In many respects the reign of Queen Victoria* has been the most remarkable in English history. In the mere matter of length it is unique, for she has overtaken and passed the record of her grandfather, and reigned over her people for the longest period ever known in English history, if not indeed in that of the world, for Louis XIV, the champion in this respect, was for years in nonage and afterwards under a regency. She has outlived all the Sovereigns who were in existence at the time of her accession, as well as many who succeeded to royal robes at a later date. Two Emperors of Germany, three rulers of Russia, Denmark, and Portugal, not to mention others, have during sixty years played their little part upon the European stage and departed hence, but the “Grand Old Lady of England” is as secure in the affection of her people as she was half a century ago.
Few persons are in a position to speak from personal experience of the actual condition of England at the time when the sailor Prince shuffled off this mortal coil. All the members of the Privy Council which existed in 1837 have departed hence; every peer who sat in the Gilded Chamber, but two, has gone where titles are unknown; and of the faithful Commons less than half a dozen remain. And what a contrast does the England of to-day present to the England of the thirties ! Elizabeth, who stands head and shoulders above all those who have governed England in the past, worked many changes, and her reign was a memorable one; but beside that of Victoria it must pale its ineffectual fires. All around there has been disquiet and unrest. War and revolution have played sad pranks with the map of Europe, and the record of its ruling houses; Sovereigns have come and Sovereigns have gone; States have been formed only to disappear; the balance of power has veered round from one to another; but amid all the changing scenes of time, England has enjoyed a splendid isolation of progress upon progress. To say that all this is due to the simple fact that Victoria has held for so many years the position of Queen would perhaps be going too far; but there is not the shadow of a doubt that the absence of all anxiety as to dynastic complications and the form of government, together with the immense personal popularity of every member of the royal family, has contributed largely to the result.
No monarch ever came to the throne more popular than Queen Victoria, the daughter of the Duke of Kent, just eighteen years old (1837). Her youth secured sympathy; her conduct soon won for her affection and respect. Consideration for her feelings kept the ministers in power, as the Nation did not wish to deprive her of advisers whom she was understood to like. To the joy of Englishmen Hanover was separated from the crown by passing to a male heir. An outbreak in Canada threatened to become serious, and the first measures of the new Sovereign were directed to suppression of the rebellion there. The ministry continued to exist on sufferance. They had no power to use and carry their measures or to support their servants. In May, 1839, they were defeated in a question about Jamaica. They resigned; but Sir Robert Peel made it a condition of taking office that a change should be made in the ladies of the Queen’s bedchamber. The Queen objected, and the ministry remained in their posts; but it has since been held that the chief officers who surround the person of the Sovereign are changed with a change of ministry. The same year saw the introduction of penny postage, the invention of Rowland Hill.
Statesmen had long been occupied with the question of the Queen’s marriage; none more so than the King of the Belgians, uncle of the Queen, himself a widower of a Princess who was heir to the English throne. Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the Queen’s first cousin, had been silently educated for his destinies. The marriage, which took place in February, 1840, was happily one of love. The Prince’s virtues formed the real foundation of the prosperity of the reign, and it will be recognized by posterity that his many-sided culture and intellectual activity have left an indelible stamp on the minds and character of Englishmen. The best results of German thought were transfused into English manliness, an effect which the union with Hanover had never been able to accomplish.
The Government regained some little strength by its activity in crushing the attempt of Egypt to revolt from the Porte. But they were not able to pass measures of importance, and the debates on the budget overthrew them. They were defeated in a measure which anticipated the repeal of the corn laws.
The coming of the Conservatives into office was felt as the beginning of a new era. The prospect of war abroad and of distresses at home gilded any change with the radiance of hope. Sir R. Peel, at the outset of his ministry, found himself compelled to provide for a deficiency of revenue of two millions and a half, and to take at least some steps in the direction of free trade in grain. At this time the poor were paying a large price for their daily bread in order that the farmers of England might derive a supposed advantage of profit, while quantities of grain from the Baltic and Black Sea were kept out of England by an unreasonable duty. The prime minister proposed an alteration of what was called the sliding scale that is, a set of duties varying with the price of grain in the English market his object being to maintain the price of wheat as nearly as possible at sixty shillings. A motion for the repeal of the corn laws was made by the leaders of the Anti-Corn-Law League, Cobden and Villiers. It was lost by a large majority, and the Government proposals were easily carried.
The deficiency in the revenue was made worse by the outbreak of a war in China and the possibility of troubles on the Indian frontier. Sir R. Peel determined to deal with the whole matter comprehensively, and began that series of financial reforms which, continued by his pupil, Gladstone,* have done much to raise England to her present height of prosperity. The chief source of proposed revenue was the income tax, at that time new and violently opposed, but which has since been a powerful engine in times of difficulty. Besides this, he revised the whole tariff of imports, simplifying them wherever it was possible, and preparing the way for free trade. Meanwhile (1841) Afghanistan had been punished for the murder of the British envoy, but the English did not care to retain so useless and so costly a possession.
The next three years in England were chiefly occupied with the struggle between protection and free trade, but little progress was made with this question in the session of 1843. The year was taken up with discussions on factory labor, on education, on church rates, with the visit of the Queen to the King of the French, and the excitement at Oxford caused by the defection of some prominent high churchmen to the Church of Rome. It was found that the financial reforms of the previous session had been a brilliant success. Instead of two millions and a half deficit, there was a million and a half surplus after all debts had been paid, and an anticipation of a still larger balance for next year.
The emancipation of the Catholics had not succeeded in quieting Ireland. The movement for the repeal of the Union was still in full vigor; and O’Connell told a large meeting, at Tara, that within a year a Parliament would be sitting at College Green, in Dublin. Another meeting, summoned with all the parade of military organization, was prohibited by proclamation, and prevented by O’Connell. He was, nevertheless, tried for sedition and condemned by a Protestant jury to imprisonment and fine. The judgment was reversed after a tempestuous scene in the House of Lords, and the acquittal of the great agitator was received with joy throughout Ireland. In the next year- the Government did an act of justice by endowing the Catholic College of Maynooth.
