British History - Gladstone's second Ministry, 1880 - 5 - South Africa - Egypt - County franchise - Ireland - The Home Rule split, 1886.
( Originally Published 1922 )
GLADSTONE'S second Ministry was less successful than his first. In the time of the Franco-Prussian War and the Alabama claims, the negative and pacific treatment which he was most inclined to give to foreign and Imperial affairs had sufficed. In his second Ministry the world problems of a new age, beginning with South Africa and Egypt, dragged him unwillingly into a new set of questions which he disliked and of which therefore he was not the master. Only in Irish affairs he recognised the continuance of his old mission - ' to pacify Ireland ' - and sprang at it with all his old eagerness and power. But in spite of his new Land Act (1881), the Irish question proved too much for him, toc> much for the Liberal party and too much for the British nation ; that it threatened the whole British Empire was not so evident in those days as now.
The difference between his first and second Ministry was no less marked in domestic affairs. In 1868 he had been elected to carry out a specific and consistent programme of reform, on the general principles of which the whole party and more than half the nation were agreed. The doctrine of John Stuart Mill was to be put upon the Statute Book. In 1880, on the other hand, Gladstone came into office pledged to no extensive measures at home except county franchise, an important completion of the old programme of Mill. For the rest, no one had worked out a new set of principles to meet the needs of the new age. It had sufficed the Liberals at election time to denounce Beaconsfield's conduct of foreign affairs.
The victorious party was not a tempered weapon, but a bundle of interests and electoral forces, old and new. While Lord Hartington represented a Whig tradition already on the way to become Conservative, Joseph Chamberlain was maturing ' unauthorised programmes ' of Radical taxation to hold capital to ' ransom,' and a land policy for the benefit of the agricultural labourer, popularly known as ' three acres and a cow.' Chamberlain's doctrine forestalled much that has since happened in legislation and finance. Unconsciously he heralded some of the Socialistic ideas which were just beginning, after a long interval, to re-emerge in the British Trade Union world. The leaders of the new radicalism, Chamberlain and Sir Charles Dilke, had felt the breath of the new age in regard to Imperial and Colonial questions, which they were not content to leave as assets to the new Conservatism. In this they differed from the Nonconformist old guard, still headed by John Bright, a venerable but no longer active figure.
For some years, the Liberal party was prevented from dissolving into its component sections by the authority and prestige of Gladstone. Yet the day was coming when he should accomplish the almost incredible feat of driving out from it Hartington, Chamberlain and Bright by the same door.
The Conservative Opposition in the House of Commons was officially led by Sir Stafford Northcote, but without enough energy or vindictiveness to please four guerrilla warriors below the gangway, humorously styled ` the Fourth Party.' The foremost of the group was Lord Randolph Churchill. Though a ' Tory democrat,' and half a Radical in opinion, he was almost as much opposed to Gladstone in temper and attitude as Disraeli himself. A touch of genius enabled him, though new and untried, to provoke the great man with impunity, and these gladiatorial exhibitions at once raised him to the front rank in politics.
The Fourth Party made its fortune out of the Bradlaugh question : was the atheist member for Northampton, who had other claims to disapproval besides his theological views, to be allowed to take the oath of allegiance, the religious form of which could have no meaning to him, in order that he should sit in the House in accordance with the wishes of his constituents? It was sport to plague Gladstone and his Nonconformists in the name of morality and religion. This question was the first on which the Liberal party was divided. The most religious men in the House, including the Prime Minister, stood up for religious liberty, but were voted down when they proposed a Bill allowing members to affirm if they preferred not to swear. After years of controversy and scandal, including a struggle on the premises of the House between the giant Bradlaugh and a bevy of police, the question was settled by his admission to the first Parliament of 1886, and two years later by a law permitting affirmation.
If the Fourth Party brought into the new House ' the pert and nimble spirit of mirth,' the ' Third Party ' of sixty Home Rulers, led by the stern and humourless Parnell, brought with them the tragedy of Ireland. It was their plan to call attention to the grievances of the evicted tenantry by impeding the business of the Imperial Parliament. Their new policy of systematic ' obstruction ' was ere long countered by the new rules of ' closure.' But the first sessions of the Liberal majority, so triumphantly returned in 1880, were neither dignified nor pleasant.
