OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Great Britain and Ireland. page 2

Pages: 1 <2> 3

The reform of the judicial system is another matter due to legislation in the 19th century. In 1801 there were more than 200 capital offences on the statute-book, these, however, being in practice reduced to about 25. A complete change of the barbarous system of punishments came through the efforts of Jeremy Bentham, the great jurist and philosopher, James Mill, Sir Samuel Romilly, Sir James Mackintosh, and Sir Robert Peel. Between 1823 and 1830 Mackintosh and Peel, in the House of Commons, procured the passing of Acts which abolished capital punishment in most cases, and in 1837 the same legislation was applied to the offence of forgery. In 1861 only four crimes remained subject to death as a punishment - murder, treason, piracy with violence, and the wilful firing of arsenals or dockyards. The treatment of prisoners of all classes has been greatly improved, both in regard to humanity and to reforming and deterrent effect, and the proportion of criminals to population has very largely decreased, especially in the juvenile class. This result is mainly due to the establishment, in 1870 and 1872, for England and Wales, and for Scotland, of a thorough national system of elementary schools. This great work is mainly carried on by Board Schools and in voluntary schools controlled by the clergy or by Nonconformist ministers and laymen. Recent legislation has established compulsory attendance, with freedom, in most cases, from payment of school-fees. We can here only allude to a wide subject in the philanthropic legislation specially connected with the honoured name of "the good Lord Shaftesbury." To him and to men of like benevolence is due the legislation protecting workers in factories and mines from the cruelty and other evils due to ignorance, carelessness, and human greed. Philanthropic effort in every direction is one of the chief glories of Great Britain in the Victorian age, the names of Peabody and Plimsoll, Andrew Reed and Barnardo, Benjamin Waugh and Burdett-Coutts, George Muller and Samuel Morley, being among those most worthy of honour in this matter. We must close our notice of a few of the countless changes in a great age of progress by noting the abolition of flogging in the army and navy; the legislation protecting women in regard to property; the freedom of voting secured by the Ballot Act; the stern action taken against electoral corruption; and the freedom of trade obtained in legislation which repealed the Corn-laws and gave the people cheap bread, which swept away the Navigation Acts and threw open our ports to foreign vessels, which removed the duties from the raw materials of manufactures and from almost all articles of food, and thus added inconceivably to the comfort and prosperity of the nation.

Among the miscellaneous events of the period we note the Great Exhibitions of the Works of Art and Industry of All Nations held in 1851 and 1862, and the very important Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886, which had a great effect in drawing the attention of the British public to our vast empire existing in other quarters of the world. That interesting, beautiful, and instructive display of productions of the Queen's dominions outside Europe first aroused the dwellers in the British Isles to something like a due sense of the reality and greatness of the empire of which, in territorial area, these islands form only an eightieth part. They began to see that the colonies were worth retaining in the bonds of mutual self-interest and loyal devotion to the same ruler, and there can be no doubt that the revived interest in the imperial naval forces is closely connected with the thoughts and feelings aroused in the minds and hearts of all true patriots by the great event of 1886. In connection with home-defence, we note the abolition, in 1871, of the purchase of army-commissions, and the throwing open of the military service to gentlemen qualified, not by the possession of pecuniary resources, but by fitness proved by preliminary and by professional competitive examinations. This measure was parallel to that by which, in 1870, all posts in the Civil Service, except in the Foreign Office and the Treasury, were opened to competitive examination. Army-reform has included the establishment of the short-service system by which a powerful reserve of troops has been created; and the enrolment, as auxiliary forces, of the volunteers, the first of whom came forward in 1859, in reply to French bluster concerning invasion, due to certain colonels who were enraged by an attempt, planned here by foreign exiles, to assassinate the emperor Louis Napoleon.

