Justin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthy.

England under Gladstone, 1880-1885 online

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who had nothing to gain by his secretaryship to the Commis-
sion, which he immediately resigned as soon as the pamphlet
became a cause of quarrel and was withdrawn from official cir-
culation. But the pamphlet, of course advocating extreme
views, commending an organisation that the authorities had
suppressed as illegal, and praising men who were at that
moment in prison by order of the executive, gave the Lords


an opportunity of attacking the Government, of which they
gladly made use. Lord Donoughmore's motion was carried by
96 to 53, no less than twelve Liberal Peers voting in the

The Govei-nment met this challenge, which was practically
a recantation of the consent of the Lords to the Land Act, and
a direct censure upon the Ministry, by refusiBg to recognise
the committee, or have anything to do with it. Unabashed
and undismayed the Peers went on. Lord Donoughmore moved
the appointment of his committee, consisting of fourteen Peers,
a few of whom were Liberal in name, like Lord Dunraven and
Lord Brabourne. Lord Salisbury sounded some notes of defiance
against the Ministry ; Lord Gi'anville i^rotested futilely, and the
commission was appointed without a division. The Prime
Minister answered defiantly this defiance from the Upper House.
He at once moved what was practically a vote of censure on the
Lords for their conduct. He brought forward on February 27
a resolution showing that any Parliamentary inquiry into the
Avorking of the Land Act at so early a period of its career must
be injurious to its successful action, and to the administration
of govei'nment in Ireland. The debate lasted for several nights,
during which various hopes of a compromise of some kind were
frequently raised, to be as frequently destroyed. Finally, on
March 9, Mr. Gladstone's resolution was carried by 303 to 235.

In the meantime the condition of Ireland was in no wise
improving. Mr. Forster had been entrusted with tremendous
powers ; he had imprisoned men by hundreds ; he was practi-
cally as much the master of Ireland as Mouraviefi" was of
Lithuania, and yet it was being admitted on all sides that
he had wholly failed to pacify the country. When he had fii'st
asked for coercive powers he had distinctly led the House
and the country to understand that he knew exactly the men
who were causing agitation, and who ought to be arrested,
and he left the logical inference to be tmderstood that, these
men once ariested, agitation would of necessity cease. Agita-
tion had not ceased. There wei'e 918 arrests under the
Coercion Acts up to April 18; there were over 600 men in

IRELAND IN 1882. 189

prison, including the Parliamentary leaders of the Land League,
and j'et the country was more dangerously disturbed than ever.
Wliile the Land League existed, and was drawing into its open
agitation all the discontent of the country, the secret societies had
practically ceased to exist. The moment the open agitation was
13ut down by the strong hand of the Government, that moment
the secret societies found new strength, and began to thrive and
flourish. The horrors and terrors of the days of the tithe war were
revived again. From all sides arose a demand for some altera-
tion in the treatment of Ireland. The advanced Radicals called
for a marked change in the Irish executive ; the Liberals who did
not go so far as this felt that the Forster policy could be pur-
sued no longer. The Conservatives themselves became impressed
by the real magnitude and importance of the Irish question, and
were prepared to make concessions to Irish demands. Mr. W. H.
Smith brought forward a proposal for a large establishment
of peasant proprietors in Ireland, which was a practical deve-
lopment of Mr. Bright's theories on the subject, and a great
advance upon the purchase clauses of the Land Act of 1870.
Lord Salisbury gave his cordial support to Mr. AV. H. Smith's
proposals. At a meeting in Liverpool on April 1 2, Lord Salis-
bury declared that it was necessary to alter the Land Act, and
that the alterations could only take place in a forward direction.
Lord Salisbury saved himself from any accusation of change of
ground with great skill. ' I am not one of those,' he said, ' who
believe that after a revolutionary step you can go back. It is
one of the curses of revolution that it separates you by a chasm
from the past which you have left — a chasm which you can
never recross.' But he went on to say that the only hope of
establishing peace and contentment in Ireland lay in the effort
to bring the ownership of the land back again into single hands.
The utterances of the Conservative chief were repeated in all
directions by the Conservative clansmen, and the Government
soon found themselves in the awkward position of either having
their hand forced, or being outbid by their political opponents.
On April 20 a sharp debate sprang up in the House on the
conduct of an Irish resident magistrate, Mr, Clifford Lloyd, one


