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The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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XIV.



NEW PLANS 87

Lad better talk when we meet. I remember your saying well CHAP,
and wisely how we should look to the average opinion of the
party. What we want at present is a positive force to cany
us onward as a body. I do not see that this can be got out of
local taxation, or out of the suffrage (whether we act in that
matter or not, and individually I am more yes than no), or out of
education. It may possibly, I think, be had out of finance. Of
course I cannot as yet see my way on that subject ; but until it is
cleared, nothing else will to me be clear. If it can be worked into
certain shapes, it may greatly help to mould the rest, at least
for the time. I think the effect of the reconstruction may be
described as follows: First, we have you. Secondly, we have
emerged from the discredit and disgrace of the exposures by an
administration of mild penal justice, which will be complete all
round when Monsell has been disposed of. Thirdly, we have now
before us a clean stage for the consideration of measures in the
autumn. We must, I think, have a good bill of fare, or none. If
we differ on the things to be done, this may end us in a way at
least not dishonourable. If we agree on a good plan, it must come
to good, whether we succeed or fail with it. Such are my crude
reflections, and such my outlook for the future. Let me again
say how sensible I am of the kindness, friendship, and public spirit
with which you have acted in the whole of this matter.

In the early part of the year his mind was drawing
towards a decision of moment. On January 8, 1874, he
wrote a letter to Lord Granville, and the copy of it is
docketed, 'First idea of Dissolution/ It contains a full
examination of the actual case in which they found them-
selves; it is instructive on more than one constitutional
point, and it gives an entirely intelligible explanation of
a step that was often imputed to injurious and low-minded
motives : —

Hawarden, Jan. 8, 1874. — The signs of weakness multiply, and
for some time have multiplied, upon the government, in the loss
of control over the legislative action of the House of Lords, the
diminution of the majority in the House of Commons without its
natural compensation in increase of unity and discipline, and the



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88 THE DISSOLUTION

BOOK almost unbroken series of defeats at single elections in the country. 1
t * • In truth the government is approaching, though I will not say it
1874. ^ vet reached t ne condition in which it will have ceased to
possess that amount of power which is necessary for the dignity of
the crown and the welfare of the country ; and in which it might
be a godsend if some perfectly honourable difference of opinion
among ourselves on a question requiring immediate action were to
arise, and to take such a course as to release us collectively from
the responsibilities of office.

The general situation being thus unfavourable, the ordinary
remedies are not available. A ministry with a majority, and with
that majority not in rebellion, could not resign on account of
adverse manifestations even of very numerous single constituencies,
without making a precedent, and constitutionally a bad precedent ;
and only a very definite and substantive difficulty could warrant
resignation without dissolution, after the proceedings of the
opposition in March last, when they, or at any rate their leaders
and their whips, brought the Queen into a ministerial crisis, and
deserted her when there. If then we turn to consider dissolution,
what would be its results? In my opinion the very best that
could happen would be that we should come back with a small
majority composed of Irish home rulers and a decided minority
without them; while to me it seems very doubtful whether even
with home rulers counted in, we should command a full half of
the House of Commons. In a word, dissolution means either
immediate death, or at the best death a little postponed, and the
party either way shattered for the time. For one I am anxious to
continue where we are, because I am very loath to leave the party
in its present menacing condition, without having first made every
effort in our power to avert this public mischief.

If I have made myself intelligible up to this point, the question
that arises is, can we make out such a course of policy for the
session, either in the general conduct of business, or in some
departments and by certain measures, as will with reasonable
likelihood reanimate some portion of that sentiment in our favour,



1 In 1871-73 the tories gained * Individuals may reoover from even

wenty-three seats against only one serious sick

ained by the liberals, in the first to be the \

tiree years of the government nine Mr. Gladst

seats had been lost and nine gained. Sept. 1887.



twenty-three seats against only one serious sickness ; it does not appear
gained by the liberals, in the first to be the way with governments.* 1 —
three years of the government nine Mr. Gladstone, Nineteenth Century,



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LETTER TO LORD GRANVILLE 89

which carried us in a manner so remarkable through the election CHAP,
of 1868 1 I discuss the matter now in its aspect towards party : ,. * '
it is not necessary to make an argument to show that our option ^ Et - 65 »
can only be among things all of which are sound in principle.
First, then, I do not believe that we can find this recovery of vital
force in our general administration of public business. As men, •
notwithstanding the advantage drawn from Bright's return, the
nation appears to think that it has had enough of us, that our lease
is out. It is a question of measures then : can we by any measures
materially mend the position of the party for an impending
election ? . . .

