Justin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthy.

England under Gladstone, 1880-1885 online

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jected in the Commons in the middle of Februaiy. Its fiercest
supj)orters were well aware that the Government majority
would prove faithful, but it served to harass the Ministry well
enough. In Egypt they were most vulnerable, and on Egypt
then the Opposition unceasingly assailed them. Unluckily for
the Government, they never did anything in Egypt until it was
almost too late, until it appeared as if they had only been driven
into it by the clamours of an indignant and patriotic Opposition.
The Opposition were simply making use of Egypt as they would
have used any other weapon which fate offered them wherewith
to wound the party in power-. But the unhappy policy of the
party in power sharpened the weapon that was directed against
themselves. All through the early months of the new ses-
sion the Opposition brought forward Egypt whenever they
could, and demanded incessant explanations of the Government

On Monday, February 11, Mr. Bradlaugh made his re-
appearance. He had consented to wait so long after the
opening of the session in order not to harass the Government
by interference with the progiess of the debate on the Queen's
speech. The junior member for Northampton had every
reason to believe that the interest aroused by his case was in
no way abated. The House was crowded as it only is crowded
on great occasions. INIembers packed themselves into the seats
under the gallery which are not technically within the precincts
of the House. They crouched uncomfortably on the steps of
the gangway. They overflowed into the galleries above. They
thronged about the bar. They grouped themselves behind the
Speaker's chdir. Wherever there was room to sit, squat, or
stand, members huddled together. Natiu'ally enough on an
occasion when every one was anxious to come to the expected
event as soon as possible, the questions occupied a longer time
than usual. There were forty-four questions on the paper, and
these must have been increased at least a third by additional


questions arising o\it of unsatisfactory Ministerial answers.
The two final questions brought up the difficulties in Egypt.
A shower of interrogations were at once hurled from all parts
of the House upon the Prime Minister. Mr. Forster, with the
ill- concealed malice of a defeated statesman, who seizes eagerly
upon every opportunity of injuring his former colleagues, was
anxious to know if the Government were, or were not, going
to leave the garrisons of Sinkat and Tokha to their fate. Mr.
Fovster's cue was promptly taken up by the Opposition, always
delighted to assist Mr. Forsterin damaging the leader of his party.
For a quai'ter of an hour Mr. Gladstone was baited by the Opposi-
tion with questions which he refused to answer respecting the
intentions of the Government with regard to the beleaguered
garrisons. But the final question was put at last. Then Mr.
Bradlaugh, who had been waiting below the bar for some time in
company with Mr. Labouchere and Mr. Burt, advanced solemnly
to the table. While the Speaker rose to his feet and the air
shook with shouts of ' Order,' Mr. Bradlaugh produced a written
document and a gilt-edged Testament, read the oath himself,
kissed the book, and signed his paper. Then, gravely bowing
to the Speaker, Mr. Bradlaugh withdrew to the bar. The
Speaker thereupon, with some hesitation, as if he were not quite
certain how to proceed, or as if the preparation which had un-
doubtedly been made by most parties to that day's business had
been but imperfectly mastered by him, called upon Mr. Brad-
laugh to withdraw while the House considered upon his conduct.
Mr. Bradlaugh immediately retired to the seat below the bar
of the House which he had occupied all through question time.
An awkward pause was interrupted by Sir Staiford Northcote,
who rose and proposed the familiar resolution that Mr. Brad-
laugh be not permitted to go through the form of repeating the
oath. Upon this resolution, which appeared somewhat lame
and ludicrous after Mr. Bradlaugh had, in a measure, taken the
oath, a very acrimonious debate, or rather wrangle, rose. Mr.
Gladstone defended the inaction of the Ministry, and announced
that as the courts decided that a friendly action could not be
brought against Mr. Bradlaugh to determine the legality of his


