John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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be consistent equally with a narrow scheme on the one
hand, such as a plan for national councils, and a broad
scheme on the other, giving to Ireland a separate exchequer,
separate control over customs and excise, and practically
an independent and co-ordinate legislature. 1 How could the
government meet the challenge to say outright whether they
intended broad or narrow ? Such a resolution could hardly
have outlived an evening's debate, and would not have post-
poned the evil day of schism for a single week.

Precedents lent no support. It is true that the way was
prepared for the Act of Union in the parliament of Great
Britain, by the string of resolutions moved by Mr. Pitt in
the beginning of 1799. But anybody who glances at them,
will at once perceive that if resolutions on their model had
been framed for the occasion of 1886, they would have covered
the whole ground of the actual bill, and would instantly have

1 See Mr. Chamberlain's speech, Also Lord Hartington at Bradford,
June 1, 1886. Hans. 306, p. 677. May 18, 1886.

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raised all the formidable objections and difficulties exactly
- as the bill itself raised them. The Bank Charter Act of
1886, 1833 was founded on eight resolutions, and they also set
forth in detail the points of the ministerial plan. 1 The
renewal of the East India Company's charter in the same
year went on by way of resolutions, less abundant in par-
ticulars than the Bank Act, but preceded by correspondence
and papers which had been exhaustively canvassed and dis-
cussed. 2 The question of Irish autonomy was in no position
of that sort

The most apt precedent in some respects is to be found
on a glorious occasion, also in the year 1833. Mr. Stanley
introduced the proposals of his government for the emanci-
pation of the West Indian slaves in five resolutions. They
furnished a key not only to policy and general principles,
but also to the plan by which these were to be carried out 8
Lord Howick followed the minister at once, raising directly
the whole question of the plan. Who could doubt that Lord
Hartington would now take precisely the same course towards
Irish resolutions of similar scope ? The procedure on the
India bill of 1858 was just as little to the point The general
disposition of the House was wholly friendly to a settle-
ment of the question of Indian government by the exist-
ing ministry. No single section of the opposition wished to
take it out of their hands, for neither Lord Russell nor the
Peelites nor the Manchester men, and probably not even
Lord Palmerston himself, were anxious for the immediate
return of the last named minister to power. Who will
pretend that in the House of Commons in February 1886,
anything at all like the same state of facts prevailed ? As
for the resolutions in the case of the Irish church, they
were moved by Mr. Gladstone in opposition, and he thought
it obvious that a policy proposed in opposition stands on a
totally different footing from a policy laid before parliament
on the responsibility of a government, and a government
bound by every necessity of the situation to prompt action. 4

1 June 1, 1833. Hans. 18, p. 186. Reform bill of 1867. Disraeli laid

3 Jane 13, 1833. Ibid, p. 700. thirteen resolutions on the table.

3 May 14, 1833. Hans. 17, p. 1230. Lowe and Bright both agreed in

4 There is also the case of the urging that the resolutions should be

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At a later stage, as we. shall see, it was actually proposed
that a vote for the second reading of the bill should be taken
to mean no more than a vote for its principle. Every one
of the objections that instantly sprang out of their ambush
against this proposal would have worked just as much
mischief against an initial resolution. In short, in opening
a policy of this difficulty and extent, the cabinet was bound
to produce to parliament not merely its policy but its plan
for carrying the policy out. By that course only could
parliament know what it was doing. Any other course
must have ended in a mystifying, irritating, and barren
confusion, alike in the House of Commons and in the
country. 1

The same consideration that made procedure by resolu-
tion unadvisable told with equal force within the cabinet
Examination into the feasibility of some sort of plan was
most rapidly brought to a head by the test of a particular
plan. It is a mere fable of faction that a cast iron policy
was arbitrarily imposed upon the cabinet ; as matter of
fact, the plan originally propounded did undergo large and
radical modifications.