In the meantime events were rapidly moving toward free trade. Sir R. Peel, assisted by Gladstone, went on with his financial reforms. He proposed to-use the surplus produced by the income tax in reducing the taxes on commodities. A great change was proposed in the sugar duties. The agricultural distress of the year gave the free traders an opportunity of enforcing their views, while a new party of “Young Englanders,” led by Disraeli* and Lord John Manners, thought that the landed interests were too heavily taxed already, and ought to be relieved.
The session of 1845 closed quietly enough. The increased Maynooth Grant had been passed, the Jews admitted to municipal offices, the Oregon dispute with the United States arranged, New Zealand pacified. Suddenly an unexpected crisis arose. A disease which entirely destroyed the potato plant appeared, first in England and then in Ireland. The whole subsistence of the Irish peasantry was destroyed. Pressure was put upon the Ministry to admit foreign corn free of duty. The country was deluged with the free trade tracts of the Anti-Corn-Law League. Sir R. Peel was convinced that protection was no longer tenable, but his Cabinet would not follow him. Lord Stanley resigned, and the Ministry broke up. Lord J. Russell was unable to form a cabinet, and Sir R. Peel was induced to take office again. It was known that he would meet Parliament in 1846, pledged to support the cause of free trade.
The agitation for the repeal of the Corn Laws began in Manchester toward the end of 1836. In a season of distress it appeared to some of the most influential members of this rising town that the only remedy lay in free trade, and that by artificially keeping up the price of wheat, the manufacturing interests of the country were sacrificed to the agricultural interests. Three years later the Anti-Corn-Law League was formed. Its most prominent members from the first were Richard Cobden and John Bright, who sacrificed their worldly prosperity in a great measure to the work of converting their countrymen to the principles of true economy. Very large sums of money were collected for the purposes of the League. A free trade hall was built in Manchester. In 1843 the Times acknowledged that the League was a great fact, and compared it to the wooden horse by which the Greeks were secretly brought within the walls of Troy. At the end of 1845 it was stronger than ever in men, money, and enthusiasm.
On the assembling of Parliament in 1846, Sir R. Peel honestly confessed his alteration of opinion. In February he announced a fixed duty on corn for three years and afterward its entire abolition. The free traders attempted to dispense with this delay, but they were beaten by a large majority, and the bill passed easily.
The Protectionists determined on their revenge. A bill for the suppression of crime in Ireland gave the opportunity. Lord George Bentinck assailed the Ministers with violence, and they were defeated by a majority of seventy-three on the very evening that the Corn Bill passed the House of Lords. The Whigs, who had assisted Sir R. Peel in carrying free trade, now joined the Protectionists in turning him out. The Ministers had nothing left them but to resign, and Lord John Russell was ordered to form a cabinet. The new Ministry did not do much in the session of 1847. They were obliged to propose a second time the measure for the pacification of Ireland, which had brought about the defeat of their opponents. A bill for shortening the hours of labor in factories passed without difficulty. This year was also marked by the death of O’Connell at Genoa, on his way to Rome, and by the voluntary dissolution of the Anti-Corn-Law League.
Although no great question was before the Nation, Parliament had been dissolved. The result of the new elections was a slight increase of strength to the Government. It was proceeding to consider simple measures of practical reform, when a new and unexpected danger demanded its attention. A revolution which broke out in France in 1848 overthrew the monarchy of Louis Philippe, and established a republic in its place. The contagion spread throughout Europe. In every country thrones were tottering, and England was not exempt from the general disorder. The discontent of the Irish increased, and Smith O’Brien took the place of O’Connell. In England the excitement was shown by the excitement of the Chartists. The Chartists derived their name from the sketch of a new Reform Bill, which had obtained the title of the People’s Charter. It contained six principal points : 1. Universal suffrage. 2. Annual Parliaments. 3. Vote by ballot. 4. Abolition of property qualification for members of Parliament. 5. The payment of members. 6. Equal electoral districts. This had been finally drawn up in 1838, but for many years the agitation for it was obscured by other matters. In 1839 a petition containing a million and a quarter names was presented to Parliament. In 184o an attack, made by the Chartists on Newport, was crushed by the firmness of the mayor. In 1847 the Chartists put out their full strength and gained several seats in Parliament, and especially the election of their leader Feargus O’Connor for Nottingham. Inspired by their successes, the Chartists determined to hold a monster meeting on the tenth of April on Kennington Common; from this place they were to march and present a huge petition to the House of Commons. They even talked of imitating France in the establishment of a republic. The Government determined to prevent the march. Soldiers were posted in all parts of London by the Duke of Wellington; 170,000 special constables were sworn in; the public offices, the Bank of England and post office were armed to the teeth. All their designs ended in failure. The meeting was far smaller than had been expected, the march was given up, and the petition of five million and a half of names was found to contain only a third of this number, and those mainly fictitious. The movement could not survive the ridicule of exposure.
The chief subjects of discontent which existed at the accession had now been removed. The disabilities of Catholics had been taken away, the corn laws had been re-pealed, the Irish had been pacified, rebellion in England had been crushed. The country entered upon a career of peaceful progress. In 1849 the navigation laws, which had been passed by Cromwell’s Government in 1651, and which had first transferred the carrying trade from Holland to Great Britain, were repealed. This was a legitimate extension of the principles of free trade. Party spirit was hushed for a time by the death of Sir Robert Peel (July 2, 1850). Some slight excitement was caused by the appointment by the Pope of Roman Catholic bishops, under an Archbishop of Westminster, and the division of England into dioceses. It produced, however, much less effect than was anticipated. All thoughts were concentrated on the Great Exhibition, to be held in Hyde Park in 1851. The design and execution were entirely the work of Prince Albert. – The enterprise was a brilliant success.
