John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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reports to your Majesty, to the effect —

1. That the cabinet had long before arrived at the conclusion
that the coercion clauses of the Act, properly so called, might be
safely abandoned.

2. With regard to the other clauses, which might be generally
described as procedure clauses, the^ intended as a rule to advise,
not their absolute re-enactment, but that the viceroy should be
empowered to bring them into action, together or separately, as
and when he might see cause.

3. But that, with respect to the intimidation or boycotting
provisions, it still remained for consideration whether they should
thus be left subject to executive discretion, or whether, as the
offence had not ceased, they should, as an effective instrument of
repression, remain in direct and full operation.

It is worth noticing here as a signal instance of Mr. Glad-
stone's tenacious and indomitable will after his defeat, that
in a communication to the Queen four days later (June 12),
he stated that the single outstanding point of difference on
the Crimes bill was probably in a fair way of settlement, but
that even if the dissent of the radical members of the cabinet
had become operative, it was his firm intention to make new
arrangements for filling the vacant offices and carrying on

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BOOK the government. The overthrow came in a different way.
VI11, , The deliberations thus summarised had been held under
1886. t jj e shadow of a possibility, mentioned to the Queen in the
report of this last cabinet, of a coalition between the tories
and the Irish nationalists, in order to put an end to the exist-
ence of the government on their budget" This cloud at last
burst, though Mr. Gladstone at any rate with his usual
invincible adherence to the salutary rule never to bid good
morrow to the devil until you meet him, did not strongly
believe in the risk. The diary sheds no light on the state
of his expectations : —

June 6. . . . Read Amiel's Journal Intime. Queen's birthday
dinner, 39 ; went very well. Much conversation with the Prince
of Wales, who was handy and pleasant even beyond his wont
Also had some speech of his son, who was on my left June 7,
Trinity Sunday. — Chapel Royal at noon and 5.30. Wrote . . .
Saw Lord Granville ; ditto cum Kimtorley. Read Amiel. Eder-
sheim on Old Testament. June 8. — Wrote, etc. . . . Pitiless
rain. Cabinet, 2-3f. . . . Spoke on budget. Beaten by 264:
252. Adjourned the House. This is a considerable event.

The amendment that led to this ' considerable event ' was
moved by Sir Michael Hicks Beach. The two points raised
by the fatal motion were, first, the increased duty on beer
and spirits without a corresponding increase on wine ; and,
second, the increase of the duty on real property while no
relief was given to rates. The fiscal issue is not material.
What was ominous was the alliance that brought about the

The defeat of the Gladstone government was the first
success of a combination between tories and Irish, that
proved of cardinal importance to policies and parties for
several critical months to come. By a coincidence that cut
too deep to be mere accident, divisions in the Gladstone
cabinet found their counterpart in insurrection among the
tory opposition. The same general forces of the hour, work-
ing through the energy, ambition, and initiative of individuals,
produced the same effect in each of the two parties; the
radical programme of Mr. Chamberlain was matched by the

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tory democracy of Lord Randolph Churchill ; each saw that CHAP,
the final transfer of power from the ten-pound householder *
to artisans and labourers would rouse new social demands ; ^ T# 7 *
each was aware that Ireland was the electoral pivot of the
day, and while one of them was wrestling with those whom
he stigmatized as whigs, the other by dexterity and resolution
overthrew his leaders as ' the old gang/

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Politics are not a drama where scenes follow one another accord-
ing to a methodical plan, where the actors exchange forms of
speech, settled beforehand : politics are a conflict of which chance
is incessantly modifying the whole course. — Sorkl.