The Beaconsfield government, in its last three years of office, had dealt with a serious situation in South Africa. The Boer farmers who, forty years before, had moved off into the distant interior in the search for independence and isolation from the British,1 were being hard pressed by the Zulus, and had not yet been able to consolidate their farming households into a State capable of defending them against the common enemy. In order to save this outpost of white civilisation in South Africa, Beaconsfield's government crushed the Zulu military power,2 having previously annexed the territory of the Transvaal Boers, while respecting the independence of the less distant, but more organised and wealthy Orange Free State.
All sections of the English Opposition to Disraeli, including both Hartington and Gladstone, had denounced this ' for-ward policy,' and their speeches against the annexation had been noted by the Boers, who unfortunately remembered them better than the speakers. When the Liberals came into office, they decided that the annexation could not be undone. All might yet have been well if they had at once given the Transvaal farmers the usual privileges of self-government within the Empire, which had been repeatedly promised even by the Conservative government. But for six months Gladstone, busy with other questions, left the Transvaal Boers to the unsympathetic rule of some very inferior men on the spot, who misled the home authorities into believing that all was well and that Transvaal self-government could be postponed till South African confederation had been arranged at Cape Town.
At length the Boers were convinced that the Liberal party, in spite of all its talk at election time, would do nothing for them. Despairing of a peaceful remedy, they rose in arms in December i 880, and two months later defeated a small British force on the boundaries of Natal, by storming the steep sides of Majuba Hill.1
Ministers awoke with a shock to the serious nature of the situation which their neglect had created. Rather than continue the war which they now feared would extend into a race struggle all over the sub-continent, they granted independence to the Transvaal under the Queen's suzerainty. Three years later this convention was renewed without an express statement of suzerainty, but subject to the condition that the Transvaal Republic would make no treaty without the consent of Britain, except with the Orange Free State.
If indeed concession following defeat in the field was the less of two evils, as the Cabinet believed, it was none the less fraught with future mischief. It embittered the feeling of the British all over South Africa, and it gave the Boers the idea they were the better men and could do what they liked. Gladstone, after Majuba, had been forced to choose between two very dangerous policies, and all because he had not been at the pains, in dealing with a few thousand farmers in a remote corner of the Empire, to establish some relation between his action in office and the expectations that he and his colleagues had raised when in Opposition.
Disraeli, in the interest of our Indian Empire and trade, had purchased for us the Khedive's very large holding in the Suez Canal shares and thus acquired an interest in its management. This was the first step towards British control of Egypt. Gladstone had disapproved of that first step, but he himself was destined to move forward to the end of the passage. He had been sincere when in his Midlothian orations he denounced Beaconsfield's ideas of Imperial expansion, and demanded a reversal of general policy. But Imperial policy, though it may be diverted into new directions, is not so easily reversed when it is borne forward on the prevailing current of the energies of an adventurous race. Maugre his Midlothian doctrine, Gladstone himself was to effect the occupation of Egypt. The spirit of the age and the exigencies of the local situation were to carry him whither he would not.
Egypt, nominally subject to the Sultan of Turkey, was actually ruled by a Khedive with but little interference from Constantinople. But the land was deeply in debt to foreign bond-holders, and was in a state of partial subjection to a number of European nations and interests. In i 8 8 i the native army mutinied under one of its colonels, Arabi Pasha. Military grievances and ambitions were on the surface of the revolt, but underneath it was an Egyptian nationalist movement, Mahommedan in sentiment, but hostile to the Turk as a foreigner, to Christians, native or European, and to the foreign bond-holders, officials and financiers. In the course of the ensuing
revolution, which was none too wisely handled by the Powers, the mob got out of hand and massacred fifty Europeans. Who could deal with the situation ? The Sultan of Turkey refused. And, strange to relate, France who had hitherto exerted a greater influence than any other nation in the internal development of Egypt and had, since Arabi's rising, drawn England into a joint interference, drew back at the critical moment, because her Imperialist statesman, Gambetta, had fallen from office. No other Power would take up the challenge that Arabi had thrown down to Europe. Yet if Egypt were allowed to remain the prey of anarchy, the Suez Canal might be blocked and European interference would sooner or later be necessary. Would England then willingly see some rival Power established in the land which was the true meeting point of Africa, Asia and Europe? Gladstone unwillingly agreed with the majority of his colleagues that it was England's task to save Egypt and to put her once more on her feet. If he had foreseen that the overthrow of Arabi would be the beginning, not the end of that task, he might have hesitated longer. But he hoped to come out of Egypt as easily as he went in.
