May 20) to give notice of its introduction.
Mr. Chamberlain and Sir C. Dilke took this to be a reversal of
the position to which they had agreed, and would not assent
to land purchase unless definitely coupled with assurances
as to local government. They immediately resigned. The
misapprehension was explained, and though the resignations
were not formally withdrawn, they were suspended. But
the two radical leaders did not conceal their view of the
general state of the case, and in very direct terms told Mr.
Gladstone that they differed so completely on the questions
that were to occupy parliament for the rest of the session,
as to feel the continuance of the government of doubtful
advantage to the country. In Mr. Chamberlain's words,
written to the prime minister at the time of the misunder-
standing (May 21) —

I feel there has been a serious misapprehension on both sides
with respect to the Land Purchase bill, and I take blame to myself
if I did not express myself with sufficient clearness. ... I doubt
very much if it is wise or was right to cover over the serious
differences of principle that have lately disclosed themselves in the
cabinet. I think it is now certain that they will cause a split in
the new parliament, and it seems hardly fair to the constituencies
that this should only be admitted, after they have discharged their
function and are unable to influence the result.

Still the prime minister altogether declined, in his own
phrase, to lose heart, and new compromises were invented.
Meanwhile he cheerfully went for the Whitsuntide recess

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BOOK to Hawarden, and dived into Lechler's Wydiffe, Walpole's
_^_/ George III., Conrad on German Universities, Cooper on the
1885 - Atonement, and so forth. Among other guests at Hawarden
came Lord Wolverton, ' with much conversation ; we opened
rather a new view as to my retirement.' What the new
view was we do not know, but the conversation was resumed
and again resumed, until the unwelcome day (June 4) for
return to Downing Street. Before returning, however, Mr.
Gladstone set forth his view of the internal crisis in a letter
to Lord Hartington : —

To Lord Hartington.
May 30, 1885. — I am sorry but not surprised that your rather
remarkable strength should have given way under the pressure of
labour or anxiety or both. Almost the whole period of this
ministry, particularly the year and half since the defeat of
Hicks, and most particularly of all, the four months since the
morning when you deciphered the Khartoum telegram at Holker,
have been without example in my experience, as to the gravity
and diversity of difficulties which they have presented. What I
hope is that they will not discourage you, or any of our colleagues,
in your anticipations of the future. It appears to me that there is
not one of them, viewed in the gross, which has been due to our
own action. By viewing in the gross, I mean taking the Egyptian
question as one. When we subdivide between Egypt proper and
the Soudan, I find what seem to me two grave errors in our
management of the Soudan business: the first our landing at
Suakin, the second the mission of Gordon, or rather the choice of
Gordon for that mission. But it sometimes happens that the
errors gravest in their consequences are also the most pardonable.
And these errors were surely pardonable enough in themselves,
without relying on the fact that they were approved by the public
opinion of the day and by the opposition. Plenty of other and
worse errors have been urged upon us which we have refused or
avoided. I do not remember a single good measure recommended
by opponents, which we have declined to adopt (or indeed any
good measure which they have recommended at all). We certainly
have worked hard. I believe that according to the measure of
human infirmity, we have done fairly well, but the duties we have

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had to discharge have been duties, I mean in Egypt and the CHAP.
Soudan, which it was impossible to discharge with the ordinary j ' *
measure of credit and satisfaction, which were beyond human ^ T - 76 *
strength, and which it was very unwise of our predecessors to
saddle upon the country.

At this moment we have but two great desiderata : the Egyptian
Convention and the Afghan settlement(the evacuation of the Soudan
being in principle a thing done). Were these accomplished, we
should have attained for the empire at home and abroad a
position in most respects unusually satisfactory, and both of them
aught to be near accomplishment. With the Egyptian Convention
fairly at work, I should consider the Egyptian question as within
a few comparatively easy stages of satisfactory solution.

Now as regards the immediate subject. What if Chamberlain
and Dilke, as you seem to anticipate, raise the question of a pro-
spective declaration about local government in Ireland as a
condition of their remaining in the cabinet. I consider that
question as disposed of for the present (much against my will),
and I do not see that any of us, having accepted the decision, can
attempt to disturb it. Moreover, their ground will be very weak
and narrow ; for their actual reason of going, if they go, will be
the really small question arising upon the Land Purchase bill.

I think they will commit a great error if they take this course.
It will be straining at the gnat. No doubt it will weaken the
party at the election, but I entertain no fear of the immediate
effect. Their error will, however, in my view go beyond this.
Forgive me if I now speak with great frankness on a matter, one
of few, in which I agree with them, and not with you. I am
firmly convinced that on local government for Ireland they
hold a winning position; which by resignation now they will
greatly compromise. You will all, I am convinced, have to give
what they recommend ; at the least what they recommend.

There are two differences between them and me on this subject.
First as to the matter ; I go rather further than they do ; for I
would undoubtedly make a beginning with the Irish police.
Secondly as to the ground ; here I differ seriously. I do not reckon
with any confidence upon Manning or Parnell; I have never
looked much in Irish matters at negotiation or the conciliation of

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BOOK leaders. I look at the question in itself, and I am deeply con-
• > vinoed that the measure in itself will (especially if accompanied

1885. ^b gj m ii ar measures elsewhere, e.g. in Scotland) be good for the
country and the empire ; I do not say unmixedly good, but with
advantages enormously outweighing any drawbacks.

Apart from these differences, and taking their point of view, I
think they ought to endeavour to fight the election with you ; and
in the new state of affairs which will be presented after the dissolution,
try and see what effect may be produced upon your mind, and on
other minds, when you have to look at the matter cominus and not
eminus, as actual, and not as hypothetical. I gave Chamberlain a
brief hint of these speculations when endeavouring to work upon
him ; otherwise I have not mentioned them to any one.


On the day of his return to London from Hawarden Mr.
Gladstone had an interview with the two ministers with
whom on the merits he was most disposed to agree, though
he differed strongly from them as to tactics. Resignations
were still only suspended, yet the prospects of compromise
were hopeful. At a cabinet held on the following day
(June 5) it was agreed that he should in the course of a
week give notice of a bill to take the place of the expiring
Crimes Act. The point left open was whether the operative
provisions of such an Act — agreed on some time before —
should not be brought into operation without some special
act of the executive government, by proclamation, order
in council, or otherwise. Local government was still left
open. Lord Spencer crossed over from Ireland on the night
of June 7, and the cabinet met next day. All differences
were narrowed down to the point whether the enactments
against intimidation should be inoperative unless and until
the lord lieutenant should waken them into life by pro-
clamation. As it happened, intimidation had been for a
considerable time upon the increase — from which it might
be inferred either, on the one side, that coercion failed in
its object, or, on the other, that more coercion was still
indispensable. The precise state in which matters were left
at the eleventh hour before the crisis, now swiftly advancing.

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was set out by Mr. Gladstone in a letter written by him to CHAP,
the Queen in the autumn (October 5), when he was no.
longer her Majesty's minister : — ^ 7 *

To the Queen.

... He has perceived that in various quarters misapprehension
prevails as to the point at which the deliberations of the late
cabinet on the question of any renewal of, or substitution for,
the Crimes Act in Ireland had arrived when their financial defeat
on the 8th of June caused the tender of their resignation.

Mr. Gladstone prays your Majesty's gracious permission to
remove this misapprehension by simply stating that which
occurred in the cabinet at its latest meetings, with reference to
this particular question. Substantially it would be a repetition,
or little more (and without any mention of names), of his latest

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 40 of 91)