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Chapter XXVII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 4


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Several measures introduced by the Government in the course of the session met with a similar fate to that which befell the Education Bill. One really useful Act was passed - that for enabling the State to treat with the various electric telegraph companies for the purchase of their lines, in order that the whole telegraphic communication of the country might be placed under the control of the Postmaster General. The adjustment of the various interests involved was a work of great labour and patience; it was, however, accomplished, and the telegraph companies agreed to accept twenty years' purchase of the net profits of their undertakings. It was calculated that the Government would require about £6,000,000 in order to carry the scheme into full effect, the greater part of which sum would be borrowed from the Savings Banks Fund; but the financial part of the arrangement was reserved for the next Parliament. Mr. Scudamore, the originator of the scheme, calculated that the Post Office would derive a net profit of £200,000 a year from taking the telegraph lines into its own hands; and this estimate has since been fully realised.

The home policy of the Tory Government, checked and foiled as it was at every turn, by the fact of its supporters being a minority in the House of Commons, cannot be deemed, however brilliant it may have been in inception, to have been more than moderately successful in what it achieved. With foreign affairs it was otherwise. Lord Stanley presided over the Foreign Office, and watched over the relations of the country with foreign Powers with a firmness and dignity which recalled English statesmen of the old school. Of his conduct in the Luxemburg business we have already spoken; of his management of the Alabama question we shall have hereafter to speak. Making a reasonable deduction for partisanship, we may admit that there was much truth in the lofty language used by the Prime Minister with regard to the foreign policy of his Government, in a speech delivered at a banquet in Merchant Taylors' Hall, on the 17th June. "When we acceded to office," he said, "the name of England was a name of suspicion and distrust in every foreign Court and Cabinet. There was no possibility of that cordial action with any of the great Powers which is the only security for peace; and, in consequence of that want of cordiality, wars were frequently occurring. But since we entered upon office, and public affairs were administered by my noble friend, who is deprived by a special diplomatic duty of the gratification of being here this evening, I say that all this has changed; that there never existed between England and foreign Powers a feeling of greater cordiality and confidence than now prevails; that while we have shrunk from bustling and arrogant intermeddling, we have never taken refuge in selfish isolation; and the result has been that there never was a Government in the country which has been more frequently appealed to for its friendly offices than the one which now exists."

A short Act - the Registration of Voters Act - was passed before Parliament separated, in order to facilitate early elections under the Reform Bill of 1867; and the session came to a close on the 31st July. The gratifying facts were announced in the Queen's speech, that no person was at that time detained under the provisions of the Act for the suspension of Habeas Corpus, and that no prisoner was awaiting trial in Ireland for an offence connected with the Fenian conspiracy.

After the prorogation of Parliament, the Ministry lost no time in making the necessary preparations for a dissolution and general election. The registers of the enlarged constituencies were actively proceeded with, and so far completed that it was found possible to dissolve the Parliament on the 11th November, and to summon a new one, to be elected under the Reform Act of 1867, for the 10th December. The great public question at issue was the existence of the Irish Establishment; and, on a general view, the verdict of the constituencies was given in favour of Mr. Gladstone's proposals, and disappointed the sanguine anticipations of Mr. Disraeli. There was a gain to the Liberal party, as the net result of the elections, of fifteen seats, equal to thirty votes on a division. But their triumph was chequered by several minor reverses, among which the rejection of Mr. Gladstone for South Lancashire was the most remarkable. Every resource which unflagging industry, careful organisation, and incessant oratory could put in requisition was resorted to, in order to secure the return of the Liberal leader; but all efforts were in vain; the Conservative candidates - Messrs. Cross and Turner - were returned at the head of the poll, Mr. Gladstone having two hundred and sixty fewer votes than Mr. Turner, who was about fifty below Mr. Cross. There were two principal causes accounting for this result; one the extreme unpopularity of the Irish in South Lancashire, owing to the increased turbulence, drunkenness, and pauperism which their presence in large numbers occasions; and also, no doubt, to the fact that their competition beats down wages; the other, the influence of the house of Stanley and other great Conservative families in that part of the country. Mr. Gladstone had to console himself with the suffrages of Greenwich, which had generously elected him while the issue in South Lancashire was still undecided. In other parts of Lancashire, the same feeling of soreness against the proposal to disestablish the Irish Church, because it seemed to involve a triumph for the locally unpopular Irish Catholics, produced a similar result. This great and representative county, taking boroughs and shire-divisions together, returned twenty- one Conservatives against eleven Liberals. On the other hand, the Scotch electors accepted Mr. Gladstone's proposal with extraordinary favour. Not only did the Scottish boroughs return Liberals without exception, but many counties, which had returned Conservative members for years, were on this occasion carried for Liberals. Of the whole number of members who came up from Scotland, only seven were Conservatives. In Ireland also there was a Liberal gain, though one of less magnitude. At the election for Westminster - to the deep regret of all who could appreciate the profound political insight and philosophical treatment of great questions which were thus lost to the House of Commons - Mr. John Stuart Mill was defeated by the Conservative candidate, Mr. William H. Smith.