The policy as a whole shaped itself in two measures.
First, a scheme for creating a legislative body, and defining
its powers; second, a scheme for opening the way to a
settlement of the land question, in discharge of an obliga-
tion of honour and policy, imposed upon this country by its
active share in all the mischiefs that the Irish land system
had produced. The introduction of a plan for dealing with
the land was not very popular even among ministers, but it
was pressed by Lord Spencer and the Irish secretary* on the
double ground that the land was too burning a question to be
left where it then stood, and next that it was unfair to a new
and untried legislature in Ireland to find itself confronted
by such a question on the very threshold.

The plan was opened by Mr. Gladstone in cabinet on

dropped and the bill at once printed, at onoe abandoned them.
A meeting of liberal members at Mr. 1 Lord Hartington's argument on
Gladstone's house unanimously re- the second reading shows how a re-
solved to support an amendment set- solution would have fared. Hans.
ting aside the resolutions. Disraeli 305, p. 610.

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BOOK March 13th, and Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Trevelyan at once
^ wished to resign. He remonstrated in a vigorous correspond-

1886. ence . * I have seen many and many a Resignation/ he said,
' but never one based upon the intentions, nay the immature
intentions of the prime minister, and on a pure intuition of
what may happen. Bricks and rafters are prepared for a house,
but are not themselves a house/ The evil hour was postponed,
but not for long. The cabinet met again a few days later
(March 26) and things came to a sharp issue. The question
was raised in a sufficiently definite form by the proposition
from the prime minister for the establishment of a statutory
body sitting in Dublin with legislative powers. No difficulty
was made about the bare proposition itselt Every one
seemed to go as far as that. It needed to be tested, and
tests were at once forthcoming. Mr. Trevelyan could not
assent to the control of the immediate machinery of law
and order being withdrawn from direct British authority,
among other reasons because it was this proposal that
created the necessity for buying out the Irish landlords,
which he regarded as raising a problem absolutely insoluble. 1
Mr. Chamberlain raised four points. He objected to the
cesser of Irish representation ; he could not consent to the
grant of full rights of taxation to Ireland ; he resisted the
surrender of the appointment of judges and magistrates ;
and he argued strongly against proceeding by enumeration
of the things that an Irish government might not do,
instead of by a specific delegation of the things that it
might do. 2 That these four objections were not in them-
selves incapable of accommodation was shown by subsequent
eventsf The second was very speedily, and the first was
ultimately allowed, while the fourth was held by good
authority to be little more than a question of drafting.
Even the third was not a point either way on which to
break up a government, destroy a policy, and split a party.
But everybody who is acquainted with either the great or
the small conflicts of human history, knows how little the
mere terms of a principle or of an objection are to be
trusted as a clue either to its practical significance, or

1 Hans. 304, p. 1116. * Hans. 304, p. 1190.

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to the design with which it is in reality advanced. The
design here under all the four heads of objection, was the v
dwarfing of the legislative body, the cramping and con- - Et * 77 -
striction of its organs, its reduction to something which
the Irish could not have even pretended to accept, and
which they would have been no better than fools if they
had ever attempted to work.

Some supposed then, and Mr. Chamberlain has said since,
that when he entered the cabinet room on this memorable
occasion, he intended to be conciliatory. Witnesses of the
scene thought that the prime minister made little attempt
in that direction. Yet where two men of clear mind and
firm will mean two essentially different things under the
same name, whether autonomy or anything else, and each
intends to stand by his own interpretation, it is childish to
suppose that arts of deportment will smother or attenuate
fundamental divergence, or make people who are quite
aware how vitally they differ, pretend that they entirely
agree. Mr. Gladstone knew the giant burden that he had
taken up, and when he went to the cabinet of March 26, his
mind was no doubt fixed that success, so hazardous at best,
would be hopeless in face of personal antagonisms and
bitterly divided counsels. This, in his view, and in his
dwn phrase, was one of the ' great imperial occasions ' that
call for imperial resolves. The two ministers accordingly