of Mr. Forster's favourite subordinates in the carrying out of
the Coercion Acts. Mr. Clifford Lloyd was special magistrate
at Clare. He was perhaps the most unpopular magistrate in
Ireland, where he was as disturbing an element as he has since
proved in Egypt. As it was believed that his life might be
endangered every precaution was taken to afford him protec-
tion. All ordinary precautions of covirse it was the duty of
]\Ir. Clifford Lloyd and of the police under him to provide, but
in one instance a subordinate took extraordinary precautions.
A circular was issued by the county inspector of Clare to the
sub- inspectors under his command, warning them to be on the
alert to prevent any attempt to assassinate Mr. Clifford Lloyd.
'Mea proceeding on his escort should be men of great deter-
mination as well as steadiness, and even on suspicion of an
attempt should at once use their firearms, to prevent the bare
possibility of an attempt on that gentleman's life.' This mar-
vellous document concluded by assuring those to whom it
was addressed that ' if men should accidentally commit an
error in shooting any person on suspicion of that person being
about to commit murder,' this county inspector was prepared
to ' exonerate them by coming forward and producing the
document.' Now this document was, on the face of it, wholly
illegal. There is nothing whatever in the British constitution
which allows any one, even a county inspector of police, to
exonerate any one else from the responsibility of kOling an
innocent person. The law does not recognise the capacity of
one citizen to take upon himself the responsibility for another
citizen's act of murder or of manslaughter. But, aj^art from
the gross illegality of the circular, it was a terrible document
to issue at such a time. An armed policeman, primed by the
perusal of such a circular, would not be likely to reflect very
profoundly upon its legality, would not be likely to waste
much time in considering whether, after all, his superior
oflicer had the j)ower of exonerating him from any of the
effects of his own rashness. In the excited condition that the
disturbed districts of Ireland were then in, a policeman might
fancy he discerned signs of an intent to murder in any wayside

IRELAND IN 1882. 191

beggar or worker in the fields, or peaceful pedestrian, and open
fire upon him witliout hesitation, confident of complete absolu-
tion at the hands of his county inspector for any unfortunate
mistake. Of coiu'se the executive could not tolerate such a
cii'cular. It was shown that the inspector issuing it was an
excitable man, who lost his head in the presence of danger.
The debate got mixed up with other questions as to the right
to erect Land League huts for evicted tenants, but the circular
itself was kept steadily in view throughout the debate, and
was condemned on all sides. During this debate, one statement
was made which deserves quotation as throwing a curious light
upon the manner in which Mr. Forster conducted his govern-
ment of Ireland. Mr. Redmond, member for New Ross, had
said that Mr. Forster was in the habit of consulting Mr. Shaw,
member for Cork county, upon his coercive policy ; a little later
Mr. O'Connor Power rose and commented upon this statement.
* I also,' said Mr. O'Connor Power, ' have been reputed to share
the distinguished honour of the political confidences of the
right honourable gentleman.' In order to appreciate the full
importance of Mr. Power's succeeding remarks, it is necessary
to have clearly before one's mind the exact position both of
Mr. Shaw and of Mr. O'Connor Power. Mr. Shaw was a
conspicuously moderate man. lie had lost the leadership of
the Irish Parliamentary party because of his studied modera-
tion ; he had been opposed in the county he represented by a
Land League candidate ; he was a man of means, of position ;
his good sense and shrewd ability had often won him warm
Ministerial praises ; he was a strong Liberal, and a staunch
supporter of the Government. When the Irish extremists
sat in opposition, he remained resolutely in his old seat below
the gangway on the Opposition Liberal side. Here was a man
whom one would have thought a Chief Secretary for Ireland
would be glad to consult with. IMr. O'Connor Power was a
man also of great ability, who had begun his political career
as a man of extreme JSTational views, but who had been
gradually outstripped in extreme opinions by others, until
he now ranked as a moderate Home Pvuler. He was very