The bombardment of the forts of Alexandria by the British fleet, which caused the resignation of Bright alone from the Cabinet, was followed by the landing of a British army under Sir Garnet Wolseley, who destroyed Arabi's army by storming his camp in the desert at Tel-el-Kebir.
The settlement of Egypt was a longer and more difficult work than Gladstone or his colleagues had foreseen, but they chose the right man to do it. Sir Evelyn Baring, best known by his later title of Lord Cromer, had served his apprenticeship in Egyptian finance in Disraeli's time. In September 1883 he was sent back to. Egypt as British Agent and Consul-General. Working through the Khedive, he became in effect the Governor and transformer of Egypt.
Cromer's work was carried out under strange and difficult conditions, for England had no Protectorate or any defined position of authority. Nominally our troops were in Egypt as ' simple visitors,' and the policy that Cromer urged upon the Khedive was, technically, mere ' advice,' but it was advice to which he had to listen, for his throne depended on our support. On the other hand, his own power and ours with it were hedged round on all sides by the rights not only of the Sultan but of fourteen Christian States who possessed extraordinary privileges in Egypt under the ' Capitulations.' Many reforms of administration and justice could only be carried out with the consent of every one of these Powers.
The chief of the States concerned was France, and she was by far the most unfriendly. She remained, until the end of the century, hostile to our work and influence, often standing in the way of Egyptian reform except in return for value received. For although France had voluntarily retired at the critical moment in 1882, she did not like to see us filling the vacancy created by her own refusal to act. Her attitude was very human and highly inconvenient.
Yet Cromer performed, even in these circumstances, the Herculean labour of restoring Egyptian finance and building up the ancient prosperity of the land of the Nile. He renovated and modernised the system of irrigation on which its welfare depends. And he gave security to the peasant from the crushing exactions and constant injustice which had been his lot for immemorial ages.
A necessary condition of Cromer's achievement was his tenure of power for twenty years or more, because Egyptian finance, the key to all other Egyptian reform, had no chance of recovery except by a long course of retrenchment in every-thing except productive expenditure. For this reason Baring's first object in 1883 was to withdraw the inefficient Egyptian garrisons from the Soudan, where they were isolated many hundreds of miles to the south and quite unable to hold their own against the barbarian hordes of the Upper Nile. Baring knew that the Soudan could only be conquered and held when Egyptian finances and the Egyptian army had been re-made from top to bottom. The conquest of the Soudan was necessary in the long run to the peace of Egypt, as the conquest of the Highlands had been necessary to the peace of Lowland Scot-land. But there is a time for everything.
The task of the moment being to get the troops out of the Soudan, Baring was none too well pleased when the home government chose General Gordon for this delicate task. The selection had been made in a manner characteristic of the new age, as a result of a newspaper campaign conducted by Mr. Stead, one of the founders of sensational journalism. If the enterprise in view had been a desperate attempt to conquer the Soudan with an inadequate force, no one could have been better chosen than the knight-errant of genius, the magnetic and mystical ' Bible Englishman ' who, with his walking-stick, had turned the fate of a civil war in China and who knew the Soudan well. But to obey orders, especially orders to retreat, was beyond Charles Gordon's capacity, as Baring suspected. Unfortunately Gladstone did not.
Gordon went to Khartoum and, as might have been fore-seen, stayed there attempting to reverse the policy he had been commissioned to carry out. He asked for reinforcements to ' smash the Mandi,' the new religious leader whose rule in the Soudan meant fanaticism, savagery and the slave-trade. Hartington was ' utterly bewildered ' by Gordon's telegrams. Gladstone was angry with him and with himself for sending him. He was gradually cut off and besieged in Khartoum by the gathering hosts of the Mandi. The situation in all its aspects was highly complicated and uncertain, and there was great variety of expert opinion as to the real position in the Soudan. But the upshot of it all was that the Government failed to send the relieving expedition under Lord Wolseley until just too late. As they struggled up the last stages of the difficult river journey, a thousand miles from Cairo, Khartoum was stormed and Gordon killed.
