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Chapter XXXI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 3


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A fresh attempt was made this year, and was very nearly succeeding, to obtain legislative sanction for the creation of life peerages by the Crown. The subject had slept since the celebrated resolution of the House of Lords in the case of Lord Wensleydale, to the effect that he, having been created a peer for the term of his natural life only, was not entitled to sit and vote in that House. Lord Wensleydale's patent of creation was then altered into the usual form, and everything remained as before. Now the subject was revived by Lord Russell, and the bill which he introduced was at first received with much favour on both sides of the House. The Crown was to be authorised to create peers for life, subject to certain restrictions, the chief of which were, that not more than twenty-eight such peers should sit in the House at the same time, and that not more than four should ever be created in the same year. The bill made slow but sure progress; it was read a second time; its mover showed an open and conciliatory spirit in reference to various amendments that were proposed, and accepted one, limiting the creation of life peers to two in one year; and even the ordeal of committee was safely passed. The last stage was at hand; but when (July 8) Earl Russell moved that the bill be read a third time, Lord Malmesbury moved, as an amendment, to add the words, " that day three months." The noble lord ably paraded the reasons which made it, in his opinion, unnecessary and undesirable to admit life peers to the enjoyment of the privileges of the Upper House. Unnecessary - be cause that House did not, as was asserted, require to be " popularised," since it possessed, besides great land owners, numerous representatives of the great commercial, manufacturing, mining, and banking interests of the country, and also many distinguished officers of the army and navy, besides fifty peers, at the very least, who had formerly sat in the House of Commons, so that there could be no pretence that on any subject on which they were called upon to deliberate with a view to legislation, numbers of persons would not be found in that House possessed of every qualification for offering an opinion which experience, ability, and personal interest could supply. Undesirable - because those who held these transitory dignities would not be really the " peers " of the older members of the House, - because they would be destitute of that which was the very essence of nobility, the power to transmit their rank and privileges to their descendants, - and because, since those whom the House would gladly see added to its numbers would decline to accept so equivocal a position, the life peers whom the influence of a Ministry might cause to be created would probably be such persons as the House would not deem a desirable accession, and 'would therefore, instead of adding to, impair the lustre of that august assembly, and weaken its influence in the country. This unexpected attack was feebly met by Earls Russell and Granville, and on a division Lord Malmesbury's motion was carried by a majority of thirty (Contents, 76; Not-contents, 106), and the bill was consequently lost.

This year was one of considerable suffering to large masses of the population, as the increase of pauperism too plainly showed. Trade was in a state of stagnation, but partially revived towards the close of the year, and gave indications of a more prosperous future. Although Fenianism had been so far suppressed in Ireland that the Government ventured to allow the Act for the suspension of Habeas Corpus to expire, the temper of disaffection was as widely spread as ever, and now took the form of an agitation to obtain the release of the Fenian prisoners. The same revolutionary spirit, though under strangely different forms, which caused sympathy to be widely felt in Italy for the conspirators who blew up the Serristori barracks, filled thousands of Irish hearts with a wild desire to obtain the liberation of the heroes of Clerkenwell. Agrarian discontent also was rife, and several agrarian murders were committed in the latter part of the year. Some of the Fenian convicts who were less deeply implicated than the rest, were released by the Government; but so far was this lenity from having any good effect, that the first use which the liberated prisoners made of their freedom was to proclaim their unabated hostility to the British Government, and, so far as in them lay, before taking their departure for America, to stimulate the minds of their countrymen whom they left behind with exhortations to undying animosity. There was an election for the County Tipperary in the autumn, with the following result: - O'Donovan Rossa, a Fenian, who was at the time in prison, was returned at the head of the poll, beating Mr. Heron, a distinguished Queen's Counsel and a Roman Catholic, by 103 votes. As a matter of course, the election was declared null and void, and the returning officer required to make a fresh return.