The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 was an event of great importance for the vast and ever-growing British commerce in affording a new route, without transshipment of cargo and passengers, to the Eastern world and Australasia. The actual time of steaming between London and Sydney, for example, has thus been reduced to about 30 days. The death of the Prince Consort in December, 1861, was an immense loss, not only to the Queen whom he so faithfully aided in her high duties, but to the nation whom he most ably served, with the rarest discretion and self-control, in diplomatic and social affairs. He was one of the foremost men of his time in intellect, virtue, and force of character, a man who sought, in his adopted country, to bring the people nearer to the throne by a just use of the influence of the crown for the improvement of the social conditions. His culture in science, literature, and art; his faculty of accurate observation; and his sound judgment, enabled him to render great services to the advance of civilisation in the British Isles. The two "Great Exhibitions" were mainly due to his initiative and superintendence, and his whole course of life was such as to enable him to bequeath a stainless memory to his widow, his children, and the empire. The "Cotton Famine" in Lancashire, a period of distress lasting from 1862 to 1865, caused by the lack of raw cotton for the mills, owing to the blockade of ports, during the Civil War in America, in the Southern or "Confederate" states which were the. chief sources of supply, was made notable by the wonderful patience and quietness displayed by the sufferers, a result largely due to the cheapness of bread given by the repeal of the Corn-laws, to the bountiful and judicious charity of their fellow-countrymen, and to the knowledge of the artisans that the contest beyond the ocean, the struggle to which their penury was due, was one waged for the abolition of slavery. The noble-minded President of the Federal (or Northern, Anti-slavery) States, Abraham Lincoln, a man whose name and fame have long overcome the superficial condemnation and base detraction of certain sections of the British press and nation in his own day, received an address from the working-men of Manchester, expressing their abhorrence of slavery. In his reply, dated January 19th, 1863, he referred to this utterance, made by such persons, in such circumstances of unmerited, inevitable suffering, as "an instance of sublime Christian heroism not surpassed in any age or any country." It will be admitted that the British artisan of the north, by his respect for law and order in this time of trial, nobly justified his admission to the franchise, two years later, and that in every political contest and crisis since the rise of democracy, the new wielders of power have shown themselves "conservative," in the best sense, in opposition to all revolutionary schemes, and to socialism in its objectionable forms.

The wars of Great Britain since 1815, with the exception of the Crimean or Russian war, noticed in connection with Turkey, have all been waged out of Europe, and are dealt with under the history of the other continents. We turn to a brief account of affairs in Ireland during the period. After years of agitation, conducted by the famous Daniel O'Connell through the "Catholic Association," the last political disabilities of the Catholics were removed by the Emancipation Act of 1829, which admitted them to both Houses of Parliament and to all civil offices except those of Regent, Viceroy of Ireland, Lord Chancellor of England, and Lord Chancellor of Ireland. In 1867 the Chancellorship of Ireland was thrown open to Catholics, and that post was held for a time by Lord O'Hagan. We may note the almost complete disappearance of the element of bigotry as regards appointment to high office in the state in the Indian viceroyship (1880 to 1884) of the marquis of Ripon, and the tenure at the present time of the post of Lord Chief-Justice of England by Lord Russell.

The attempts made for the repeal of the Union Act, and the establishment of a separate parliament for Ireland, have spread over a period of nearly 60 years. In 1841 O'Connell conducted a movement which ended in his conviction for sedition, the reversal of the sentence by the House of Lords, the loss of his influence through his strong opposition to violent measures, and his death abroad in 1847. In 1843 the "Young Ireland" party, aiming at the use of physical force for the repeal of the Union, and for the establishment of Irish independence of Great Britain, was headed by Charles Duffy, John Mitchel, Thomas Meagher, and Smith O'Brien, the last three of whom were sentenced to transportation beyond the seas, and the movement collapsed after a vain attempt at rebellion in 1848. Ten years later a movement began with secret associations formed among men of the lower class, and the "Fenian Brotherhood," whose name was derived from the Irish title of the old national militia, was founded by Irishmen in the United States in 1862. The close of the American Civil War brought across the Atlantic large numbers of trained Irish soldiers disbanded from the Federal forces, and risings in Ireland were planned. All attempts at insurrection were quelled, in 1865 and in the two following years, by the troops and by the fine body of armed police called the Irish Constabulary. The wretched rebels who hated England and all her ways and works then resorted to the murderous violence of explosions of gunpowder and, especially, of dynamite, in public places - at Clerkenwell Prison, in London, in 1867, and in 1883 to 1885 at Glasgow and in London, including serious outrages at the House of Commons and the Tower. Nearly all these miscreants were ultimately caught and sentenced to penal servitude.