BOOK In tendering his resignation to the Queen on the day following
V1IL , his parliamentary defeat (June 9), and regretting that he had
1885. been unable to prepare her for the result, Mr. Gladstone
explained that though the government had always been
able to cope with the combined tory and nationalist opposi-
tions, what had happened on this occasion was the silent
withdrawal, under the pressure of powerful trades, from the
government ranks of liberals who abstained from voting,
while six or seven actually voted with ttie majority. • There
was no previous notice/ he said, ' and it was immediately
before the division that Mr. Gladstone was apprised for the
first time of the likelihood of a defeat/ The suspicious
hinted that ministers, or at least some of them, unobtrusively
contrived their own fall. Their supporters, it was afterwards
remarked, received none of those imperative adjurations to
return after dinner that are usual on solemn occasions ; else
there could never have been seventy-six absentees. The
majority was composed of members of the tory party, six
liberals, and thirty-nine nationalists. Loud was the exulta-
tion of the latter contingent at the prostration of the coercion
system. What was natural exultation in them, may have
taken the form of modest satisfaction among many liberals,
that they could go to the country without the obnoxious
label of coercion tied round their necks. As for ministers,
it was observed that if in the streets you saw a man coming
along with a particularly elastic step and a joyful frame of


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countenance, ten to one on coming closer you would find CHAP.
that it was a member of the late cabinet. 1 , * *

The ministerial crisis of 1885 was unusually prolonged, and Sil% 76,
it was curious. The victory had been won by a coalition
with the Irish; its fruits could only be reaped with Irish
support; and Irish support was to the tory victors both
dangerous and compromising. The normal process of a
dissolution was thought to be legally impossible, because by
the redistribution bill the existing constituencies were for the
most part radically changed ; and a new parliament chosen
on the old system of seats and franchise, even if it were
legally possible, would still be empty of all semblance of
moral authority. Under these circumstances, some in the
tory party argued that instead of taking office, it would be
far better for them to force Mr. Gladstone and his cabinet to
come back, and leave them to get rid ot their internal
differences and their Irish embarrassments as they best could.
Events were soon to demonstrate the prudence of these wary
counsels. On the other hand, the bulk of the tory party
like the bulk of any other party was keen for power, because
power is the visible symbol of triumph over opponents, and
to shrink from office would discourage their friends in the
country in the electoral conflict now rapidly approaching.

The Queen meanwhile was surprised (June 10) that Mr.
Gladstone should make his defeat a vital question, and asked
whether, in case Lord Salisbury should be unwilling to form
a government, the cabinet would remain. To this Mr. Glad-
stone replied that to treat otherwise an attack on the budget,
made by an ex-cabinet minister with such breadth of front •
and after all the previous occurrences of the session, would be
contrary to every precedent, — for instance, the notable case of
December 1852, — and it would undoubtedly«tend to weaken
and lower parliamentary government. 2 If an opposition

1 Duke of Argyll, July 10, 1885. debate, the government were defeated
' As the reader will remember (vol. by a majority of 36 on their btfdget
i. pp. 436-440), on Dec. 16, 1852, proposals in regard to sugar. Minis-
Mr. Disraeli's motion for imposing a ters not resigning, Sir Robert Peel
house duty of a shilling in the pound moved a vote of want of confidence
was rejected by 305 to 286. Mr. on May 27, which was carried by
Gladstone also referred to the case of a majority of 1 (312-311), June 4,
the expulsion of the whigs by Peel. 1841. Parliament thereupon was
On May 13, 1841, after eight nights' dissolved.

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BOOK defeated a government, they must be prepared to accept
vra * ^ the responsibility of their action. As to the second question,

**85- he answered that a refusal by Lord Salisbury would obviously
change the situation. On this, the Queen accepted the
resignations (June 11), and summoned Lord Salisbury to
BalmoraL The resignations were announced to parliament
the next day. Remarks were made at the time, indeed by
the Queen herself, at the failure of Mr. Gladstone to seek the
royal presence. Mr. Gladstone's explanation was that, viewing
' the probably loig reach of Lord Harrington's life into the
future/ he thought that he would be more useful in conversa-
tion with her Majesty than ' one whose ideas might be uncon-
sciously coloured by the limited range of the prospect before
him/ and Lord Hartington prepared to comply with the
request that he should repair to BalmoraL The visit was
eventually not thought necessary by the Queen.