unpopular with the Land League; he was very popular with the
Liberal party, to whom his really remarkable gift of eloquence
had been more than once of signal service. He, too, might bo
taken, like INIr. Shaw, as representing the opinions and express-
ing the demands of the really moderate men of Ireland. They
were the Gironde, they were something less than the Gironde,
of Irish discontent. If England was to pay any attention at
all to any Irish claims or any Irish grievances, these were the
very men whom one would imagine the head of an Irish exe-
cutive most anxious to consult, and most eager to understand.
Yet, ' I am able to say,' said Mr. O'Connor Power, * on behalf
of the honourable member for Cork county, Mr. Shaw, as well
as for myself, that the right honourable gentleman, the Chief
Secretary for Ireland, has not thought either of us worthy of
being consulted. Nor, indeed, has the right honourable gentle-
man taken into his confidence a single representative of Ireland
with regard to his Irish policy.' Mr, O'Connor Power further
related a conversation he had with a member of the House, who
had been returned by a large Irish constituency as an avowed
supporter of the Liberal Government, and said that the member
had assured him that Mr. Forster had never asked him a single
question about the Government of Ireland since he had taken
his scat on the front Government bench. Any comment upon
such conduct on the part of a Chief Secretary trying to deal
with an agitated country would be indeed superfluous. The
dry statement is in itself as cutting as the keenest satire or the
bitterest condemnation.

The case of Major Traill was very different. Major Traill
was a resident magistrate in Mayo. It was unfortunate that
the career of the most conspicuous of the resident magistrates
engaged in cari-ying out the Coercion Act was not altogether
irreproachable. Major Traill had been cai:)tain in the first
battalion of the 19th Foot, and while in that capacity had
been reprimanded by the general commanding the brigade at
Aldershot, in the presence of his brother officers, and his com-
manding officer had, in consequence, represented the desirability
of his removal from his battalion. He afterwards retired from

IRELAyD IN 1882. 103

the army, and received the honorary rank of major on being
appointed to his resident magistracy by the late Government.
Major Traill had the reputation of being a som*ewhat eccentric
magistrate, and it was said of him that on one occasion he
drove into the town of Claremorris, and threatened to arrest
his shoemaker under the Coercion Act, because he had not
mended a pair of his old shoes. Bub he was determined to
preserve his own life, and to teach others to do the same, taking
for his text the legal words, ' No punishment or foi-feiture shall
be incurred by any person who shall kill another by misfor-
tune, or in his own defence, or in any other manner without
felony.' In accordance with this principle Major Traill always
went about with a guard of two policemen, one armed with a
Winchester repeating rifle, carrying twelve rounds ready and
fifte^ rounds in reserve; the other provided with a double-
barrelled gun loaded with buckshot, and carrying eight rounds
in reserve. He himself carried a revolver and six extra cart-
ridges, and his groom was similarly armed. ' The man who
attempts my life,' Major Traill wrote in the letter which de-
scribed his precautions, 'and lives to be tried by a jury, is entitled
to their meixiful consideration as a brave man.' Against any
such precautions as these there was nothing to be said. A man
had a perfect right to defend himself thoi'oughly against attempts
at assassination, and to be at all times prepared to make any
would-be assassin pay dearly for his attempt. But the circular
which had been issued with regard to the safety of Major Cliffoi'd
Lloyd was of a wholly different nature.

In the meantime Mr. Parnell had occupied himself in his
prison by drafting a Bill to meet the difficulty of the arrears of
rent under which the tenant farmers were weighed dow-n. This
Bill was sent out of Kilmainham to the Irish Parliamentary
party, and was put into the hands of Mr. Redmond. It pro-
posed to relieve distressed tenants of all arrears of rent up to
the time of the passing of the Land Act, in August 1881, and
to apply the funds of the Irish Church to the payment. This
Bill was brought forward in the House, and was favourably
criticised by the Prime Minister. Ho did not, indeed, accept


the measure as it stood, but he hailed it as an expression of the
(Ipsire of the Irish party to make the Land Act effectual, and
he allowed it to be understood that if the Irish party consented
to withdraw the measure — which, of course, they had not the
slightest chance of passing unassisted — the Government would
see its way to introduce a measure of some similar purport to
deal with the question of arrears. This announcement on the
part of the Government was only the herald to a series of more
surprising concessions. It was on the face of it inconsistent
that the Government should be accepting with approval Irish
schemes of legislation whose authors were at the time in prison.
It soon became rumoured abroad that the Iiish policy of the
Government was about to undei-go a radical change ; that there
were great dissensions in the Cabinet in consequence, and that
strange things might be looked for. The strange things came
to pass.