Besides these two important secessions, some ministers
out of the cabinet resigned, but they were of the whig
complexion. 1 The new prospect of the whig schism extend-
ing into the camp of the extreme radicals created natural
alarm but hardly produced a panic. So deep were the roots
<rf party, so immense the authority of a veteran leader. It
used to be said of the administration of 1880, that the world
would never really know Mr. Gladstone's strength in par-
liament and the country, until every one of his colleagues

1 Faint hopes were nourished that outside. Lord Dalhousie, one of

Mr. Bright might be induced to the truest hearts that ever were

join, but there was unfortunately attracted to public life, too early

no ground for them. Mr. Whit- lost to his country, took the Scottish

bread was invited, but preferred to secretaryship, not in the cabinet,
lend staunch and important support

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had in turn abandoned him to his own resources. Certainly
the secessions of the end of March 1886 left him undaunted.
1886. Every consideration of duty and of policy bound him to
persevere. He felt, justly enough, that a minister who had
once deliberately invited his party and the people of the
three kingdoms to follow him on so arduous and bold a
march as this, had no right on any common plea to turn
back until he had exhausted every available device to
' bring the army of the faithful through/

From the first the Irish leader was in free and constant
communication with the chief secretary. Proposals were
once or twice made, not I think at Mr. ParnelTs desire, for
conversations to be held between Mr. Gladstone and himself,
but they were always discouraged by Mr. Gladstone, who was
never fond of direct personal contentions, or conversations
when the purpose could be as well served otherwise, and he
had a horror of what he called multiplying channels of com-
munication. ' For the moment/ he replied, ' I think we may
look to Mr. M. alone, and rely on all he says for accuracy as
well as fidelity. I have been hard at work, and to-day I
mean to have a further and full talk with Mr. M., who will
probably soon after wish for some renewed conversation
with Mr. ParneU.' Mr. Parnell showed himself acute, frank,
patient, closely attentive, and possessed of striking though
not rapid insight. He never slurred over difficulties, nor
tried to pretend that rough was smooth. On the other
hand, he had nothing in common with that desperate
species of counsellor, who takes all the small points, and
raises objections instead of helping to contrive expedients.
He measured the ground with a slow and careful eye, and
fixed tenaciously on the thing that was essential at the
moment. Of constructive faculty he never showed a trace.
He was a man of temperament, of will, of authority, of
power; not of ideas or ideals, or knowledge, or political
maxims, or even of the practical reason in any of its higher
senses, as Hamilton, Madison, and Jefferson had practical
reason. But he knew what he wanted.

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He was always perfectly ready at this period to acquiesce
in Irish exclusion from Westminster, on the ground that
they would want all the brains they had for their own ^ T * 77 -
parliament. At the same time he would have liked a pro-
vision for sending a delegation to Westminster on occasion,
with reference to some definite Irish questions such as might
be expected to arise. As to the composition of the upper
or protective order in the Irish parliament^ he was wholly
unfamiliar with the various Utopian plans that have been
advanced for the protection of minorities, and he declared
himself tolerably indifferent whether the object should be
sought in nomination by the crown, or through a special and
narrower elective body, or by any other scheme. To such
things he had given no thought. He was a party chief, not a
maker of constitutions. He liked the idea of both orders sit-
ting in one House. He made one significant suggestion : he
wished the bill to impose the same disqualification upon the
clergy as exists in our own parliament. But he would have
liked to see certain ecclesiastical dignitaries included by
virtue of their office in the upper or protective branch. All
questions of this kind, however, interested him much less
than finance. Into financial issues he threw himself with
extraordinary energy, and he fought for better terms with a
keenness and tenacity that almost baffled the mighty expert
with whom he was matched. They only met once during
the weeks of the preparation of the bill, though the indirect
communication was constant. Here is my scanty note of
the meeting : —

April 5. — Mr. Parnell came to my room at the House at 8.30,
and we talked for two hours. At 10.30 I went to Mr. Gladstone
next door, and told him how things stood. He asked me to open
the points of discussion, and into my room we went. He shook
hands cordially with Mr. Parnell, and sat down between him and
me. We at once got to work. P. extraordinarily close, tenacious,
amd sharp. It was all finance. At midnight, Mr. Gladstone rose
in his chair and said, ' I fear I must go ; I cannot sit as late as
I used to do.' i Very clever, very clever/ he muttered to me as I
held open the door of his room for him. I returned to Parnell,

VOL. ii. 2 M

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who went on repeating his points in his impenetrable way, until
, the policeman mercifully came to say the House was up.