Lord John Russell was succeeded as minister by Lord Derby. But a dissolution of Parliament brought back the old ministry with Lord Aberdeen at its head and William E. Gladstone as Chancellor of Exchequer. His budget inaugurated a new series of financial reforms. He formed a plan of reducing the national debt, while he retained the income tax in order to make it easier to tax more equally the chief articles of daily consumption.
During the Crimean war between Russia and Turkey (1854), in which England and France gave support to the latter, the want of supplies and hospitals roused indignation in England. Discontent ripened into suspicion.
Mr. Roebuck proposed an inquiry into the conduct of the Ministry. Unable to meet it the cabinet of Lord Aberdeen resigned and, after a short delay, Lord Palmerston formed a Government not very different from the previous one. It soon lost the services of Gladstone and two others, but it was able to carry on the war with undiminished vigor.
In the spring of 1857 the Government were defeated on a motion of Cobden’s condemning their action with regard to a war which had broken out in China. Ministers determined to dissolve Parliament rather than to resign, and the issue placed before the country was that of confidence in Lord Palmerston. In the election Cobden and Bright were rejected as members of the peace party. The liberal cause on the whole was supported by a triumphant majority. The elections were followed by the Indian mutiny.
Although the French alliance was popular throughout the country, it was not so with the personal character of the French Emperor. Men felt that they did not under-stand and could not trust him, and it weakened the position of the Prime Minister that he was believed to be the Emperor’s intimate friend. An unexpected occurrence made this suddenly manifest. An attack made by Italian refugees on the life of the Emperor Napoleon in January, 1858, was the occasion of a demand from the French Government that England should cease to offer facilities for the conspiracies of political exiles. Lord Palmerston, in deference to this request, proposed to alter the English law of conspiracy to murder. When this was rejected by a majority of nineteen, he immediately resigned, and was succeeded by Lord Derby at the head of a Conservative Ministry. The year was occupied by various internal reforms; the choice of Indian civil servants by competitive examination was extended, the Thames was purified, a telegraphic cable was laid between England and America. It appeared that the question of Parliamentary Reform, which had been stopped by the Crimean War, but had never sunk into oblivion, had now to be faced, and Lord Derby and Disraeli braced themselves to deal with a problem which they acknowledged to be unwelcome.
The Reform Bill introduced by Disraeli was not satisfactory. It gave the franchise to a number of different classes, without resting it on any broad or comprehensive basis. A resolution, proposed by Lord John Russell, which expressed this feeling, was carried against the Government by a majority of thirty-nine. Ministers deter-mined to dissolve. The issue before the country was not entirely of a domestic character. War had broken out between France and Austria for the liberation of Italy, and the feeling of England was strongly with Italian unity. The Liberals, who were known to have this cause at heart, were returned in a majority of fifty, and immediately after Parliament met Ministers were compelled to resign, defeated in a vote of confidence. This was the sixth change of Ministry which had taken place in fifteen years.
Lord Palmerston now became Prime Minister, with Lord J. Russell as Foreign Secretary, Gladstone Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Lord Granville President of the Council ( June, 1859). The first step of the Government was the conclusion of a commercial treaty with France, based on the principles of free trade. Cobden had been the negotiator; and Gladstone, in a speech which announced a new era of financial policy, expressed the long services of the Free Trader in language of universally accepted praise. The Ministry attempted to satisfy the expectations of the country by bringing forward a Reform Bill. It was as simple as its forerunner had been complicated. It proposed a franchise of L10 in counties, £6 in boroughs, and a redistribution of seats. The languid interest felt in it by the Premier was a sign of the indifference of the country, and the bill was withdrawn.
In 1861 the Civil War broke out in America* between the Northern and Southern States of the Union. The matters in dispute between them were many and various, but the most important point at issue was the question of slavery. The English people generally took the side of the South, partly from a supposed community of feeling, and partly from a jealousy of the United States and a wish to see her dismembered. This feeling was intensified by the capture of two Southern envoys while under the protection of the British flag. There was danger of war breaking out, but the Northern States submitted to an ultimatum and returned the prisoners.
The affair of the “Trent,” as this dispute was called from the name of the ship in which the envoys were sailing, was the last public question in which Prince Albert, now for some time called the Prince Consort, was engaged. After a few days’ illness, he died at Windsor, in December, 1861, at the age of forty-two. The grief of the English Nation was universal and spontaneous. Only gradually did the country come to learn that he had been King of England for twenty years, while no one knew it.
The American war affected England in two ways. First, the ordinary supply of cotton to her manufacturing districts was cut off, and the great distress, known as the “cotton famine” was felt in Lancashire. The operatives displayed the utmost patience and self-control under their afflictions, and large subscriptions were contributed for their support. Lord Derby gave the services of his genius to the organization of relief, and cotton, the staple of which was of a shorter length, was provided from India. Before the American war was over the worst pressure of distress was passed. The other trouble was of longer duration. A ship called the “Alabama”* was fitted out from an English dockyard, notwithstanding the protest of the American Ambassador, with the object of making war on American commerce, in the interests of the South-ern States. Americans felt that the negligence shown in not stopping this vessel expressed only too clearly the sympathies of England. They could not at this time do anything to prevent or to avenge the wrong, but when the war was over a feeling of bitterness was left, which nearly led to an open rupture, and was with difficulty appeased.
Lord Palmerston died in October, 1865. The condition of parties during these closing years was remarkable. Popular throughout the country, the Premier was trusted equally by the Conservatives and Liberals. The policy of a long life was the earnest of his liberalism; and, at the same time, he was known to be opposed to organic reform. The great questions which were agitated in later years now slumbered, and the reform of the representation, which lay at the root of all other measures, was deferred with the admonition that the Nation should rest and be thankful for what it had already achieved. A new election in the spring of 1865 returned a solid Liberal majority with a few Liberal losses. No loss, however, was so great as the premature death of Richard Cobden.