voting, tlie Government had resolved that they would apply the
test themselves through the law officers of the Crown. Mr.
Labouchere defended Mr. Bradlaugh in a speech which, by its
contemptvtous treatment of the whole question of the oath,
roused the angriest interruption from the Opposition, and a re-
pudiation by Mr. Forster of any sympathy with the opinions of
Mr. Labouchere, though he intended to vote on his side. Many
Irish members rose on points of oi'der to know whether Mr.
Bradlaugh, in seating himself below the bar of the House, had
fully obeyed the Speaker's order to withdraw. The Speaker
ruled that he had. Mr. Sexton proposed an amendment to the
motion, which by its terms would prevent Mr. Bradlaugh from
voting. But as it was shown that Mr. Bradlaugh could vote
on this very amendment, it was withdrawn. The division was
taken, but before the numbers were reported Mr. Healy moved
that Mr. Bradlaugh 's vote be expunged from the records of the
House. Although the Attorney-General pointed out that this
woiild have no bearing on the legal aspect of the case, as the
very fact of the vote being disallowed would show that it had
been given, the Opposition insisted upon dividing, and cai'ried
the. motion by 258 to 161 : majority 97. The numbers for the
original motion were then read, with the correction ordered by
Mr. Healy 's motion. They were 280 for, 167 against Sir
Stafford Northcote's motion : majority 113. Sir Stafford North-
cote then moved a resolution * that the serjeant-at-arms do
exclude Mr. Bradlaugh from the precincts of the House until he
shall engage not further to disturb the proceedings of the House.'
After some further debate the resolution was cax-ried by 228 to
120 : majority 108. Mr. Bradlaugh, having voted once more in
this division, then left the House, driving away amidst the cheers
of the crowd, who had waited oiitside to learn the result of the
business. He immediately applied for the Chiltern Hundreds,
stood again for Northampton, and was re-elected by a larger
majority than before. As soon as the writ was returned to the
House Sir Stafford Northcote moved his usual notice, excluding
Mr. Bradlaugh from the House, which was as usual carried by
a large majority.


As soon as the debate on the address came to an end, a
change took place in the government of the House of Commons.
Sir Henry Brand resigned the Speakership, and his place was
taken by Mr. Arthur Peel. It had been known for some time
that Sir Henry Brand was anxious to abdicate his ofBce. He
was no longer young, and the duties of a Speaker, always
onerous, were made heavier than ever by the new conditions of
Parliamentaiy life and the introduction of the new rules. On
Monday, February 25, Sir Henry Brand said farewell to the
House over which he had presided for twelve years, Mr. Par-
nell, on behalf of his party, explained that they could not
support the vote of thanks, in consequence of the unconstitutional
action of the Speaker on the night of the coup cVetat, but that
they would not press their objection so far as to take a division.
The leader of the House and the leader of the Opposition vied
with each other in tributes to the retiring official. Sir Heniy
Brand acknowledged the vote of thanks in a simple and affecting
speech. In alluding to the protest of the Irish party he ex-
pressed his belief that they were acting from a sense of duty,
and trusted that they believed him to have acted under a similar
impulse in that part of his career which brought him into con-
test with them. He shortly after retired from the Commons,
and went to the Upper House as Lord Hampden.

Mr. Arthur Peel, the new Speakei', succeeded in surprising
the House very agreeably on the day of his nomination. Mr.
Peel was a younger son of Mr. Gladstone's master and Mr.
Disraeli's old enemy. Sir Robert Peel. He had been in the
House nearly twenty years Avhen he was chosen to succeed Sir
Heniy Brand, and during all that period he had spoken so
seldom as to be fairly counted among the most resolute
of the House's silent members. There were many members of
the House who had never heard him speak, who might very
well have doubted whether the son of one of the greatest of
Parliamentary orators had it in his power to make a speech.
To what may fairly be called the unanimous surprise of the
House, however, he made a speech on the acceptation of his new
dignity, which, without exaggeration, might well be counted


as one of the most remarkable that had been delivered in St.
Stephen's in the present Parliament. In firm, dignified, ex-
pressive, really eloquent words the hitherto silent member
expressed to a bewildered and delighted House his conception
of the duties of a Speaker, and his own earnest aspu'ations in
some measure to fulfil them. Croesus saved from the pyre by
the miracle-stirred voice of the dumb child could hardly have been
more amazed than the majority of the House of Commons were
on that evening late in February when they discovered for the
first time that the man who seemed as silent as Athelstane was
almost a Windham, and that they had made the discovery just
as he was assuming an office which would practically render it
impossible for him to make any further use of his unexpectedly
displayed ability.