In October, 1869, a noble and commanding figure, which had occupied for many years a prominent place in the eyes and thoughts of Englishmen, disappeared from the scene. Edward Geoffrey Stanley, fourteenth Earl of Derby, was sprung from one of the oldest and most renowned of English families. His ancestor came over with the Conqueror; in the fifteenth century his house intermarried with the royal line, through the union of Lord Stanley to Margaret, mother of Henry TIL; in the seventeenth century the seventh Lord Derby lost his head for his fidelity to Charles I. The Stanleys, how ever, of the age of James II. took a "Whig turn, and were strenuous supporters of William of Orange; and since then, down to our own time, they have always been reckoned as one of the great Whig families. Born in 1799, and educated in the proper aristocratic fashion at Eton and Christ Church, Mr. Stanley entered Parliament as member for Stockbridge in 1824. He had grown up to manhood amidst the agitations and the glories of the contest which England waged against Napoleon at the beginning of the century, and he retained to the last, and exhibited on many a momentous occasion, the chivalrous temper of a warlike age. His first speech, made not till after he had sat two years in the House, was upon the Manchester Gas Bill, and the clearness and decision with which he spoke, based as they were on a perfect and laborious mastering of the details of the measure, drew forth the admiration of the veteran Mackintosh. In 1826 there was a general election, and Mr. Stanley resolved to stand for Preston. A large part of this ancient and illustrious borough belonged to his family, which at that time kept up and occasionally resided in an ancestral mansion, named Patton House, in one of the principal streets. William Cobbett, the author of the "Weekly Register," was his opponent; and the bitter tongue of that uncompromising democrat, during the fifteen days for which the poll was kept open, was unsparing in denunciations of the pride, arrogance, bloated wealth, and despotic temper of the House of Stanley. With a cheerful, head long impetuosity which characterised the man, and delighted, though it sometimes alarmed, his friends, Mr. Stanley flung himself into the contest, and met taunt with gibe, and invective with satire and scorn, until he exasperated Cobbett and his partisans to the last extremity. Free fighting began in the streets, and might have ended seriously for the friends of Mr. Stanley, since the mob were all on the side of Cobbett; but a signal flag, raised on the high church tower, brought in a party of dragoons from Kirkham, just in time to prevent blood shed. The result of the election was that Stanley was returned for Preston by a large majority. Faithful to the Whig politics of his family, he actively supported in Parliament the party of Reform; and when Lord Grey came into power at the end of 1830, that able and discerning statesman enlisted in the ranks of the Whig Government the energetic young heir of Knowsley, in the post of Chief Secretary for Ireland. But now an unexpected and disagreeable incident occurred. Going down to Preston to offer himself for re-election, since he had, of course, vacated his seat by taking office, he found himself opposed by Henry Hunt, the well-known demagogue, whose name was then famous in connection with the " Peterloo massacre." Hunt was a blacking manufacturer, and he solicited the votes of the Preston constituency on the platform of thorough-going Radicalism. The friends of the sitting member were little apprehensive for the result, for Hunt had contested the seat in the previous spring, and had been ignominiously beaten. But since then the revolution of the Three Days had broken out in Paris, the hearts of the toiling millions were thrilled with resentment and agitated by a new-born hope, and the scent of organic change was on the wind. At Preston, by an ancient franchise, every resident house holder had a vote, so that there was something very near to universal suffrage. At the close of the first day's polling Mr. Stanley's committee were astounded to find that Hunt was ahead by a large majority. And though this majority was afterwards reduced, all the efforts of the Whigs could not prevent the triumph of Hunt, who was greatly aided by the partial proceedings of the Mayor of Preston, a violent Tory. The election might easily have been petitioned against, for it was proved that hundreds of non-residents voted for Hunt, and in one case it was ascertained that a man from Blackburn had voted for Hunt thirteen times. But the pride of the Stanleys was too deeply hurt to permit of their resorting to so commonplace a form of redress as an election petition. Preston had made its choice, and Preston should abide by it, and take the consequences. The great old family mansion was shut up, the staff of servants withdrawn, the Preston races were no longer supported by a subscription from Knowsley, nor honoured by the presence of its inmates, and in all possible ways the family broke off all connection with the town. Meantime Mr. Stanley, through the retirement of Sir Hussey Vivian, had been provided with a seat at the royal borough of Windsor.

In the Reform debates of 1831 and 1832 Stanley's intrepidity, energy, and fluency were of the greatest service to the government of Lord Grey. In one of his speeches he replied very forcibly to the charge that the measure was " revolutionary." He was not likely him self, he said, to consent to any such measure, nor was his noble friend at the head of the Government. " Look around," he continued, " at the other members of His Majesty's Government, and at those who have come forward to support them on this occasion; are they men of no fortune, mere adventurers, who would have everything to gain and nothing to lose by a revolution? Or are they not men who have large stakes in the country, and whose individual interests are bound up with the permanent peace and security of the State? What, then, could they gain by the chance medley of a revolution?" No sooner was the labour of carrying the Reform Bill disposed of, than Stanley applied himself, with all the energy and acuteness of which he was master, to the task of elaborating a great scheme of National Education for Ireland. This measure he succeeded in carrying through Parliament in 1832. Under it the National Board was established in Dublin, and commenced its beneficent operations; and although the ardent hope, that fusion of denominations and oblivion of religious differences would result from its labours, has not been realised, the Board still exists; it can point to a land covered with school-houses, and can declare with just pride that the Irish, in spite of a thousand obstacles, have been made by this system an instructed people. To the praise of this, the noblest of all triumphs, Mr. Stanley, more than any other statesman or philanthropist, was entitled.