Earl Russell succeeded Lord Palmerston as Premier; Gladstone became leader of the House of Commons; the Ministry in other respects remained unchanged. The history of this administration is the history of the Liberal Reform Bill. The bill, introduced by Gladstone in March, 1866, gave the franchise to householders of the value of £14 in counties and £7 in boroughs. It was evidently a compromise, and was not heartily supported either by the cabinet or by the party. A section of the Liberals, called by Bright the “Cave of Adullam,” joined the opposition in resisting it, and in June the Ministry were defeated and resigned. They were succeeded by a Conservative Government, the principal members of which were Lord Derby and Disraeli.
Lord Derby promised a safe and moderate measure of reform. But the agitation throughout the country was very great. The war in Germany, which in six weeks made Prussia instead of Austria the dominant power in that country, passed almost unheeded. The somewhat cruel suppression of the rebellion in Jamaica by Governor Eyre was condemned by advanced Liberals. The laying of a telegraph cable between Ireland and Newfoundland gave hope to those who wished for a union of affection between the two mighty continents. In July the Reform League was forbidden to hold a meeting in Hyde Park, but the masses who had accompanied them threw down the railings and pushed back the police who would have barred their passage. The Reform addresses of Gladstone and Bright were received with enthusiasm.
At the beginning of the session of 1867, Disraeli pro-posed resolutions which were to be the basis of a reform bill. A considerable extension of the franchise was contemplated, limited by a system of plurality of votes. Parliament objected to this method, and it became necessary for the Ministers to agree in a definite measure; of two alternative courses, Disraeli expounded his measure in March. The proposed franchise was founded on real estate taxes paid, and not on rental. The franchise in boroughs was given to all householders paying taxes; in counties it was given to occupiers of property taxed at £15 a year. Besides this, the franchise was given to all men of a certain education, or who had saved a certain sum of money. In some cases voters were allowed a double vote in respect of possessing a double qualification.
The bill was violently opposed by Gladstone, who objected to its provisions in almost every particular, but the section of his party, who formed the “Cave of Adullum” declined to follow him in procuring the defeat of the Government. Notwithstanding this, the measure was gradually changed piece by piece until it was entirely altered. The abolition of compound householders, that is of those whose taxes were paid for them in the lump by their landlords, nearly quadrupled the number of voters; lodgers were admitted to the franchise, the county franchise was reduced, and the distribution of seats was changed. The bill, as it was passed by both Houses, weary with argument, at the end of July, almost reached the limit of manhood suffrage. It had been passed by a Conservative ministry and Lord Derby described it as a leap in the dark.
It was necessary that Parliament should meet again in the autumn of 1867 to vote supplies for an expedition to Abyssinia, undertaken to release some Englishmen who were kept in prison by the King. The prisoners were released, and Magdala, the King’s capital, destroyed. Early in the session of 1868 Lord Derby resigned the Premiership from bad health, and was succeeded by Disraeli. It soon became obvious that the main point of struggle between the two parties would be the disestablishment of the Irish Church. At the end of March, Gladstone moved resolutions to that effect. The Government had been defeated by small majorities before the Easter recess. In April it was beaten on the Irish Church question by a majority of eighty-five. Parliament was dissolved, and the result of the elections was a signal victory for the Liberals. The Government did not wait for the opening of the session, but resigned their offices, and just before the close of 1868, William E. ‘Gladstone became Prime Minister.
It is natural that in England Constitutional changes should be followed by great activity in administrative reform. The ministries which succeeded the Reform Bills of 1832 and 1867 carried a number of measures which could only have been carried when the tide of public spirit was in the flood. Both ministries soon exhausted the popularity which had enabled these measures to be passed. The chief members of Gladstone’s cabinet were Lord Hatherley, Lowe, Bruce, Lord Granville, Bright, and Childers. During its five years’ tenure of office it showed a great activity in every branch of administrative reform. This could only be maintained by a large majority in Parliament, directed by a chief of exceptional ability, at a time when the feeling of the country was wrought to an unusual strain. The first efforts of the Government were directed to the removal of Irish grievances by the disestablishment of the Irish Church and the regulation of Irish land. The country had determined, by the elections, that the Irish branch of the Church of England should cease to exist under State protection. The working out of that change was difficult and complicated. The arrangements proposed by Gladstone were passed by large majorities in the House of Commons, and met with no serious opposition in the House of Lords.
The Irish Land Act passed in the session of 1870 was a matter of greater difficulty. Its object was to give such security to the tenant as might induce him to spend money in improving his holding, to lend money to landlords to be spent in improvements, to put a restraint on hasty and unjust evictions, and to establish a ready means of arbitration between landlord and tenant. The bill, though full of complicated provisions met with little opposition in either House, and became law on the 1st of August.
The same session was occupied with another measure of first-rate importance. W. E. Forster produced a comprehensive Education Act to deal with primary education, namely, that of the poorer classes. Time was given for different religious denominations to supply deficiencies in existing schools, but if this were not done schools boards were to be created, who should provide, at the cost of the ratepayer, a cheap, universal and unsectarian education. The result has surpassed the most sanguine hopes. Every year since the passing of the Act the number of ignorant children has diminished.
The session of 1871 was not idle. Purchase in the army was abolished, the English civil service was made attainable by competition, the universities were thrown open to the whole country without regard to religious denominations, trades unions were recognized by law, and the powers of local government were extended to country districts.
In 1872 a system was adopted of electing members of Parliament by ballot or secret voting. This measure had long been urged by the Liberals and opposed by the Conservatives.