To Egypt the event made, perhaps, little difference. Even if Gordon had been rescued, the conquest of the Soudan must have been postponed; and it was all accomplished in good time. But to England the difference was immense. Gladstone's prestige never fully recovered from the blow. Coming on the top of Majuba, Khartoum created the impression that British honour and interests were not safe in his hands, and the Home Rule policy which he soon afterwards adopted was heavily handicapped in advance. The conscious Imperialism of the national sentiment in the following generation received an impulse from the fate of Gordon. An idealist, a soldier and a Christian hero, he supplied to the popular imagination what-ever was lacking in Disraeli as the patron saint of the new religion of Empire.
Only a few weeks before the tragedy at Khartoum, the Ministry had accomplished its greatest work and won its most popular triumph by passing the third Reform Bill. This measure extended to householders in the counties the franchise granted to householders in the boroughs in 1867. Since that date the need for including the inhabitants of the counties in the scheme of citizenship had been kept before Parliament and country by Mr. G. O. Trevelyan. The Bill now introduced by Gladstone added more electors to the constituencies than the two earlier Reform Bills put together. It gave the vote not only to rustics but to large numbers of industrial hands, particularly miners, who had been hitherto disfranchised by the accident of living outside a parliamentary borough.
But the new fact in English life was the enfranchisement of the field labourer. For the first time since the peasants' risings against enclosures under the Tudor kings, he became a person with whom the great ones of the land must reckon. The failure of Joseph Arch's recent attempt had shown that the farm hands were in no position to organise Trade Unions. Until they obtained the vote, all that they could do, if they were sufficiently discontented with their lot, was to leave the countryside; and in fact they were leaving it fast. It might be argued that, from the point of view of the just balance of classes, they were even more in need of the vote than the better organised town workmen. But strength is added to the strong, and the agricultural labourer might never have obtained the vote but for the political action of the industrial community in the matter. So too, in the rural economic field, the liberation movement, having failed as a native product of the agricultural world, revived in the villages as an offshoot of industrial democracy, with the disadvantage that town Radicals and journalists too often knew little about the farm life and agricultural conditions which they desired to reform.
As an outcome of the new social spirit spreading from the industrial community to the village, of which Chamberlain's friend, Jesse Collings, was a missionary, and as a consequence of the county franchise, the status of the field labourer began, in the last fifteen years of the century, to receive more attention from above. A new habit of mind was engendered in many landlords who had previously, as a class, shown more consideration in dealing with their farmers than in thinking about those whom the farmers employed. The movement for providing allotments and small holdings to the landless agricultural labourer gradually grew up, and between the third Reform Bill and our own day slowly realised most of what was practicable in the policy of ' three acres and a cow.' The movement was much helped by the fact that, owing to the increased importation from America, corn growing became relatively less profitable, while the forms of agricultural production less touched by foreign competition happened to be those more suited than corn to smaller holdings. Big farms had, indeed, become the permanent basis of British agriculture. But, after several generations of trial, the experiment of cultivating the big farms by labourers without land or independence, had fairly broken down.
The terrible problem of rural housing also received more attention both from the landlords and the public. This change of attitude to the field labourer was partly due to the discovery that they were rapidly disappearing into the towns, and that something must be done to keep what was still left of them. But the need to consult them at election time was no less stimulating to this new sympathy, although there was also a considerable amount of intimidation at rural elections.
Another result of the parliamentary enfranchisement of the village democracy was that three years later Lord Salisbury's Ministry established County Councils, substituting local re-presentative institutions for the administration of rural affairs by nominated magistrates. This belated change took place fifty-three years after the Municipal Reform Act had given self-government to the towns. The establishment of Urban and Rural District Councils and Parish Councils by the Liberal Government in 1894, completed the framework of representative local government.