By the beginning of December it was abundantly evident that Mr. Gladstone would be supported in the new House of Commons by a considerably larger following than before. Mr. Disraeli thereupon took a bold and a judicious resolution. He would not go through the forms of meeting Parliament as if he were the master of the situation - of advising a royal speech which must either omit all mention of the Irish Church, or mention it in a tone at variance with the sentiments of the great majority of the House - of renewing or seeing renewed a debate which he knew could only end one way. He resolved, therefore, to resign office before Parliament met, and this resolution he communicated to his friends and supporters by a circular dated the 2nd December. This document, expressed in well-chosen and dignified terms, informed his friends that when the Government had been placed in a minority in the spring on the question of disestablishing the Church in Ireland, they had to consider that the policy proposed had never been submitted to the country, and they believed that the country would not sanction it. But to make an appeal to the "obsolete constituency" would have been absurd; n« course therefore remained open to them but to hasten aa much as possible the formal details which must be disposed of before a new Parliament could be elected under the late Reform Bill, and then to make the appeal. Although the general election had elicited, in the decision of numerous and vast constituencies, an expression of feeling which had gone far to justify their anticipations, it was nevertheless clear that the Ministry could not expect to command the confidence of the newly-elected House of Commons. Under these circumstances, the Ministry felt it due to their own honour, and to the policy they supported, not to retain office unnecessarily for a single day; but rather at once to tender the resignation of their offices to Her Majesty than to wait for the assembling of a Parliament in which, as matters stood, they were sensible that they must be in a minority.

Mr. Disraeli and his colleagues accordingly resigned, and the Queen, of course, sent for Mr. Gladstone, as the recognised leader of the party, and the ablest exponent of the policy, of which the majority of the constituencies had just recorded their emphatic approval. Mr. Gladstone became First Lord of the Treasury, and the principal offices were thus filled up: - Lord Chancellor, Lord Hatherley (late Sir W. Page Wood); President of the Council, Lord de Grey and Ripon; Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Lowe; Home Secretary, Mr. Bruce; Foreign Secretary, Earl of Clarendon; Colonial Secretary, Earl Granville; Secretary for War, Mr. Cardwell; Secretary for Ireland, Mr. Chichester Fortescue; Secretary for India, Duke of Argyll; First Lord of the Admiralty, Mr. Childers; President of the Board of Trade, Mr. Bright; Chairman of the Poor Law Board, Mr. Göschen; Vice-President of the Council, Mr. W. E. Hörster. The new ministers, having necessarily vacated their seats on taking office, were not present at the meeting of Parliament on the 10th December, and the only proceedings then taken were of a formal character, including the re-election, of Mr. Evelyn Denison as Speaker, and the swearing-in of the new members, who were more than 200 in number. Parliament was then adjourned to the 29th December, at which date, the re-election of the new ministers having been in no instance opposed, the House re-assembled, with ministers all in their places, but only to be again immediately adjourned to the 16th February, 1869.

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Pictures for Chapter XXVII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 4

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