Looking to legislation, there are but three subjects which
appear to me to be even capable of discussion in the view I have
presented. They are local taxation, the county suffrage, and
finance, I am convinced it is not in our power to draw any great
advantage, as a party, from the subject of local taxation. . . .
Equally strong is my opinion with respect to the party bear-
ings of the question of the county franchise. We have indeed
already determined not to propose it as a government. Had we
done so, a case would have opened at once, comfortably furnished
not with men opposing us on principle, like a part of those who
opposed in 1866, but with the men of pretext and the men of
disappointment, with intriguers and with egotists. And I believe
that in the present state of opinion they would gain their end by
something like the old game of playing redistribution against the
franchise. . . .

Can we then look to finance as supplying what we want ? This
is the only remaining question. It does not admit, as yet, of
a positive answer, but it admits conditionally of a negative
answer. It is easy to show what will prevent our realising
our design through the finance of the year. We cannot do it,
unless the circumstances shall be such as to put it in our power,
by the possession of a very wide margin, to propose something
large and strong and telling upon both the popular mind and
the leading elements of the constituency. . . . We cannot do it,
without running certain risks of the kind that were run in the
budget of 1853: I mean without some impositions, as well as
remissions, of taxes. We cannot do it, without a continuance of



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90 THE DISSOLUTION

BOOK the favourable prospects of harvest and of business. Lastly, we
/ > cannot do it unless we can frame our estimates in a manner to
l874, show our desire to adhere to the principles of economy which we
proposed and applied with such considerable effect in 1868-70.
But, subject to the fulfilment of these conditions, my opinion is
that we can do it : can frame a budget large enough and palpably
beneficial enough, not only to do much good to the country, but
sensibly to lift the party in the public view and estimation. And
this, although a serious sum will have to be set apart, even in
the present year, for the claims of local taxation. . . .

If we can get from three-quarters of a million upwards towards
a million off the naval and military estimates jointly, then as far
as I can judge we shall have left the country no reason to com-
plain, and may proceed cheerily with our work ; though we should
not escape the fire of the opposition for having failed to maintain
the level of Feb. 1870; which indeed we never announced as our
ultimatum of reduction. I have had no communication with those
of our colleagues who would most keenly desire reductions; I
might say, with any one. ... I will only add that I think a
broad difference of opinion among us on such a question as this
would be a difference of the kind which I described near the
opening of this letter, as what might be in certain circumstances,
however unwelcome in itself, an escape from a difficulty otherwise
incapable of solution.

Let me now wind up this long story by saying that my desire
in framing it has been simply to grasp the facts, and to set aside
illusions which appear to me to prevail among sections of the
liberal party, nowhere so much as in that section which believes
itself to be the most enlightened. If we can only get a correct
appreciation of the position, I do not think we shall fail in readi-
ness to suit our action to it ; but I am bound to confess myself not
very sanguine, if the best come to the best, as to immediate results,
though full of confidence, if we act aright, as to the future and
early reward.

II

In notes written in the last year of his life, Mr. Gladstone
adds a detail of importance to the considerations set out in
the letter to Lord Granville. The reader will have observed



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ACTUAL OCCASION FOR DISSOLUTION 91

that among the conditions required for his operation on the CHAP,
income-tax he names economic estimates. In this quarter, %
he tells us, grave difficulties arose :- ,

No trustworthy account of the dissolution of parliament which
took place early in 1874 has ever been published. When I
proposed the dissolution to the cabinet, they acceded to it without
opposition, or, I think, even discussion. The actual occasion of
the measure was known, I think, only to Lord Granville and Lord
Cardwell with myself, it having a sufficient warrant from other
sources.