The third Reform Bill, from which so many changes ultimately flowed, had passed the Commons with little opposition. But the Lords, while not venturing openly to oppose it on principle, held it up until a Bill to redistribute the seats should first be passed. A popular agitation against hereditary legislators arose in the country, in the course of which Bright made proposals for a limitation of the Lords' veto on which the Parliament Act of 1911 was long afterwards based. But Gladstone, who was by no means the perfect demagogue that he was sometimes represented, laboured to avoid a conflict between the Houses, and the Queen exerted her influence on the side of peace. Gladstone and Salisbury, in a series of personal conferences, arrived at a compromise by which the Franchise Bill and a scheme of Redistribution were passed as agreed measures. It is remarkable that this successful conference between party leaders did not become a precedent in constitutional custom, although the expedient was attempted on the grand scale in 1910, in vain.
The third Reform Bill and the contest with the Lords had, for the time, repaired the popularity of the Liberal government. But the fall of Khartoum immediately followed, giving the death-blow to its real power. For some months it staggered on, and at length resigned, after an unsuccessful division in the summer. Among the minor measures which stand to its credit were compulsory education for all children, a supplement to the Act of 1870; an Employers' Liability Bill ; and the right conceded to tenant-farmers to kill the hares and rabbits on their farms. During his last months of office Gladstone had, at the risk of war, carried on an effectual resistance to Russian encroachment in Afghanistan.
When the Liberals resigned, Lord Salisbury took office until the General Election in the winter.1 In order to understand that election and its consequences, it is necessary to revert to the history of Ireland.
Gladstone's disestablishment of the Irish Church and first Land Act had not, as he hoped, ' pacified Ireland.' But they had been steps in that direction. During the 'seventies, Fenianism was less active and a constitutional agitation grew up to demand an Irish Parliament. In 1873 the ' Home Rule League ' was formed by Isaac Butt, who chose the name Home Rule in order to avoid in English minds the associations connected with O'Connell's ' Repeal,' of which the new movement was a revival under changed conditions. Isaac Butt was a man of very moderate temper, more liked than feared in the British House of Commons. He hoped to persuade the English people and their leaders by a sympathetic presentation of what he regarded as a reasonable case. He failed completely, and the Fenians would soon have become impatient and again active had not the effective leadership at Westminster passed, in the last years of Beaconsfield's Parliament, into the hands of a new member, Charles Stewart Parnell.
Indignation at the hanging of the ' Manchester martyrs ' had first aroused Parnell's strange and solitary mind to take an interest in his country. His powerful but almost uneducated 1 intellect had been suddenly fired by a single idea that ' filled the fine, empty sheath of a man.' But he did not go into public life for another half- dozen years, nor enter Parliament till 1875.
A Protestant and a landlord, Parnell became in a few years the leader of the Catholic tenantry, by right of his genius for tactics, his ruthless contempt for all the English held sacred in Parliament or out of it, and his silent force of character dominating an eloquent and emotional race. After Butt's death he was elected official chief of the Home Rule party in the new Parliament of 1880, in which he soon made his policy of obstruction the principal fact.
The Land League had been founded in 1879 to fight out the agrarian question against the landlords with the law and Government behind them. Parnell was in close touch with it, and worked to induce the Fenians of Ireland and America to abandon their old programme of Republicanism and promiscuous violence, in favour of the new and more practical programme of the Land League and of the Home Rule party. For in Parnell's mind Home Rule and the agrarian questions went together. Gladstone's Land Act of 1870 had not given fair rents or security of tenure,' and his Bill of 1880 for compensating evicted tenants under certain conditions was thrown out by an immense majority in the House of Lords. That year ten thousand persons were evicted. In reply, two thousand five hundred agrarian outrages were committed, while the institution of the ' boycott,' called after Captain Boycott, one of its early victims, made life unendurable to agents and abettors of unpopular acts. By the same means discipline was maintained among the peasants themselves.
Such was the policy of Parnell and the Land League. It was no longer spasmodic acts of revenge, but systematic terrorism to break the land system from off the neck of the people. Gladstone struck both at the terrorism and the unjust laws. On the one hand, a Coercion Bill enabled the Government to imprison whom it liked for as long as it liked. On the other hand, his great Land Act of 1881 aimed at securing to the Irish tenants, in spite of all English theories of ' free contract,' the famous ' three F.s ' Fair Rents to be settled by a Tribunal ; Fixity of Tenure for all who paid their rents ; and Free Sale or the right of the tenant to part with his interest. Opinion in England and Ireland was not yet ready for land purchase on a great scale. But the fixing of rents by a State tribunal went a long way towards effecting that agrarian trans-formation which the two English parties were destined between them to accomplish for Ireland. The same principles fixity of tenure, and fair rents adjudicated by a Commission, afterwards solved the vexed ' crofter ' question in the High-lands of Scotland, where a very similar agrarian problem was not complicated by religious and racial feuds.2 After the Irish Land Act of 1881, it already seemed as if an age had passed since the Lords had thrown out the mild Compensation for Disturbance Bill of the year before.