Mr. Gladstone's own note must also be transcribed : —
April 5. — Wrote to Lord Spencer. The Queen and ministers.
Four hours on the matter for my speech. 1 \ hours with Welby
and Hamilton on the figures. Saw Lord Spencer, Mr. Morley,
Mr. A. M. H. of C, 5-8. Dined at Sir Thomas May's.

\\ hours with*Morley and Parnell on the root of the matter;
rather too late for me, 10^-12. A hard da^jr. {Diary.)

On more than one financial point the conflict went
perilously near to breaking down the whole operation ' If
we do not get a right budget/ said Mr. Parnell, * all will go
wrong from the very first hour.' To the last he held out
that the just proportion of Irish contribution to the imperial
fund was not one-fourteenth or one-fifteenth, but a twentieth
or twenty-first part. He insisted all the more strongly on
his own more liberal fraction, as a partial compensation for
their surrender of fiscal liberty and the right to impose
customs duties. Even an hour or two before the bill was
actually to be unfolded to the House, he hurried to the Irish
office in what was for. him rather an excited state, to make
one more appeal to me for his fraction. It is not at all
improbable that if the bill had gone forward into committee,
it would have been at the eleventh hour rejected by the
Irish on this department of it, and then all would have been
at an end. Mr. Parnell never concealed this danger ahead.

In the cabinet things went forward with such ups and
downs as are usual when a difficult bill is on the anvil. In
a project of this magnitude, it was inevitable that some
minister should occasionally let fall the consecrated formula
that if this or that were done or not done, he must recon-
sider his position. Financial arrangements, and the protec-
tion of the minority, were two of the knottiest points, — the
first from the contention raised on the Irish side, the second
from misgiving in some minds as to the possibility of
satisfying protestant sentiment in England and Scotland.
Some kept the colonial type more strongly in view than
others, and the bill no doubt ultimately bore that cast

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The draft project of surrendering complete taxing-power
to the Irish legislative body was eventually abandoned. It ,
was soon felt that the bare possibility of Ireland putting ^ T - 77 -
duties on British goods — and it was not more than a bare
possibility in view of Britain's position as practically Ireland's
only market — would have destroyed the bill in every manu-
facturing and commercial centre in the land. Mr. Parnell
agreed to give up the control of customs, and also to give
up direct and continuous representation at Westminster.
On this cardinal point of the cesser of Irish representation,
Mr. Gladstone to the last professed to keep an open mind,
though to most of the cabinet, including especially three
of its oldest hands and coolest heads, exclusion was at
this time almost vital Exclusion was favoured not only
on its merits. Mr. Bright was known to regard it as
large compensation for what otherwise he viewed as pure
mischief, and it was expected to win support in other
quarters generally hostile. So in truth it did, but at the
cost of support in quarters that were friendly. On April 30,
Mr. Gladstone wrote to Lord Granville, ' I scarcely see how
a cabinet could have been formed, if the inclusion of the
Irish members had been insisted on ; and now I do not see
how the scheme and policy can be saved from shipwreck, if
the exclusion is insisted on.'

The plan was bound to be extensive, as its objects were
extensive, and it took for granted in the case of Ireland
the fundamental probabilities of civil society. He who
looks with 'indolent and kingly gaze' upon all projects
of written constitutions need not turn to the Appendix
unless he will. Two features of the plan were cardinal

The foundation of the scheme was the establishment
in Ireland of a domestic legislature to deal with Irish as ,
distinguished from imperial affairs. It followed from this
that if Irish members and representative peers remained at
Westminster at all, though they might claim a share in the
settlement of imperial affairs, they could not rightly control
English or Scotch affairs. This was from the first, and has
ever since remained, the Gordian knot. The cabinet on a
review of all the courses open determined to propose the

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BOOK plan of total exclusion, save and unless for the purpose of
, revising this organic statute.