At half-past six on Thursday, February 28, 1884, Mr. Glad-
stone rose to introduce the new Reform Bill. The Bill, IMr.
Gladstone explained, might be regarded under any one, and
indeed under all of three distinct and several aspects. In the
first place, it was the redemption of a pledge long made by the
Liberal paii;y that they regarded Parliamentary reform as a vital
part of the mission of the present Parliament. In the second
place, it was intended to satisfy the general desii-e of the country
for the extension of the franchise. In the third place, and
above all, it was a proposal to add strength to the State, ' I
take my stand,' said Mr. Gladstone, on the broad principle
that the enfranchisement of capable citizens, be they few or be
they many — and if they be many, so much the better — gives an
addition of strength to the State.' The Bill thus introduced
was as simple and straightforward a measure as any measui'e
dealing with a highly complicated franchise system, which it
did not completely alter, could possibly be. Mr. Gladstone did
not propose to 'reform it altogether.' He had no desire to
abolish the old existing systems ; and speaking roughly, the new
Reform Bill left them undisturbed. Only roughly speaking, for
in certain special instances modifications wer-e introduced by the
new measure into the principles of existing franchises. But in
general, rather than in particular language, the Prime Minister's


Bill introduced a variety of new franchises, and left the old ones
unchanged. The existing borough franchise — leaving certain
ancient rights which the Bill did not touch out of the question
— was of three kinds. These were, first, the ten-pound occupa-
tion franchise established by the Reform Act of 1 832. Secondly,
the household franchise, created by the Eeform Bill of 1867.
Thirdly, the lodger franchise. The household franchise and the
lodger franchise in boroughs remained practically unaltered. The
ten pounds clear yearly franchise was extended to the occupation
of land without buildings.

One of the main features of the new measure was the intro-
duction into the borough franchise of a right of voting which
Mr. Gladstone christened * Service Franchise.' This franchise
conferred a vote upon persons who, under certain conditions,
occupy premises without being either the owners or the tenants
of them. This franchise, said Mr. Gladstone, was a far-reaching
franchise. It included on the one hand men of high class,
inhabiting valuable houses as the officers of great institutions,
and on the other hand men of humble class, servants of gentry,
servants of farmers or other employers of labour, who, without
being themselves tenants, fully fulfilled the ideal of responsible
inhabitants of houses. In the counties the existing franchise
was also of three kinds. There was the fifty-pound rental
franchise, created by the Chandos clause of the Reform Bill of
1832. There was the twelve-pound occupation franchise of
the Reform Bill of 1867. There was the property franchise,
including freehold, copyhold, and leasehold. The fifty-pound
franchise was to be abolished, as any one with that holding
v/ould obtain the franchise in other ways. The rating franchise
was to be reduced from twelve pounds rateable value to ten
pounds clear yearly value. All the borough franchises, house-
hold, lodger, and ' service,' were to be ' imported ' into the
counties. The property franchise remained untouched. Pre-
cautions were taken in oi'der to prevent the multipHcation of
fictitious votes. ' There are fagots and fagots,' says the
Avoodcutter in Moliere's famous comedy. ' There are places,'
said Mr. Gladstone, * where one of the staple manufactui-ers was


a manufacturer of fagot votes.' ' I have in my possession,' said
the Prime Ministei-, amidst the laughter of the House, * a
photograph of an hereditament, a certain structure not very
imposing in itself, occvipied by a single person and conferring
one occupation franchise, but held by forty-five owners, every
one of whom stands on the register in virtue of his forty-fifth
part of this building which qualifies only a single occupier.'
Re -distribution was not touched upon iu the present Bill. That
question Mr. Gladstone proposed to deal with in another measure
at another time.