In his first audience Lord Salisbury stated that though he
and his friends were not desirous of taking office, he was
ready to form a government ; but in view of the difficulties
in which a government formed by him would stand, con-'
fronted by a hostile majority and unable to dissolve, he
recommended that Mr. Gladstone should be invited to re-
consider his resignation. Mr. Gladstone, however (June 13),
regarded the situation and the chain of facts that had led
up to it, as being so definite, when coupled with the readiness
of Lord Salisbury to undertake an administration, that it
would be a mere waste of valuable time for him to consult
his colleague^ as to the resumption of office. Then Lord
# Salisbury sought assurances of Mr. Gladstone's support, as
to finance, parliamentary time, and other points in the
working of executive government These assurances neither
Mr. Gladstone'^ own temperament, nor the humour of his
friends and his party — for the embers of the quarrel with
the Lords upon the franchise bill were still hot — allowed him
to give, and he founded himself on the precedent of the
communications of December 1845 between Peel and RusselL
In this default of assurances, Lord Salisbury thought that he
should render the Queen no useful service by taking office.
So concluded the first stage.

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Though declining specific pledges, Mr. Gladstone now
wrote to the Queen (June 17) that in the conduct of the
necessary business of the country, he believed there would iS3r ' 76,
be no disposition to embarrass her ministers. Lord Salisbury,
however, and his colleagues were unanimous in thinking
this general language insufficient The interregnum con-
tinued. On the day following (June 18), Mr. Gladstone
had an audience at Windsor, whither the Queen had now
returned. It lasted over three-quarters of an hour. 'The
Queen was most gracious and I thought most reasonable.'
(Diary.) He put down in her presence some heads of a
memorandum to assist her recollection, and the one to
which she rightly attached most value was this : — ' In my
opinion/ Mr. Gladstone wrote, ' the whole value of any such
declaration as the present circumstances permit, really
depends upon the spirit in which it is given and taken.
For myself and any friend of mine, I can only say that the
spirit in which we should endeavour to interpret and apply
the declaration I have made, would be the same spirit in
which we entered upon the recent conferences concerning
the Seats bill/ To this declaration his colleagues on his
return to London gave their entire and marked approval,
but they would not compromise the liberty of the House of
Commons by further and particular pledges.

It was sometimes charged against Mr. Gladstone that he
neglected his duty to the crown, and abandoned the Queen
in a difficulty. Tfyta is wholly untrue. On June 20, Sir
Henry Ponsonby called and opened one or two aspects of
the position, among them these : —

1. Can the Queen do anything more ?
I answered, As you ask me, it occurs to me that it might help

Lord Salisbury's going on, were she to make reference to No. 2 of
my memorandum [the paragraph just quoted], and to say that in
her judgment he would be safe in receiving it in a spirit of trust.

2. If Lord Salisbury fails, may the Queen rely on you ?
I answered that on a previous day I had said that if S. failed,

the situation would be altered. I hoped, and on the whole
thought, he would go on. But if he did not? I could not

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BOOK promise or expect smooth water. The movement of questions such
* as the Crimes Act and Irish Local Government might be accele-
1885. rated. But my desire would be to do my best to prevent the
Queen being left without a government. 1

Mr. Gladstone's view of the position is lucidly stated in
the following memorandum, like the others, in his own hand
(June 21):—

1. I have endeavoured in my letters (a) to avoid all contro-
versial matter ; (b) to consider not what the incoming ministers
had a right to ask, but what it was possible for us in a spirit of
conciliation to give.

2. In our opinion there was no right to demand from us
anything whatever. The declarations we have made represent
an extreme of concession. The conditions required, e.g. the first
of them [control of time], place in abeyance the liberties of parlia-
ment, by leaving it solely and absolutely in the power of the
ministers to determine on what legislative or other questions
(except supply) it shall be permitted to give a judgment. The

. House of Commons may and ought to be disposed to facilitate the
progress of all necessary business by all reasonable means as to
supply and otherwise, but would deeply resent any act of ours by
which we agreed beforehand to the extinction of its discretion.

The difficulties pleaded by Lord Salisbury were all in view,
when his political friend, Sir M. H. Beach, made the motion which,
as we apprised him, would if carried eject us from office, and are
simply the direct consequences of their own uction. If it be true
that Lord Salisbury loses the legal power to advise and the crown
to grant a dissolution, that cannot be a reason for leaving in the
hands of the executive an absolute power to stop the action
(except as to supply) of the legislative and corrective power of the
House of Commons. At the same time these conditions do not
appear to me to attain the end proposed by Lord Salisbury, for it
would still be left in the power of the House to refuse supplies,
and thereby to bring about in its worst form the difficulty which
he apprehends.