The session of 1873 was intended by the Government to remove another Irish grievance by establishing a system of Catholic university education. The measure had been carefully prepared by Gladstone, and it was introduced with good hope of its success. But it was soon found that it satisfied neither party. The Government was defeated, and the Ministry resigned. Disraeli, however, refused to take office and the seals were resumed by their former holders. A few changes were made in the Cabinet and a Judicature Bill was passed, remodeling the whole system of English judicial procedure.
The Government was weakened and discredited. Seat after seat was won by the Conservatives, The Liberal majority became every day smaller and less compact. At last, in the beginning of 1874, Gladstone determined to appeal to the country, and, to the surprise of everybody, in January Parliament was dissolved. In five years the majority of Liberal supporters had dwindled from 116 to 66. The result of the elections was a triumph for the Conservatives. The Cabinet did not wait for the meeting of Parliament. Disraeli accepted office as Premier, sup-ported by Lord Derby, Lord Salisbury, Lord Carnarvon, Sir S. Northcote, Cross, and Hardy. Shortly after this Gladstone announced that he had retired forever from the leadership of the Liberal party.
The session of 1874 passed quietly under the new Government. Its principal work was the Public Worship Regulation Act, introduced by the Archbishop of Canter-bury. The object of this Act was to restrain the extreme High Church clergy from using ritual which imitated the ceremonies of the Roman Church against the wishes of their parishioners. It was strongly opposed by Lord Salisbury and Gladstone, but Disraeli came forward in defense of it at the call of Sir William Harcourt. Experience has shown that the Act has effected less good and done less mischief than its friends and enemies expected from it. The choice of a successor to Gladstone, who announced his retirement in January, 1874, was not made without difficulty. The two candidates were Lord Hartington and Forster. The different characters of the men offered different qualifications for the post, but Lord Hartington was eventually preferred to Forster chiefly because he could more easily make way for the return of his former leader.
The new Prime Minister cared more for foreign than for domestic politics. The next five years of his government were filled with events which brought home to Englishmen the imperial position of their country but also made them realize the burden of responsibility which attaches to it. On November 8, 1875, the Prince of Wales landed at Bombay, the first step of a royal progress through India. In the same month the Government purchased £4,000,000 worth of shares in the Suez Canal. The control of the India office over England’s great dependency was made more complete, and, on the resignation of Lord Northbrook, Lord Lytton was sent as Governor-General to carry out the new policy. Early in the following year the Queen assumed the title of Empress of India, with a proviso that it should not be used in England. These events showed the presence of a new spirit in the Government, which was regarded by some with enthusiasm, by some with ridicule, by others with dismay. Then followed the Russian-Turkish war in the settlement of which England played a prominent part.
The cost of wars in Afghanistan and South Africa made the Government unpopular. The people believed that the Imperial policy had nowhere been a success. Its brilliancy did not compensate for its burdens. A series of bad harvests had made money scarce. Attacks on foreign policy were coupled with demands for an extended suffrage. The popularity of the Government was on the wane. The distress fell with a special heaviness on Ire-land, where large rents had in many cases to be paid to absentee landlords for property which the tenants had improved. A cry was raised “Get rid of the landlords,” and Charles S. Parnell founded a Land League for the purpose of buying them out. Constitutional agitation was unfortunately accompanied by dishonesty and outrage, which were met by the Government with severe methods of repression.
Parliament was now approaching its close, and in the autumn recess platforms resounded with the war cries of the coming fray. Gladstone led the attack by standing for Midlothian, and conducted a fortnight’s campaign of incessant speaking. The Queen opened Parliament in person on February 15, 1880. The Royal Speech told of peace in Afghanistan and South Africa, and of the success of the treaty of Berlin. It announced no measures of importance, but the dissolution which followed in March was unexpected. In the issue before the country Lord Beaconsfield (Disraeli) took his stand on the necessity of an Imperial policy and denunciation of Home Rule. Lord Hartington put forward the stability of Liberal tradition, and Gladstone vigorously foiled the policy of his rival. The elections were a surprise to both parties but they spoke with no uncertain voice. The new Parliament contained 349 Liberals, as against 351 Conservatives in the old. The Conservative opposition was now 243, while the Liberals’ opposition in the late House had been 250. The members of the Home Rule party had risen from 51 to 6o. Lord Beaconsfield determined not to meet the new Parliament and only delayed his resignation until the Queen had returned from the Continent. She first sent for Lord Hartington, as leader of the opposition in the Commons, but on the representation of him and Lord Granville summoned Gladstone. He consented to form a Government, taking for himself the offices of First Lord of the Treasury and . Chancellor of the Exchequer. The principal members of his former Cabinet returned with him to power.
Seldom has one British Government succeeded another with a stronger contrast of principles and practice, or a wider distinction between the sources from which they drew their confidence. The foreign policy of Lord Beaconsfield had been essentially of a forward, perhaps even of an aggressive character. The party which had come into office by attacking this policy was bound to move in a different direction. Gladstone inherited a legacy of complications in Eastern Europe, in Asia, and in South Africa which needed skill and patience to unravel. The changed spirit of the new Ministry was soon apparent. A declaration was elicited from Austria to the effect that she had no intention of extending her authority any further than the Balkan peninsula. By a combined demonstration of European fleets the harbor of Dulcigno was ceded to Montenegro in accordance with the treaty of Berlin. A similar influence was used to keep Greece at peace until she obtained all the extension of territory which she could get, but not all that she had been led to hope for.
In Afghanistan the battle of Maiwand was fought by 2,500 troops, of whom only 500 were British, against 12,000 of the enemy. It was followed by the disastrous retreat to Candahar, where the English army was shut up until General Roberts relieved them from Cabul. In South Africa the Boers of the Transvaal, encouraged by the opposition of the Liberal party to their annexation, and finding the colonists occupied with a war against the Basuto, proclaimed the revival of their Republic. The English generals underrated the strength of the Boers, and their skill as marksmen, and the reverses of a short campaign culminated in the disasters of Majuba Hill on February 26, 1881. After three years’ negotiations the Transvaal Republic was restored under conditions which secured the rights of the native races.