In 1871, the year of the abolition of purchase and other im-
portant army reforms, I had, in full understanding with Cardwell,
made a lengthened speech, in which I referred to the immediate
augmentations of military expenditure which the reforms de-
manded, but held out to the House of Commons the prospect of
compensating abatements at early dates through the operation of
the new system of relying considerably upon reserves for imperial
defence.

When Cardwell laid before me at the proper time, in view of
the approaching session, his proposed estimates for 1874-5, I was
strongly of opinion that the time had arrived for our furnishing
by a very moderate reduction of expenditure on the army, some
earnest of the reality of the promise made in 1871 which had been
so efficacious in procuring the enlargement that we had then
required. Cardwell, though not an extravagant minister, objected
to my demand of (I think) £200,000. I conferred with Granville,
who, without any direct knowledge of the subject, took my
side, and thought Cardwell would give way. But he continued
to resist; and, viewing the age of the parliament, I was thus
driven to the idea of dissolution, for I regarded the matter as
virtually involving the whole question of the value of our promises,
an anticipation which has proved to be correct. Cardwell entered
readily into the plan of dissolving, and moreover thought that if
my views carried the day with the constituencies, this would enable
him to comply.

The papers in my hands confirm Mr. Gladstone's recol-
lection on this part of the transaction, except that Mr.
Goschen, then at the head of the admiralty, was to some



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92 THE DISSOLUTION

extent in the same position as Mr. CardwelL The prime
minister was in active controversy with both the great
* 874, spending departments, and with little chance of prevailing.
It was this controversy that opened the door for immediate
dissolution, though the general grounds for dissolution at
some near time were only too abundant. Here is his note
of the position, — in a minute addressed to Mr. Cardwell and
Mr. Goschen : —

Jan. 22, 1874. — We arrived yesterday at the conclusion that>
apart from this or that shade of view as to exact figure of the
estimates, the measure now proposed stood well on its own general
grounds. This being so, after consulting Lord Granville, and
indeed at his suggestion, I have in a preparatory letter to the
Queen founded myself entirely on general grounds. This being
so, I would propose to consider the point raised between us as one
adjourned, though with a perfect knowledge in each of our minds
as to the views of the others. My statement to the cabinet must
be on the same basis as my statement to the Queen. The actual
decision of the estimates would stand over from to-morrow's
cabinet, until we saw our way as to their position and as to the
time for their production. I am sure I might reckon on your
keeping the future as far as possible open, and unprejudiced by
contracts for works or for building or construction. Any reference
to economy which I make to-morrow will be in general terms
such as I propose to use in an address. If I have made myself
clear and you approve, please to signify it on this paper, or to
speak to me as you may prefer. I am reluctant to go out, with
my chest still tender, in the fog.

Cardwell, in the few words of his minute in reply makes
no objection. Mr. Goschen says: 'I quite take the same
view as you do. Indeed, I had proposed myself to ask you
whether what had passed between us had not better remain
entirely confidential for the present, as it is best not to state
differences where the statement of them is not indispens-
able/

The diary for these important days is interesting : —
Jan. 17, '74. — The prospects of agreement with the two de-
partments on estimates are for the present bad. 18. — This day I



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DISSOLUTION DECIDED ON 93

thought of dissolution. Told Bright of it. In evening at dinner CHAP,
told Granville and Wolverton. All seemed to approve. My first * ,

thought of it was as an escape from a difficulty. I soon saw on < ^ T * *&•
reflection that it was the best thing in itself. 19. — Confined all
day in bed with tightness on the chest. Much physicking. 20. —
Bed all day. I spent the chief part of the day and evening in
reflection on our ' crisis,' and then in preparing a letter to go to
the Queen for her information at once, and a long address for
an unnamed constituency — almost a pamphlet — setting out the
case of the government in an immediate appeal to the country.
21. — Altered and modified letter to the Queen, which went off.
Came down at two. Much conversation to-day on the question
of my own seat. 23. — Cabinet 12^-4. Address further amended
there on partial perusal. In evening corrected proofs of address,
which runs well. A very busy stirring day of incessant action.