It looked for a couple of days as if he would be compelled

1 Memo, by Mr. Gladstone, on a sheet of notepaper, June 20, 1885.

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to return, even though it would almost certainly lead to CHAP,
disruption of the liberal cabinet and party. 1 The Quran, * * ^
acting apparently on Mr. Gladstone's suggestion of June 20, ^ T * 76,
was ready to express her confidence in Mr. Gladstone's assur-
ance that there would be no disposition on the part of him-
self or his friends to embarrass new ministers. By this
expression of confidence, the Queen would thus make her-
self in some degree responsible as it were for the action of
the members of the defeated Gladstone government in the
two Houses. Still Lord Salisbury's difficulties — and some
difficulties are believed to have arisen pretty acutely within
the interior conclaves of his own party — remained for forty-
eight hours insuperable. His retreat to Hatfield was taken
to mark a second stage in thd interregnum.

June 22 is set down in the diary as ' a day of much stir
and vicissitude.' Mr. Gladstone received no fewer than six
visits during the day from Sir Henry Ponsonby, whose
activity, judgment, and tact in these duties of infinite deli-
cacy were afterwards commemorated by Lord Granville in the
House of Lords. 2 He brought up from Windsor the draft of a
letter that might be written by the Queen to Lord Salisbury,
testifying to her belief in the sincerity and loyalty of Mr.
Gladstone's words. Sir Henry showed the draft to Mr. Glad-
stone, who said that he could not be party to certain passages
in it, though willing to agtee to the rest. The draft so
altered was submitted to Lord Salisbury; he demanded
modification, placing a more definite interpretation on the
words of Mr. Gladstone's previous letters to the Queen. Mr.
Gladstone was immovable throughout the day in declining
to admit any modifications in the sense desired ; nor would .
he consent to be privy to any construction or interpretation
placed upon his words which Lord Salisbury, with no less
tenacity than his own, desired to extend.

At 5.40 [June 22] Sir H. Ponsonby returned for a fifth inter-
view, his infinite patience not yet exhausted. ... He said the
Queen believed the late government did not wish to come back.

1 Mr. Gladstone was reminded by and without consultation with his
a colleague that when Sir Robert colleagues. In the end they all, ex-
Peel resumed office in 1845, at the cepting Lord Stanley, supported him.
request of the Queen, he did so before * June 25, 1885.

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BOOK I simply reminded him of my previous replies, which he remem-
t > bered, nearly as follows : — That if Lord Salisbury failed, the

1885. situation would be altered. That I could not in such a case
promise her Majesty smooth water. That, however, a great duty
in such circumstances lay upon any one holding my situation, to
use his best efforts so as, quoad what depended upon him, not to
leave the Queen without a government. I think he will now go
to Windsor.— June 22, '85, 6 P.M.

The next day (June 23), the Queen sent on to Lord
Salisbury the letter written by Mr. Gladstone on June 21,
containing his opinion that facilities of supply might reason-
ably be provided, without placing the liberties of the House
of Commons in abeyance, and further, his declaration that
he felt sure there was no idea of withholding ways and
means, and that there was no danger to be apprehended on
that score. In forwarding this letter, the Queen expressed
to Lord Salisbury her earnest desire to bring to a close a
crisis calculated to endanger the best interests of the state;
and she felt no hesitation in further communicating to Lord
Salisbury her opinion that he might reasonably accept Mr.
Gladstone's assurances. In deference to these representations
from the Queen, Lord Salisbury felt it his duty to take office,
the crisis ended, and the tory party entered on the first
portion of a term of power that was destined, with two rather
brief interruptions, to be prolonged for many years. 1 In
reviewing this interesting episode in the annals of the party
system, it is impossible not to observe the dignity in form,
the patriotism in substance, the common-sense in result, that
marked the proceedings alike of. the sovereign and of her
two ministers.