It was not Parnell's cue to show gratitude, and Ministers presently locked him up under their Coercion Act. He warned them that if they removed him from the scene they would be leaving ' Captain Moonlight ' in charge. And indeed, when Parnell's relatively restraining influence was gone, agrarian outrage was worse than ever and political assassination began to be plotted again. But W. E. Forster, Chief Secretary for Ireland, believed that all the trouble arose from a few ' village ruffians,' whom he could lay by the heels if he was given time.
Unfortunately the statistics of agrarian crime grew worse instead of better under coercion. Chamberlain, as the leader of Radicalism in the Cabinet, and John Morley now transfer-ring to political journalism a reputation won as an historical and literary critic, both attacked Forster's policy. At heart Gladstone had always disliked it and experience confirmed his doubts. In i 882 he threw over his Chief Secretary and made, through the agency of Chamberlain, the famous ' Kilmainham
Treaty ' with Parnell, by which the Nationalist Chief was let out of prison to recover his own authority, restrain the outrages and give the Land Act a chance. Forster and the Viceroy, Lord Cowper, resigned.
For two days after Parnell's release from prison, it seemed as if the bitterness dividing the British and the Irish peoples would at last begin to be assuaged. Forster's successor, Lord Frederick Cavendish, was sent over as the harbinger of peace, the personal representative of Gladstone's good will, himself a noble warrant of England's desire for new and better things. He was murdered within a few hours of landing in Ireland. Mr. Burke, the Under-Secretary, with whom he was walking in the Phoenix Park, was the object of the attack in which Lord Frederick's chivalrous defence of his companion involved him. It was an event as fatal to Ireland as the recall of Lord Fitzwilliam in 1795, and this time no one could impute the fault to England or England's Ministers.
Neither did the fault lie with Parnell or with the Irish people as a whole, who were horror-struck at the news. The Invincibles ' were a small murder club adverse to Parnell's policy, which, indeed, had never received so hard a blow as they dealt it that day. Lord Frederick, though a very different man from General Gordon, was no less calculated to arouse the affection and passionate regret of the English people. And such was his personal influence over Gladstone and his strong good sense that it is quite likely that, if he had lived, the break-up of the Liberal party in 1886 would never have taken place. The memory of his murder became one of the chief difficulties in the way of Gladstone when he tried to persuade the English to trust the Irish with self-government.
During the three difficult and dangerous years intervening between the Phoenix Park murders and the election of 188s, Lord Spencer as Viceroy governed with strength and justice, holding the scales even between Nationalist and Orangeman, and preventing any disaster from happening in Ireland, al-though dynamite outrages in London by Irish-Americans further incensed British opinion against the Irish cause. Parnell was not very active during this period, and did nothing to make the situation worse than it necessarily became after the Phoenix Park murders. He was biding his time.
During Salisbury's brief Ministry in the last six months of 1885, the Conservatives appeared to be seeking the Irish Alliance. They eschewed coercion, and Parnell came away from an interview with Lord Carnarvon, the Conservative Viceroy of Ireland, persuaded that he and his colleagues in-tended to grant some kind of self-government. Parnell had deceived himself. Lord Carnarvon was much more advanced than his colleagues or his party. But the fact that they had sent him to govern Ireland led not unnaturally to a wrong inference by Parnell, who therefore held out for higher terms from Gladstone, and threw the weight of the Irish vote on to the Conservative side at the General Election that winter.