A different policy was also adopted toward Ireland. The Queen’s Speech announced that the existing Coercion Act would not be renewed. A Bill was passed in the Commons to put a stop to unjust evictions, but it was rejected by a large majority in the House of Lords. Excitement and agitation in Ireland increased. A system of “boycotting” grew up, by which landlords and agents who violated the principles of the Land League were cut off from all communication with their fellowmen. Crimes and outrages increased. A Coercion Act was introduced, which was opposed by the Irish members with every device of obstruction. One sitting continued almost without interruption for fifty hours. The next day the whole of the Irish party was suspended from the service of the House. The Coercion Act was finally passed on March 2.
The Government had determined that repressive and remedial measures should proceed together, and on April 7, 1881, Gladstone produced his Land Bill. It established a special court to decide upon the conflicting claims between landlord and tenant. It accepted what was called the principle of the “F. F. F.” fair rent, free sale, and fixity of tenure. Before it was read a second time, Lord Beaconsfield* had died, after a short illness. The scope of the Bill was extended by the Irish party. It was violently attacked in the House of Lords. A collision between the two Houses was with much difficulty avoided, and the Bill became law in the middle of August. The Coercion Act, however, was not to remain a dead letter. On October 13, Parnell, Dillon, Sexton, and other leaders of the Land League, were arrested in Dublin and sent to Kilmainham Jail. They replied by calling on the Irish people to pay no rent while their leaders were in prison. Secret societies began to take the place of open communication.
During the spring of 1882 neither branch of the Government policy toward Ireland seemed to be successful. The Lords attacked the working of the Land Act, and impeded its active operation; while Forster did not succeed in repressing disorder even by the full use of the Coercion Act. Up to April 18 there had been 918 arrests, and over 600 men were in prison. Parnell, while still in Kilmainham, drafted a Bill to relieve distressed tenants of all arrears of rent up to the passing of the Land Act in 1881. It was introduced into the House and ‘the Government appeared to approve of the principles on which it was based. At the beginning of May the Irish members were released from prison, and at the same time Lord Cowper was succeeded as Lord-Lieutenant by Lord Spencer, while Forster resigned the Irish Secretaryship. These events formed what is known as the “Kilmainham Treaty,” an arrangement which provided that the Government should take steps to remit arrears and establish peasant proprietors and that the leaders of the Irish party should do their best to pacify the country. Forster strongly opposed this new policy, and his arguments were enforced by a terrible catastrophe. On May 6, Lord Frederick Cavendish arrived in Dublin as the new Chief Secretary. In the bright summer evening as he was walking through Phoenix Park to his new home, he was murdered, together with Burke, who was his companion. The assassins drove off and disappeared. It was afterward ascertained that Burke was the victim aimed at, and that the murder of the Chief Secretary was unpremeditated. The next morning, which was Sunday, the news fell with startling horror on the three Kingdoms. George Trevelyan stepped gallantly into the breach. A new Coercion Act of extreme severity was passed, with little opposition except from the Irish members. At the same time an Arrears Act was passed in the teeth of the House of Lords. Little amelioration was experienced; the year closed amid outrages and murders.
In January, 1883, twenty men were arrested in Dublin, one of whom was James Carey, a member of the Dublin Town Council. During the trial of the prisoners he turned Queen’s evidence, and confessed that he had planned the murders in Phoenix Park and had given the signal for the crime. He had also organized plans for assassinating Forster and had been the mainspring of the attack upon Field. Five of the prisoners were hanged, and Carey was sent by the Government to South Africa, where he was shot by a man who followed his track for vengeance. There were other signs that the spirit of rebellion was not at rest. Explosions of dynamite organized by American sympathizers with Ireland took place at the public offices and at railway stations. This scare continued at intervals throughout two years, and culminated with the wrecking of the House of Commons by an explosion in the beginning of 1885.
It remained for the Ministry to redeem a pledge which they had given on their accession to office, of reforming the representation of the people in Parliament by admitting the country laborers to suffrage. Trevelyan had year after year brought forward a motion for assimilating the franchise in counties to that in boroughs. The new Bill added to the householder and lodger franchise already existing in boroughs a service franchise in favor of persons who occupied buildings without being either the owners or tenants. These three classes of franchises were now introduced into the counties, the standard of the occupation franchise was reduced, and faggot votes were abolished. Scotland and Ireland were placed upon the same footing as England, although with respect to the latter country the step was strongly resisted by the Conservatives. In the Lords an amendment was proposed by Lord Cairns that the Bill should not come into operation until the scheme of redistribution which was to accompany it had been agreed upon. This was accepted, and the Bill, which had been introduced on February 29, 1884, finally passed on December 5 It added about 2,000,000 voters to the register.
After much discussion in the press and in the country, Gladstone produced his scheme of redistribution at the end of November. It had been drawn up in concert with Lord Salisbury, and its principal features were that it disenfranchised a large number of small boroughs, established an almost uniform system of one-member constituencies, and slightly increased the numbers of the House of Commons. It was read a second time the day before the Franchise Bill became law, and its further consideration was adjourned to the following year. It was discussed in detail from March to June, 1885, and did not become law until the Government which had introduced it had ceased to, exist. This catastrophe was the result of an accident. The wear and tear of five eventful years had produced dissensions in the Liberal party, and an amendment on the budget proposals of Childers was carried against the Government by a majority of twelve. Many Liberals were absent from the division, and thirty-nine Home Rulers voted for the opposition. Gladstone resigned office.