Undoubtedly the Government were very much embarrassed
by their position. They could not keep some hundreds of
* suspects ' perpetually in pi'ison ; neither could they hold Mr.
Parnell, Mr. Dillon, and Mr. O'Kelly always in Kilmainham.
Private overtui^es of liberation had indeed been made to the three
imprisoned members of Parliament on the part of the executive
on condition of their leaving the country for a time. The offer
was refused, and was renewed in another form. The imprisoned
members wei'e offered liberty if they would even consent to
leave the country for a very short term — if they would only cross
the water to France, free to return when they pleased. The
prisoners steadily refused these offers. They had been un-
fairly imprisoned, they considered, and they would come out
under no compromise. Early in April it suddenly became
known throughout Ireland that Mr. Parnell had been released,
and every village in Leinster, Connaught, and Munster blazed
into bonfires at the news, only to flicker down again when it
became known that the release was merely temporary — a libera-
tion on parole to allow Mr. Parnell to go to Paris for a few days
to attend the funeral of a relative. Mr. Parnell was bound by
the terms of the parole to take no political action of any kind

IRELAND IN 18S2. 193

during his brief period of liberty, and of course the engagement
was strictly observed. There was a faint feeling, half hope, half
fear, among some of the Castle clique in Dublin that Mr. Parnell
would not return to Kilmainham ; but any such feeling was
quieted by Mr. Parnell's return to his prison on April 24. It
was felt pretty generally, however, that this temporary release
was only the herald of final freedom, and this feeling was
confirmed by the reception Mr. Gladstone accorded to the
Irish Arrears Bill, On Monday, May 1, the first definite
sign that something had taken place vras given by Lord
Salisbury in a question, or rather a string of questions, which he
addressed to Lord Granville in the House of Lords. Lord
Salisbury sought some explanation of ' the pj'odigies which have
appeared in the political sky.' In other Vvords, he wished to
know if it was true that the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Earl
Cowper, had resigned ; that Lord Spencer had taken his place ;
and that there was a change of policy indicated by the change
of ofiicers. Lord Granville declined to reply to the questions
till the next day. On May 2, therefore, Lord Salisbury repeated
his questions, and then Lord Granville made his answer. The
answer was full of surprises. Lord Granville announced that
Lord Cowper had resigned — had, in fact, done so some weeks
previously, but had left it to the option of the Prime Minister
when the resignation should take efiect. Lord Spencer was
appointed in his stead. Furthermore — and this was the most
impoi'tant and the most surprising part of the answer — the
Government had made up their minds to liberate the three
imprisoned members, and to examine into the cases of other
suspects. Finally, the Government intended legislation on the
arrears question and on the ' Bright clauses ' of the Land Act.

In the House of Commons the same day Mr. Gladstone made
a similar statement. Seldom in the history of Parliament,
seldom certainly in our own time, has a Ministerial declaration
so important and so unexpected been given from the Treasury
bench. Perhaps the nearest parallel we can find to it is when
Sir Robert Peel announced that his Government had abandoned
the principles of protection, and come round to the views of the

o 2


Anti-Corn Law League. The news was certainly of a nature
calculated to take away the breath of those unprepared for it.
Ever since their accession to power the Government had been
pursuing a certain line of poHcy Avith respect to Ireland. Sud-
denly, after having carried that policy out in the most extreme
manner, the Government changed its front without warning,
and inaugurated a diametrically opposite line of policy. Under
such conditions Mr. Forster's resignation was inevitable. The
Ministeiial change was in effect, though unavowedly, a direct
and severe censure upon his hopeless failure to deal with the
Irish difficulty, and a direct admission on the part of his chief
of the incapacity of the subordinate. Mr. Forster had of
course failed hojielessly. How hopelessly he had failed was
not known then, nor for nearly a year later. We know now
that the result of his extraordinary policy was to increase in-
stead of diminishing agitation and disaffection in Ireland.
While he was proudly boasting that he had all the discon-
tented and the dangerous in prison, safe under lock and key,
the real danger existed unknown to him, striking at his own
life. While he was confident that he had manufactured a peace
upon the method of Agricola, he only escaped from the blows of
assassins, of whose existence he was helplessly ignorant, by a
series of chances Avhich can be called little less than miraculous.
Ireland has had in her time a series of Chief Secretaries of
many kinds and various abilities ; but it may fairly be said that
she never had any one so incapable of attaining even a dim and
shadowy understanding of the conditions of the problem with
which he had to deal as Mr. Forster. It might well be
written of him, in paraphrase of what was once written of
L( rd Eldcn, that it had been given to no human being to do
so much good in Ireland as he had prevented. It has been
happily said that, under the new Government, Ireland had
suffered from three things— famine, the House of Lords, and
the administration of Mr. Forster. Of the three, the last was
the worst, for famine could not be more blind nor the House of
Lords more prejudiced than Mr. Forster. It is easy to under-
stand, it is even easy to pity Mr. Forster's position. He had