One of the most important passages in INIr. Gladstone's
speech was that in which he assured the House and the country
that it was a vital and essential part of the measure that Eng-
land, Ireland, and Scotland should be treated on a principle of
absolute equality. In words of special and earnest emphasis,
Mr. Gladstone announced that nothing would induce the
Government to depart from its determination to keep their
measure complete in area. ' All the three countries have a case
for enfranchisement arising out of the insufiiciency of the present
constituencies as com^iared with what they might be ; but of
the three the strongest is that of Ireland.' The Government
had taken up their position with regard to Ireland, and would
not recede from it. They would make no compromise, attempt
no half- measures. ' I could bear no part in the responsibility of
passing, perhaps, a Refoi-m Bill for England and for Scotland, and
then leaving a Reform Bill for Ireland to take its chance.' These
words were addressed to the House of Commons, but they were
levelled at the House of Lords. The Prime Minister made it
clear to the Upper Chamber that the Government had taken its
stand on the inclusion of Ireland in the new measure, and that
they were prepai-ed to champion that principle to the uttermost.
At the conclusion of his speech Mr. Gladstone turned to the
crowded Liberal benches. In words unusually powerful and
eloquent even for him, he asked them to put to themselves the
question whether the Bill as a whole was worth having ; and if
it was worth having, to ignore all minor differences in the one
great and united purpose of bringing it to success. ' What we


Want to carry the Bill is union, and union only. What will
defeat it is disunion, and disunion only.' The cheers that rose
from the Liberal party as Mr. Gladstone concluded were a suffi-
cient answer as to the union in their ranks; while the unwonted
sight of spectators in the gallery joining in the applause that is
only the privilege of members, seemed to answer for the unity of
the vast majority outside the House.

The Egyptian difficulty and the necessity for obtaining
Supply prevented the second reading from being moved until
Monday, March 24. Mr. Gladstone was not able to attend the
Hovise in order to move the second reading. He had been
absent from the House for some days, sufFei-ing from a violent
cold, which he had caught one evening when leaving a reception
at Lady Hayter's house. The cold proved more serious than
had been expected ; the Prime Minister lost his voice for a time
completely, so that even conversation had to be forbidden ; a
term of absolute rest was insisted upon by the doctors, and even
Cabinet Councils had to be held without his presence. Of course
the wildest rumours flew abroad. It was confidently asserted by
members of the Opposition and by the organs of the Opposition
that sickness of body was a mere pretence, and that sickness of
heart and soul was the real cause of the Prime Minister's
absence from his duties, A nger and mortification at the failure
of his purposes and the thwarting of his plans were the reasons
for his retirement alleged by one section ; despair at the turn
things had taken in Egypt, and at having to yield to his col-
leagues in sanctioning the war in the Soudan, were the reasons
adduced by others : there were not even wanting some to hint
that the causes of his absence were of the same natui^e as those
which, according to rumour, caused for a time the retirement of
Chatham and, in later days, of Lord Brougham for a season
from public life.

In the absence of the Prime Minister it fell to Lord Hart-
ington to move the second reading, which he did in silence,
simply raising his hat when the measure was called from the
chair. Lord John Manners immediately moved an amendment,
declaring that the House refused to proceed fui'ther with a



measure 'having for its object the addition of two million
voters to the electoral body of the United Kingdom,' until it
had before it the entire Ministerial scheme, re-distribution and
all. Loi'd John Manners' speech was almost entirely founded
upon a speech made by Lord Derby when he was Lord Stanley
and a Conservative, against the Reform Bill of 1866. Lord
John IManners was replied to by Mr. Bright. Mr. Bright had
not spoken very often in the new Parliament, and even when
he had his speeches were not of a kind to give those who had
not heard him of old any idea of the marvellous eloquence
which had once made him famous. His reply to Lord John
IManncrs in this instance was not at first very promising. He
seemed but the shadow of his former self; his words came
slowly ; his thoughts seemed vague and colourless. He warmed
up, however, when he came to that part of the new measure
which treated of Ireland. At one time Mr. Bright had been
looked upon in Ireland as the especial champion of the griev-
ances of the Irish people. He had lost that character of late ;
his action on Coercion had made him extremely unpopular ; now
once more for the moment he was resuming his old j^art. Mr.
Bright eloquently protested against any principle of re-distri-
bution which should materially alter the proportion of seats in
Ireland. The Act of Union specially provided that Ireland
should be allowed 100 members, at a time when the population
was, roughly speaking, much the same as it is at the present
time, when she is represented by 103 members. Mr. Bright
earnestly protested against any interference with the Act of
Union to Ireland's injury. It had, indeed, been interfered with
when the disestablishment of the Church took place, but the
principle which governed the one interference did not apply to
the other. Mr. Bright went on to show that as the Act of
Union was forced by a strong upon a weak country, the strong
country had a right to relax any hard condition, but had no
right to abolish a condition specially introduced in the interests
of the weaker nation.