At the polling, the Liberal party did badly in the towns but was saved by the county voters, grateful for the new franchise and hoping that attention would at last be paid to the grievances of the agricultural labourer. The net result was that the Liberals outnumbered the Conservatives by more than eighty, but the Conservatives and Home Rulers together outnumbered the Liberals by four. It would therefore be useless for anyone to form an administration without coming to terms with Parnell. This man, who a dozen years before had been a Wicklow country gentleman, moody and reserved, known outside his own family chiefly as a cricketer, had be-come the touchstone of the whole British Empire and the arbiter of fate to its Ministers. Such control over the Parliament at Westminster was to all appearance the summit of good fortune for the Irish cause. Actually it led to disaster. When Gladstone had asked the -electors for a majority over Conservatives and Home Rulers together, so that he could settle the Irish question without Irish dictation, he had not been far wrong. But he had asked in vain.
For a week or two after the result of the elections be-came known, Gladstone hoped that the existing Conservative Government would take up the Carnarvon policy and pass some kind of Home Rule ; in that case he was prepared to support the Ministry till the deed was done. But it soon appeared that the Conservatives had no such intention. Then the Liberal chief thought that he had no alternative but to ally himself to Parnell, turn out the Government and prepare to deal with the Irish question himself.
Gladstone, now a third time Prime Minister, had been impressed by the great size of the majorities for Home Rule in the Irish elections under the new franchise. The eighty-five Parnellite members represented the ' self-determination,' as we should now call it, of Catholic Ireland. No electoral result had ever more clearly proclaimed the will of a people. Glad-stone, like various other statesmen of both parties, had for some time been turning over in his mind the pros and cons of a Home Rule policy, and now the moment for it seemed to him to have come. He would, at one stroke, secure power to govern the Empire in the only way open to any statesman without another General Election, and set up popular government in Ireland under the firm rule of Parnell, who would restrain his emotional compatriots, preserve order and secure a good start for the great experiment.
He overlooked Protestant Ulster, for which he provided no separate status in his Bill. And he succeeded in losing not only Hartington and the more Conservative Whigs, and Bright the old Radical leader, but Chamberlain who stood for the Radicalism of the coming age. His neglect of Ulster and his handling of his party and colleagues were fatal both to Home Rule and to the Liberal cause. Old age had had upon him a strange effect. It left his gifts and energies as wonderful as ever and his mind no less open to new ideas, but it diminished his tact and prudence.
Yet the difficulties of the task he had undertaken were in any case immense. It might have passed the wit of the most prudent statesman in the world to construct a measure to which Ulster would submit, which Chamberlain would sup-port, and yet which Parnell would accept.
The Home Rule Bill, coupled with a scheme for Land Purchase, was introduced into the Commons by Gladstone on April 8, 1886, and was thrown out two months later, on second reading, by the action of the Liberal dissentients. Then came the choice between dissolution or resignation. To resign meant postponement, a waiting on time and events, an attempt at reconciliation within the Liberal party before it was too late.
To dissolve would force the Liberal Unionists to fight their old friends and to be returned by Conservative votes. Glad-stone, worked up to a fervour of apostolic zeal, chose the more dangerous course. The General Election of 1886, fought on
the Home Rule issue alone, made the split in the Liberal party irremediable. The Conservatives and Liberal Unionists were victorious and were in power with one brief interval for twenty years.
In that decisive election, all that energy and eloquence could do was done by Gladstone, despite his seventy-seven years. He kindled an enthusiasm for his new cause which does credit at least to the imagination and generosity of many of the Liberals, who, only seven months before, had been attacked at Parnell's orders in an embittered electoral battle by these same Irish, for whom they were now asked to post-pone everything that directly interested themselves.
But the forces arrayed against Home Rule proved the stronger. Majuba, Khartoum, the Phoenix Park, the agrarian outrages, made the average Englishman distrustful of accepting Gladstone's account of the Irish and the way to deal with them. It was more natural for Protestants to sympathise with Ulster, whose determination to resist the decrees of an Irish Parliament was now beginning to make itself powerfully heard. The intellectual movement of the Victorian era, hitherto mainly on the Liberal side in politics, now for the most part broke off sharp from Gladstone and began to regard him as a demagogue. Unionism prevailed among the leaders of literature and thought, men like Robert Browning, Leslie Stephen, Lecky and many more, as also in that part of the professional and scientific world which had not previously become Conservative. The almost complete loss of upper and middle class support forced ' Gladstonianism ' to become more democratic than even the old Liberalism had been. Yet it made no special appeal to the new Labour movement, and it was helping to create by revulsion the dominant political creed of the coming era, the belief in Great Britain's Imperial destiny.