IRELAND IN 18S2. 107

gone over to Ireland convinced that the Irish question had been
reserved for him and him alone to settle ; that the hom^ had
brought the man. He believed that he would be received
with joy by a grateful people, that he would return in triumph,
a sort of new and vastly superior Cicero, to tell his country
that there had been an Irish question. When he found that the
difficulties of centuries were not to be removed by a wave of
his hand, he lost his temper and his head. He became hope-
lessly entangled in the meshes of the Castle nets ; he learned
to see only with Castle eyes, and hear only with Castle ears.
The position of Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant is at
all times thankless enough ; to succeed in it is almost an
impossibility ; not to fail altogether i-equires infinite patience,
infinite moderation. Mr. Forster had no patience and no
moderation. When he found that everything would not go at
once as smoothly as he wished, he tried to force it his own wny.
Alexander, unable to disentangle the Gordian knot, and cutting
it with his sword, has remained to all time a satire upon petulant
impatience. But Ireland was not the knot of Gordius, and INIr.
Forster was not Alexander. His methods, alike of I'epression
and conciliation, were clumsy, capricious, almost ludicrous, had
not their effects been so disastrous.

The surprises were not quite over. On May 4 Mr. Cowen
asked Sir William Harcourt if the Government were willing
to order the release of Mr. INIichael Davitt. The Home Secre-
tary answered that the Government had decided to release
Mr. Michael Davitt unconditionally. A little later the same
day Sir Henry Wolff asked a question which was the ominous
herald of many a long and weary wrangle. He wished to know
whether the i^eleases were made in consequence of any assu-
rance received by the Government from the leaders of the Land
League that the 'No-Rent' circular would be withdrawn. In
reference to the long and vexed question which arose out of
this matter, it should be borne in mind that Mr. Gladstone, iu
his statement of May 2, had said that the measures of the
Government had been taken by them upon their own responsi-
bility entirely, ' after gathering all the information which it was


in their power to extract, either through the medium of debate
in this House, or by availing themselves of such communica-
tions as were tendered to them by Irish representatives;' and
was ' an act done Avithout any negotiation, promise, or engage-
ment whatsoever.' Now, in answer to Sir Henry Wolff's ques-
tion, Mr. Gladstone said, * The intentions which are entertained
in regard to the "No-Kent" circvilar, which are important,
form a portion of the subject to which I have already alluded
when I stated that her Majesty's Government had received
information tendered to them which they deemed to be of
great importance, which justified and mainly prompted their
conduct in the matter of the recent releases,' Sir Heni-y "Wolff,
seeiuing to consider the reply unsatisfactory, announced that
lie v.-ould repeat his question in the next week. The moment
he had sat down, Mr. John Dillon, who had just come across
from Ireland, from prison, rose and asked the Prime Minister
if he meant to say that any information had been sent to him
from him (John Dillon) with reference to the 'No-Rent'
manifesto. Mr. Gladstone bad not heard Mr. Dillon's name
used in any information that had been conveyed to him on
the subject. Mr. O'Kelly immediately rose, and repeated ]Mr.
Dillon's question, applying it to himself, and was immediately
followed by Mr, Sexton, who, as another signatory to the ' No-

Online LibraryJustin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthyEngland under Gladstone, 1880-1885 → online text (page 18 of 38)