Perhaps the most important of all the speeches on the Bill
was that of jMr. Chambei-lain, on Thursday, March 27. Ever


since the new Ministry had entered into office Mr. Chamber-
lain had been steadily growing in power in the country. It
had seemed something of a daring step to include Mr. Chamber-
lain in the Cabinet when it was first formed ; now it was obvious
that any Liberal Cabinet which not merely did not include Mr.
Chamberlain, but did not fully recognise his great importance
and authority, would be an absurdity. Mr. Henry George, in
one of his speeches, had said that if the English republic came
soon Mr. Chamberlain would be its first President; and the
remark showed acute political insight. Mr. Chamberlain was
as much the representative of the Eadical as Mr, Gladstone
was of the Liberal party; and the Eadical party are clearly
destined to be the ruling force in English politics. Perhaps
one of the greatest tributes to Mr, Chamberlaiu's success and
to his influence is paid him by the unconcealed dislike that the
"Whigs and the so-called Liberals cherish against him. One
morning the political world was surprised and amused by a
curious expression of this dislike. Mr. Marriott, the member
for Brighton, had rushed into print in a pamphlet form, after
the fashion of eighteenth -century politicians, to vilipend and
denounce Mr, Chamberlain, The pamphlet, as a mode of
political warfare, is almost as antiquated as the Brown Besses
of Eamillies and Blenheim ; but Mr, Mai-riott's pamj)hlet had
almost as much success as 'The White Stafi^,' or some un-
usually bitter number of the Craftsman. It assailed Mr,
Chamberlain with unmitigated and it must be added vmmean-
ing abuse. The world was told a great deal about the orchids
which Mr. Chamberlain chooses to wear in his button-hole, and
it was held up as a terrible example of the inconsistency of
politicians that a Eadical should have a liking for flowers.
Shortly after this eccentric display of piivate and political pique
Mr. Marriott went over to the Conservative party, to whom he
by right belonged, resigned his seat, stood again, and was suc-
cessfully re-elected. There wns nothing at all wonderful in the
re-election. Brighton never was a town of advanced political
ideas. It was generally Liberal, as Lady Tippins's husband
was knighted, by mistake. No one ever looked upon Brighton


as a strongliolcl of Liberal opinion, a sort of Birmingliam Baite ;
and when the electors of Brighton exj)ressed their hostility to
the Radical party by returning Mr. jNIarriott, nobody was or
ought to have been in the least surprised. Yet if the Brighton
election had heralded the fall of the Ministry, the Conservative
party could not have displayed a noisier delight.

The point of Mr. Chamberlain's speech on the second reading
of the Franchise Bill was a comparison between the position of
the country in 1867 and the position of the country now. ' The
old order has given place to the new.' That was the text of
Mr. Chamberlain's homily; those were Mr, Chamberlain's
words. With remarkable force and power Mr. Chamberlain
put forward the case of the agricultural labourer, in the face of
the most persistent inteiTuption on the part of the Opposition.
' They have been robbed of their lauds ; they have been robbed
of their rights in the commons ; they have been robbed of their
open spaces. . . . The agricultural labourers are still being
robbed. You cannot go into a single country lane in which
you won't find that the landowners on each side have enclosed,
or are enclosing, land which for centuries belonged to the
people.' Mr. Chamberlain went on to speak of the abuse of
endowments for the poor. * I am not,' he said, ' bringing any
charge against any party in this House with regard either to
the robbery of land or the robbery of endowments. I take
shame to the Liberal party quite as much as to the Conservative
pai-ty. What I argue is that these wrongs would never have
been committed if the agricultural labourers could have spoken
for themselves in this House.' With regard to the inclusion of
Ireland, Mr. Chamberlain replied to Lord John Manners'
statement that the Bill would make Mr. Parnell the grand
elector for four-fifths of Ireland, and declared that that rather
happily described Mr. Parnell's present position, * I am not by
any means certain that this BUI will make any change in his
great influence ; but whether it does or not, unless this House
is prepared to abandon all idea of constitutional treatment of

Online LibraryJustin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthyEngland under Gladstone, 1880-1885 → online text (page 31 of 38)