In the letter of Jan. 21 to the Queen, Mr. Gladstone
recapitulates the general elements of difficulty, and apprises
her Majesty that it will be his duty at the meeting of the
cabinet fixed for the 23rd, to recommend his colleagues
humbly and dutifully to advise an immediate dissolution, as
the best means of putting an end to the disadvantage and
the weakness of a false position. He trusts that the Queen
may be pleased to assent. The Queen (Jan. 22) acknow-
ledged the receipt of his letter ' with some surprise/ as she
had understood him to say when last at Windsor that he
did not think of recommending a dissolution until the end
of the session or later. But she expressed her * full apprecia-
tion of the difficulties of Mr. Gladstone's position/ and
assented, thinking that ' in the present circumstances it
would be desirable to obtain an expression of the national
opinion.'

The next day (23rd) the cabinet met, and Mr. Gladstone
in the evening reported the proceedings to the Queen : —

To the Queen.
Jem. 23, 1874. — . . . Mr. Gladstone laid before the cabinet a
pretty full outline of the case as to the weakness of the govern-
ment since the crisis of last March, and the increase of that
weakness, especially of late, from the unfavourable character of



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94 , THE DISSOLUTION

BOOK local indications ; as to the false position in which both the crown
. and the House of Commons are placed when there can be no

W 4 * other government than the one actually existing ; finally, as to
the present calls of business and prospects of the country, especi-
ally as to its finance, which are such as in Mr. Gladstone's
judgment, to warrant the presentation of a very favourable picture
of what may be effected with energy and prudence during the
present year. In this picture is included, as Mr. Gladstone on
Wednesday intimated might be the case, the total repeal of tht
income-tax. The cabinet unanimously concurred, upon a review
of its- grounds, in the wisdom of the proposed measure. It is
as yet profoundly secret, but to-morrow morning it will be placed
before the world with a lengthened and elaborate exposition,
in the shape of an address from Mr. Gladstone to his constituents
at Greenwich. There can be no doubt that a large portion of
the public will at first experience that emotion of surprise which
your Majesty so very naturally felt on receiving Mr. Gladstone's
letter. But, judging from such indications as have reached them,
the cabinet are disposed to anticipate that this course will be
approved by all those who are in any degree inclined to view
their general policy with sympathy or favour. Large portions,
and the most important portions, of Mr. Gladstone's address were
read to and considered by the cabinet, and it was in some respects
amended at the suggestion of his esteemed colleagues. It is,
however, so framed as not to commit them equally with himself,
except only as to the remissions of taxes and aid to local rates
contemplated in the finance of the year. This method of stating
generally the case of the government in substance corresponds
to the proceedings of Sir R. Peel in 1834-5, when he addressed
the electors of Tamworth. Before concluding, Mr. Gladstone
will humbly offer to your Majesty a brief explanation. When
he last adverted to the duration of the present parliament, his
object was to remind your Majesty of the extreme point to which
that duration might extend. When he had the honour of seeing
your Majesty at Windsor, 1 the course of the local elections had
been more favourable, and Mr. Gladstone had not abandoned the
hope of retaining sufficient strength for the due conduct of affairs

1 Dec. 2. 1873.



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DISSOLUTION AND THE CABINET 95

in the present House. On this question, the events of the last CHAP,
few weeks and the prospects of the present moment have some- v v * ■
what tended to turn the scale in his mind and that of his ^ T *
colleagues. 1 But finally it was not within his power, until the
fourth quarter of the financial year had well begun, to forecast
the financial policy and measures which form a necessary and
indeed the most vital part of the matter to be stated to the
public. Immediately after he had been able sufficiently to ripen
his own thoughts on the matter, he did not scruple to lay them
before your Majesty; and your Majesty had yourself in one
sense contributed to the present conclusion by forcibly pointing
out to Mr. Gladstone on one or more occasions that in the event
of difficulty, under the present peculiar circumstances, no alter-
native remained except a dissolution. The mild weather is very
favourable to Mr. Gladstone, and if as he has prayed there shall
be a council on Monday, he hopes to have the honour of coming
down to Osborne.