Lord Salisbury was Premier of the new Conservative administration, in which Lord Randolph Churchill appeared as Secretary for India. In the November elections the Liberals won 335 seats against 249 Conservatives and 86 Home Rulers. The Irish holding the balance of power, rumors became current that Gladstone had been converted to Home Rule. When Gladstone came to power it was declared that Home Rule would be the watch-word of the new administration. But defections followed, Chamberlain, Trevelyan, Bright, and other Whigs formed the Liberal-Unionist party and Home Rule was defeated on the second reading of the bill.
The Conservatives came to power with 316 members, supported by 78 Liberal-Unionists. As against these there were 191 Home Rule Liberals and 85 Irish Home Rulers. Limited local government was announced as Lord Salisbury’s panacea for Ireland’s ills, and Parnell’s Tenant Relief Bill was voted down. The plan of campaign was inaugurated, while the Round Table Conference failed to win the Liberal-Unionists back to the deserted Gladstonian fold. More closure rules in the House of Commons were passed and coercion was drastically applied to Irish agitation and lawlessness. But all politics paled in June before the celebration of the Queen’s Jubilee. The Nation expressed its enthusiasm in bunting and beacon fires, while a procession of Europe’s rulers, or their representatives, marched in all stateliness around Victoria, while she rode to Westminster Abbey to return thanks for her long and beneficent fifty years’ reign.
The Mitchelstown riot and Mr. O’Brien’s undergarments kept Ireland indignant and amused by turns. The year 1888 was one pervaded by the Irish question. A Local Government Bill for England did much to abate the rule of Dogberry, the justice of the peace and his corrupt or fossil henchman, Bumble, the Beadle. The special commission on “Parnellism and Crime” met, and $50,000,000 was voted in Parliament for the purposes of the Irish Land Purchase Bill. The tercentenary of the Armada lit the beacons again throughout the land as it did when the Spaniards menaced the realm of the Virgin Queen.
The beginning of 1889 was marked by Pigott’s confession of the “Parnell letter” forgery. The dock-laborers’ strike paralyzed London’s shipping interest for a time, and gave John Burns the opportunity to pose as a “docker” and to win some fame for the men’s victory. A charter was granted to the British South African Company, fated to become a powerful factor in the affairs of Africa in the hands of Cecil J. Rhodes. With the advent of 1890, Parliament was mainly concerned with Irish and domestic affairs. In August the island of Heligoland was ceded to Germany in return for African concessions, and the close of the year marked Parnell’s fall from power, owing to the disclosures of the O’Shea divorce case. The year 1891 was remarkable for the cessation of Irish crime and for the acute dissensions in the ranks of the Home Rule party. Peace pervaded Ireland, and the Government essayed a mild Irish local government measure. Its appointive officers were objectionable to the Nationalists, and though carried by a majority of 92, it died with its second reading. (1892.) Dissolution of Parliament drew near, and the Ulstermen held monster mass meetings to protest against the tender mercies of Home Rule in the hands of their opponents. The elections passed and Gladstone came to power with 355 supporters (270 Gladstonians, 4 Labor members, 72 anti-Parnellites and 9 Parnellites), as against 268 Conservatives and 47 Liberal-Unionists. Not until an actual division did the Conservative Ministry formally resign. The numbers showed a majority of 40 for the venerable statesman.
In Egypt (1893) the arrogance of the young Khedive received a salutary check in an ultimatum dispatched by Lord Rosebery, warning him of deposition if he resisted British policy and dismissed his Cabinet with-out consulting his English financial adviser. The Afghan boundary witnessed the Chitral campaign, which resulted in a further strengthening of India’s scientific frontier. In February Gladstone introduced his second Home Rule Bill. Welsh disestablishment and local option movements were placated by measures embodying the theories held by advanced Radicals. Parliament considered the Home Rule Bill, which antagonized the Unionists and failed to satisfy the Irish party. The loss of the battleship Victoria, with twenty-two officers and 336 men, was one of the most appalling disasters of recent times in the history of the British navy. In August the Bering Sea award* was made public. While a technical victory for England on each of the five points submitted,. the award established liberal regulations for the future preservation of the seal herd. Debate on the Home Rule Bill occupied eighty-two days in the House of Commons. It ended with a disorderly mêlée, and the measure passed its second reading by a majority of 34 in a House of 572. The bill went to the Upper House, and met its fate in a rejection of 419 to 41.
The year 1894 was made memorable by the retirement of Gladstone* from the leadership of his party. Vexed by the rejection of his Home Rule measure by the Lords, disgusted with the quarrels and dissensions among his Irish allies, the veteran statesman laid the mantle of leadership on Lord Rosebery, and turned to his books with an ardor which belied his years. Home Rule for Scotland was essayed in April, and a vigorous campaign against the Lords inaugurated. The formal opening of the Manchester Ship Canal by the Queen, and the opening of the vast Tower Bridge by the Prince of Wales, were events of national and local significance. Troubles in the Transvaal between the Boers and the English began to grow serious, while the Venezuelan boundary took an acute phase, owing to Venezuela’s invasion of the disputed strip. A brief campaign in Waziristan ended in favor of the Indian troops.
Welsh disestablishment was again essayed in 1895, an Irish Land Bill introduced, and Home Secretary Asquith introduced a stringent Factories and Work-shop Bill into Parliament. The fall of the Rosebery Ministry was precipitated by a catch-vote on the army estimates. Lord Salisbury came to power at the head of a distinctly Unionist Ministry, with a general election impending, and a well-defined sentiment against Home Rule prevalent. Parliament convened after the general election, with 411 Conservatives and Liberal-Unionists, as against 259 Gladstone Liberals, Labor members, and Home Rulers. The leaders in Lord Salisbury’s Cabinet were Joseph Chamberlain, the Duke of Devonshire, and A. J. Balfour. The Ministry had hardly settled to work when President Cleveland’s Venezuelan message* was in its hands. Much diplomatic correspondence ensued, but the whole matter resolved itself into a cause for arbitration, and preparations of evidence at once began.