After accepting Mr. Gladstone's resignation the Queen, on
June 13, proffered him a peerage : —

1 The correspondence with the he omitted one or two sentences from

Queen up to June 21 was read by one of his letters, as having hardly

Mr. Gladstone in the House of Com- any bearing on the real points of the

mons on June 24, and Lord Salisbury correspondence. The omitted sen ten -

made his statement in the House of ces related to the Afghan frontier,

Lords on the next day. Mr. Glad- and the state of the negotiations with

stone told the House of Commons that Russia.

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The Queen to Mr. Gladstone. °f nf'

Mr. Gladstone mentioned in his last letter but one, his intention jgrJ 76.
of proposing some honours. But before she considers these, she
wishes to offer him an Earldom, as a mark of her recognition of
his long and distinguished sendees, and she believes and thinks
he will thereby be enabled still to render great service to his
sovereign and country — which if he retired, as he has repeatedly
told her of late he intended to do shortly, — he could not. The
country would doubtless be pleased at any signal mark of recogni-
tion of Mr. Gladstone's long and eminent services, and the Queen
believes that it would be beneficial to his health, — no longer
exposing him to the pressure from without, for more active work
than he ought to undertake. Only the other day — without refer-
ence to the present events — the Queen mentioned to Mrs. Gladstone
at Windsor the advantage to Mr. Gladstone's health of a removal
from one House to the other, in which she seemed to agree. The
Queen trusts, therefore, that Mr. Gladstone will accept the offer
of an earldom, which would be very gratifying to her.

The outgoing minister replied on the following day : —

Mr. Gladstone offers his humble apology to your Majesty. It
would not be easy for him to describe the feelings with which
he has read your Majesty's generous, most generous letter. He
prizes every word of it, for he is fully alive to all the circum-
stances which give it value. It' will be a precious possession to
him and to his children after him. All that could recommend
an earldom to him, it already has given him. He remains,
however, of the belief that he ought not to avail himself of this
most gracious offer. Any service that he can render, if small,
will, however, be greater in the House of Commons than in the
House of Lords ; and it has never formed part of his views to
enter that historic chamber, although he does not share the
feeling which led Sir R. Peel to put upon record what seemed a
perpetual or almost a perpetual self-denying ordinance for his

When the circumstances of the state cease, as he hopes they
may ere long, to impose on him any special duty, he will greatly
covet that interval between an active career and death, which the

VOL. 11. 2 F

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BOOK profession of politics has always appeared to him especially to
" s require. There are circumstances connected with the position
of his family, which he will not obtrude upon your Majesty, but
which, as he conceives, recommend in point of prudence the
personal intention from which he has never swerved. He might
hesitate to act upon the motives to which he has last adverted,
grave as they are, did he not feel rooted in the persuasion that
the small good he may hope hereafter to effect, can best be
prosecuted without the change in his position. He must beg
your Majesty to supply all that is lacking in his expression from
the heart of profound and lasting gratitude.

To Lord Granville, the nearest of his friends, he wrote on
the same day : —

I send you herewith a letter from the Queen which moves and
almost upsets me. It must have cost her much to write, and it
is really a pearl of great price. Such a letter makes the subject
of it secondary — but though it would take me long to set out my
reasons, I remain firm in the intention to accept nothing for

Lord Granville replied that he was not surprised at the
decision. 'I should have greatly welcomed you/ he said,
*and under some circumstances it might be desirable, but I
think you are right now/

Here is Mr. Gladstone's letter to an invaluable occupant of
the all-important office of private secretary :—

To Mr. E. W. Hamilton.
June 30, 1885. — Since you have in substance (and in form?)
received the appointment [at the Treasury], I am unmuzzled, and
may now express the unbounded pleasure which it gives me,
together with my strong sense (not disparaging any one else) of
your desert. The modesty of your letter is as remarkable as its
other qualities, and does you the highest honour. I can accept
no tribute from you, or from any one, with regard to the office of
private secretary under me except this, that it has always been
made by me a strict and severe office, and that this is really the
only favour I have ever done you, or any of your colleagues to

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 41 of 91)