1886. The next question was neither so hard nor so vitaL
Ought the powers of the Irish legislature to be specifically
enumerated ? Or was it better to enumerate the branches
of legislation from which the statutory parliament was to be
shut out ? Should we enact the things that they might do,
or the things that they might not do, leaving them the
whole residue of law-making power outside of these excep-
tions and exclusions ? The latter was the plan adopted in
the bill Disabilities were specified, and everything not so
specified was left within the scope of the Irish authority.
These disabilities comprehended all matters affecting the
crown. All questions of defence and armed force were
shut out; all foreign and colonial relations; the law of
trade and navigation, of coinage and legal tender. The
new legislature could not meddle with certain charters, nor
with certain contracts, nor could it establish or endow any
particular religion. 1


Among his five spurious types of courage, Aristotle names
for one the man who seems to be brave, only because he
does not see his danger. This, at least, was not Mr. Glad-
stone's case. No one knew better than the leader in the
enterprise, how formidable were the difficulties that lay in
his path. The giant mass of secular English prejudice
against Ireland frowned like a mountain chain across the
track. A strong and proud nation had trained itself for
long courses of time in habits of dislike for the history, the
political claims, the religion, the temperament, of a weaker
nation. The violence of the Irish members in the last
parliament, sporadic barbarities in some of the wilder por-
tions of the island, the hideous murders in the Park, had all
deepened and vivified the scowling impressions nursed by
large bodies of Englishmen for many ages past about un-
fortunate Ireland. Then the practical operation of shaping
an Irish constitution, whether on colonial, federal, or any

1 See Appendix.

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other lines, was in itself a task that, even if all external CHAP,
circumstance had been as smiling as it was in fact the *
opposite, still abounded in every kind of knotty, intricate, and " Et# 77,
intractable matter.

It is true that elements could be discovered on the other
side. First, was Mr. Gladstone's own high place in the con-
fidence of great masses of his countrymen, the result of a
lifetime of conspicuous service and achievement. Next, the
lacerating struggle with Ireland ever since 1880, and the
confusion Into which it had brought our affairs, had bred
something like despair in many minds, and they were ready*
to look in almost any direction for relief from an intolerable
burden. Third, the controversy had not gone very far before
opponents were astounded to find that the new policy, which
they angrily scouted as half insanity and half treason, gave
comparatively little shock to the new democracy. This was
at first imputed to mere ignorance and raw habits of political
judgment. Wider reflection might have warned them that
the plain people of this island, though quickly roused against
even the shadow of concession when tfie power or the great-
ness of their country is openly assailed, seem at the same
time ready to turn to moral claims of fair play, of concilia-
tion, of pacific truce. With all these magnanimous senti-
ments the Irish case was only too easily made to associate
itself. The results of the Irish elections and the force of the
constitutional demand sank deep in the popular mind. The
grim spectre of Coercion as the other alternative wore its
most repulsive look in the eyes of men, themselves but
newly admitted to full citizenship. Bash experiment in
politics has been defined as raising grave issues without
grave cause. Nobody of any party denied in this crisis the
gravity of the cause.

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Much have I seen and known ; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all . . .
There lies the port ; the vessel puffs her sail ;
There gloom the dark broad seas.

Tennyson, Ulysses.

It was not within the compass either of human effort or
human endurance even for the most practised and skilful
1886. f ora tors to unfold the whole plan, both government and
land, in a single speech. Nor was public interest at all
equally divided. Irish land had devoured an immense
amount of parliamentary time in late years ; it is one of the
most technical and repulsive of all political subjects ; and to
many of the warmest friends of Irish self-government, any
special consideration for the owners of Irish land was bitterly
unpalatable. Expectation was centred upon the plan for
general government. This was introduced on April 8. Here
is the entry in the little diary : —

The message came to me this morning: 'Hold thou up my

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 50 of 91)