The "Home Rule" struggle for a separate parliament for Irish affairs, the last phase of Irish political history, conducted in the House of Commons by the legitimate means of argument and discussion, and, at a later period, in attempts to force the hand of British members through systematic obstruction of business, began with the founding, in 1873, of the "Home Rule League" led by Mr. Isaac Butt. In 1874 about 60 Irish members, or three-fifths of the whole number of representatives in the Commons, were returned as "Home Rulers." In 1877 Mr. Parnell became the head, in the House of Commons, of the "obstruction" party, and in 1880 he led a very large majority of Irish members pledged to the cause. A separate body of men, of desperate character, in close connection with Irish foes of England in the United States, obtaining funds from that source, and known as the "Invincibles," aimed at Irish independence through terrorism, and in May, 1882, these men perpetrated one of the worst crimes of modern days in stabbing to death, in daylight, in full view of the Viceregal Lodge in Phoenix Park, Dublin, Mr. Burke, an Undersecretary, and Lord Frederick Cavendish, new "Chief-Secretary for Ireland," who had only that day landed to assume his duties. This monstrous deed was promptly disavowed by Mr. Parnell and his colleagues, but the Home Rule cause was undoubtedly injured thereby. The skill of the Irish police was evinced by the capture, within a few months, of all the principals and many "aiders and abettors" in the crime, five of whom were hanged, three sentenced to penal servitude for life, and others to various terms.

In 1885 the Irish Home Rule members in the Commons numbered 86, and in the following year Mr. Gladstone's Bill was defeated there by a majority of 30, after causing a rupture in the Liberal party, and the secession of some of its most prominent members, including Mr. John Bright, Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, Mr. Goschen, Sir Henry (Lord) James, Lord Hartington (duke of Devonshire), the duke of Argyle, and Lord Selborne. Mr. Gladstone was followed, in supporting Home Rule, by Sir William Harcourt, Mr. John Morley, Earl Spencer, Earl Granville, Sir Charles (now Lord) Russell, the earl of Rosebery, the earl of Aberdeen, and Sir George Trevelyan. The whole matter was shelved for six years, from 1886 to 1892, under the Conservative government headed by Lord Salisbury. Meanwhile, the Home Rule cause was seriously injured by the conduct of Mr. Parnell, who in 1890 became the defendant in a divorce-suit promoted by his former friend Captain O'Shea. A special tribunal of three judges, known as the "Parnell Commission," sat for 128 days in the latter part of 1888 and in 1889, to do justice between the Irish leader and his Parliamentary supporters, on the one hand, and the Times newspaper, on the subject of the famous articles Parnellism and Crime in which Mr. Parnell and his Irish colleagues were charged with direct support and full knowledge of the murderous conspiracies and outrages in connection with Irish independence and the Irish land-system. A wretched man named Richard Pigott was shown, on his own confession, to have misled the managers of the Times by gross forgeries and fraud, and on March 10th, tracked to Madrid by detectives, he ended an infamous life by self-murder with a revolver. The case against Mr. Parnell and his friends was thus, in its chief points, destroyed. The report of the judges, laid before Parliament in February, 1890, acquitted them of the most serious charges, but condemned them of entering into a conspiracy to promote an agrarian agitation, by a system of coercion and intimidation, against the payment of agricultural rents, for the purpose of ridding Ireland of the landlords. It was held to be not proved that they had afforded aid to notorious criminals or associated intimately with such persons. The judges found, however, that they had, for political objects, invited and received aid in money from a certain Patrick Ford, a known "dynamiter," connected with an association of desperate men called the Clan-na-Gael. The general effect of this report upon the public mind in Great Britain was detrimental to the Home Rule cause, and this bad effect was intensified by Mr. Parnell’s immoral conduct on the social side. It thus came to pass that the efforts of a very able tactician and parliamentary chief were to a large extent neutralised. In a twelve-years' conflict he had forced the Home Rule question to the front, and had secured the adhesion of a large majority of Liberals and of their leader, Mr. Gladstone, only to pull down with his own hands the imposing fabric which he had reared. In the general election of 1892 that great statesman obtained a majority, including his Irish supporters, of nearly 40 in favour of a separate Parliament for Ireland, and in 1893, after a very long struggle, his Bill was carried through the Commons by a majority, on the third reading, of 36. A large majority of English, as distinct from Scottish, Irish, and Welsh members, voted against the Bill, and this fact enabled the Lords to reject the measure by the enormous majority of 419 to 41. The general election of July, 1895, gave a very large "Unionist" majority to Lord Salisbury as Prime Minister, and shelved the cause of "repeal of the Union," perhaps for ever.

<<< Previous page <<< >>> Next page >>>
Pages: 1 <2> 3

Pictures for Great Britain and Ireland. page 2

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About