But the state of Ireland at this time was such as to cause terrible embarrassment to any Government, how ever strong and well-intentioned it might be. Agrarian murders and tithe outrages were being perpetrated in every part of the country, and collisions between the hostile factions of Orangeman and Romanist were of almost daily occurrence. Mr. Stanley was compelled to frame and bring in the Irish Coercion Bill. But both lie and Lord Grey were resolved that, while this necessary measure of repression was temporarily resorted to, attempts should be made, pari passu, to grapple with the chronic evils of Ireland. The cumbrous organisation and enormous wealth of an Established Church, from whose doctrines the great majority of the population dissented, were a continual provocation, a continual source of danger and scandal, and Mr. Stanley brought in a bill calculated to diminish the scandal and avert the danger. This was the Irish Church Temporalities Bill, by which two arch bishoprics and ten bishoprics in the Irish Church were suppressed. In carrying the Coercion Bill through the House, Stanley had to encounter the fierce opposition of O'Connell, who was accustomed to speak at this time of the party in power as the " base, brutal, and bloody Whigs," and had attached to the Irish Secretary the soubriquet of Scorpion Stanley. But the pluck and pride of the young English patrician shrank not from the contest; he never let a speech of O'Connell's go unanswered, and the great agitator used to say that he had no opponent of whose eloquence and powers of satire he stood in so much dread. Both the Coercion Bill and the Church Temporalities Bill became law. And now Mr. Stanley was brought over to England and made Secretary of State for the Colonies, for there was a question of bringing in a working measure to effect the emancipation of the slaves in the West Indies. The industry and rapid practical insight which had stood him in good stead in his former legislative achievements, now enabled him to frame a measure which satisfactorily adjusted the details of the compensation to be awarded to the planters, and abolished - we may hope, for ever - within the British empire, the slavery of man to man. Mr. Wilberforce just lingered on to see this day; the last public intelligence imparted to him was the success of Mr. Stanley's bill in the House of Commons (July, 1833). "Thank God!" said he, " that I should have lived to witness a day in which England is willing to pay twenty millions sterling for the Abolition of Slavery."

There is a letter to Lord Grey, in Lord Brougham's "Memoirs " (vol. iii., p. 266), in which the writer, Lord Brougham himself, draws an amusing picture of the state of things on the Treasury Bench of the House of Commons in this session of 1833. He is complaining of the silence of Cabinet Ministers under the frequent attacks that were made on the Government. As to Lord Althorp, no one indeed could deny that he fulfilled ably and conscientiously all that duty required of him; but he had no zeal in the cause of his party; he was so sincerely religious that he thought nothing mattered very much here below. Then there was Grant (after wards Lord Glenelg), who seemed as if glued to the bench by mere laziness and inertia. Sir James Graham, again, with all his gifts of mind and person, was agitated by so many fanciful apprehensions, or else filled with such a disdain of the Opposition speakers, that he let them say anything they pleased. Thus, from Althorp's indifference, Grant's indolence, and Graham's alarms, the government was left entirely to Stanley and Spring Rice. "The former," Brougham continues, " is a host in himself." In other passages, both in Brougham's own letters, and in those which he prints from Lord Grey, strong incidental testimony is borne to Stanley's weight and worth as a politician. Yet in the short character which he gives of him, a less favourable opinion is expressed. He says that he " required much cheering and backing, and never could fight an up-hill battle." This is hardly consistent with what Brougham himself says, as to the value of Stanley's services to the Government, in the letter from which we have already quoted. Nor is it easy to conceive how a man incapable of " fighting an up-hill battle " could have carried through the House two measures so fiercely assailed, so searchingly criticised by men of the highest ability, as were the Irish Coercion Bill and the Church Temporalities Bill. Brougham also says that in debate Stanley " stuck at nothing in order to snatch an advantage;" that " with the gravest face he would invent what he assumed his adversary to have said, but what he notoriously never did say." That there may have been in him some inaccuracy of mind, and that this, joined to his natural impetuosity, may have sometimes led to precipitancy of assertion, is quite possible; but Lord Brougham's words leave the impression of something much beyond this, and far more disagreeable - something which we find it impossible to reconcile with the un questioned honour and manly straightforwardness which those who knew him best recognised in him most ardently.

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