To his eldest son he wrote on the following day : —

We here of the cabinet 2 and the whips are in admirable spirits.
"We dissolve on Finance. The surplus will be over five millions.
We promise as in our judgment practicable, — 1. Pecuniary aid to
local taxation, but with reform of it. 2. Repeal of the income-tax.
3. Some great remission in the class of articles of consumption.
(This last remission probably means sugar, but nothing is to be
said by any member of the government as to choice of the article.)
We make it a question of confidence on the prospective budget.
As far as we can judge, friends will much approve our course,
although for the public there may at first be surprise, and the
enemy will be furious.

Ill
The prime minister's manifesto to his constituents at
Greenwich was elaborate and sustained. In substance it

1 The conservatives had sained a further weakened in detail, have

seat at Stroud on Jan. 6, and greatly determined us to take at once the

reduced the liberal majority at New- opinion of the country, and to stand

castle-on-Tyne. or fall by it. I am rejoiced at this

a ' The continual loss of elections,' resolution.' — Aberdare Papers, Jan.

Lord Aberdare wrote to his wife, 23, 1874.
' and the expediency of avoiding being



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96 THE DISSOLUTION

BOOK did no more than amplify the various considerations that
V1, ^ he had set forth in his letter to Lord Granville. The pith
1874. f n was a promise to diminish local taxation, and to repeal
the income-tax. At the same time marked relief was to be
given to the general consumer in respect of articles of
popular consumption. One effective passage dealt with
the charge that the liberal party had endangered the
institutions of the country. ' It is time/ said Mr. Gladstone,
' to test this trite and vague allegation. There has elapsed
a period of forty, or more exactly forty-three years, since
the liberal party acquired the main direction of public
affairs. This followed another period of about forty years
beginning with the outbreak of the revolutionary war,
during which there had been an almost unbroken rule of
their opponents, who claimed and were reputed to be the
great preservers of the institutions of the country/ He
then invited men to judge by general results, and declared
that the forty years of tory rule closing in 1830 left institu-
tions weaker than it had found them, whereas the liberal
term of forty years left throne, laws, and institutions not
weaker but much stronger. The address was a fine bold
composition, but perhaps it would have been more effective
with a public that was impatient and out of humour, if it
had been shorter.

The performance was styled by his rival ' a prolix narra-
tive/ but it is said that in spite of this Mr. Disraeli read it
with much alarm. He thought its freshness and boldness
would revive Mr. Gladstone's authority, and carry the elec-
tions. His own counter manifesto was highly artificial.
He launched sarcasms about the Greenwich seat, about too
much energy in domestic legislation, and too little in foreign
policy; about an act of folly or of ignorance rarely equalled
in dealing with the straits of Malacca (though for that
matter not one elector in a hundred thousand had ever
heard of this nefarious act). While absolving the prime
minister himself, ' certainly at present/ from hostility to our
national institutions and the integrity of the empire, he drew
a picture of unfortunate adherents — some assailed the mon-
archy, others impugned the independence of the House of



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XIV.
iET.66.



ELECTORAL MANIFESTO 97

Lords, while others would relieve parliament altogether from CHAP,
any share in the government of one portion of the United
Kingdom ; others, again, urged Mr. Gladstone to pursue his
peculiar policy by disestablishing the anglican as he has
despoiled the Irish church; even trusted colleagues in his
cabinet openly concurred with them in their desire altogether
to thrust religion from the place which it ought to occupy in
national education. What is remarkable in Disraeli's address
is that to the central proposal of his adversary he offered no
objection. As for remission of taxation, he said, that would
be the course of any party or any ministry. As for the
promise of reduced local burdens and the abolition of the



Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 9 of 91)