The year 1896 was memorable as marking the Queen’s reign as the longest of any ruler of the British Isles, and remarkable for the disturbances in South Africa which ended with the Jameson raid. The early months were occupied with the Venezuelan question, Armenian affairs, and naval defense. John Dillon was chosen as leader. of the anti-Parnellite faction of Home Rulers, and a military expedition to Ashantee cost the life of Prince Henry of Battenberg and plunged the royal household into grief. In October Lord Rosebery astonished many by his resignation of the Liberal leadership. At home and abroad all was peace, with the exception of the Anglo-Egyptian successful operations in Egypt, and the Nation rejoiced with the Queen on the attainment of the sixtieth year of her reign.
Diplomatic relations with Venezuela were resumed in March, 1897. Four Irish members were suspended from Parliament for persisting in an irregular discussion of the financial relations between England and Ireland.
The celebration of the Queen’s Diamond jubilee was begun (June 20), and the British Naval Review was the greatest demonstration of the kind ever made. In October the Government of India notified the British Cabinet that it would not consent to the opening of the mints of that country to the free coinage of silver. During the Parliamentary session of 1898 the most important measure was the Irish Local Government Bill, elections under which, held in 1899, gave promise that a new era of partial self-government had begun in Ireland. Liberals and Conservatives alike mourned the death of Gladstone, May 12, 1898, and the Nation awoke to a new appreciation of his greatness.
The outbreak of the Boer war in October, 1899, came as a cloud to mar the serenity of this closing period of the Queen’s reign. The spectacle of two small republics struggling for independence aroused sympathy far and wide, and thousands of foreign volunteers took passage for South Africa to join the Boer forces. The press especially in the United States, France and Germany espoused the cause of the Boers, and through its active advocacy of their claims much substantial aid in the form of money and munitions of war found its way into Boer hands. But the blockade became more vigilant and effective, the danger of international complications was averted. The dispatch of a powerful British army commanded by Roberts and Kitchener, heroes of campaigns in India and the Soudan, turned the scales against the overconfident Boers. They were soon forced to evacuate all the British territory they had overrun, and after a most valiant resistance to overwhelming forces, saw their two republics annexed to the British Crown. On the fall of the Boer capitals and the flight of Presidents Krüger and Steyn, organized resistance gave place to desultory guerrilla warfare, which entailed much suffering on victors and vanquished alike.
Field-Marshal Roberts, who had been summoned from India to retrieve British disasters early in the war, sailed for England, Dec. i i, 1900, and on his arrival was made Earl Roberts, with the express provision that the title should descend to his daughter, his only son having been killed in battle with the Boers. Thus the pacification of the annexed South African states devolved on Lord Kitchener, who justified the high expectations formed of him.
Of less magnitude from a military point of view, but more serious in its ultimate consequences was the “Boxer” outbreak in China against the missionaries and later against foreigners in general. Beginning in the South early in 1900, the agitation soon spread to the northern provinces, till finally it imperilled the foreign legations within the city of Peking itself. The Powers concerned hereupon landed a force of 50,000 men under the command of Admiral Seymour, and with immense difficulty opened the road to the Chinese capital just in time to relieve the besieged legations, Aug. 14, 1900. Thereafter the operations of the allies were restricted to dispersing armed bodies of the “Boxers” and other sup-porters of the Court, which had previously fled to the West. By the terms of the ensuing peace protocol (signed Jan. 24, 1901) the dismemberment of the Chinese Empire was prevented, but an enormous money indemnity was exacted to cover the cost of the armed intervention by the allied Powers. Russia’s designs on Manchuria were frustrated mainly by the firm attitude of Great Britain, Japan and the United States, to whose forbearance also is due the abatement of the extortionate pecuniary claims made by the other Powers. The formal evacuation of Peking by the allied troops occurred Sept. 17, 1901.
The Queen died Jan. 22, 1901, in her eighty-second year, after the longest and most glorious reign in English history. The funeral, Feb. 2, was a spectacle of unexampled pomp and unprecedented pageantry, but more eloquent far and more enduring as memorials to her worth were the simpler tributes paid throughout the world to her lofty ideals and high standards of life and duty.
During the Victorian era it will be noted that there has been a great change both in the position of England and in the character of the questions which have excited public interest. Still mistress of the sea, and possessed, through its colonies, of an Empire distributed in every corner of the globe, England has found enough to do in the preservation and improvement of this gigantic domain, and has, as far as possible, abstained from interference in Continental quarrels. Once and again has it shown its influence. In 1848, the year of revolutions, and in the subsequent consolidation of Italy, its sympathies were not hidden, but there was no thought of active interference. It allowed the United States to settle its disputes uninterrupted. It adopted the same attitude of non-intervention in the Prussian wars against Denmark, against Austria, and against France. It has only been in questions which seemed to touch the safety of its Eastern Empire that it has drawn the sword. The Crimean war was avowedly for the maintenance of Turkey as a check upon Russia, which was threatening the road to India. Of the same class have been the wars in Egypt and Afghanistan. Still more directly, when India itself burst into insurrection, was England called upon to interfere and engage in the victorious but terrible campaigns which marked the suppression of the mutiny. The other wars and they are not few, though petty have all been connected with mercantile and colonial interests. The questions which have chiefly moved men’s minds have been of a social or mercantile character. The extension of the electoral franchise, the reform of municipalities, the repeal of the Corn Laws, the estabishment of free trade, the improvement, of the condition of the working classes, the regulation of strikes and trade unions, a National system of education, and, of late years, the question of the management of Ireland. have been the points around which political interests have centered. They are fitting questions to occupy a democracy. To that phase 9f political life, in one way or other, England is fast hastening.
There can be little doubt that posterity will look back upon the Victorian age as one of the richest in the history of England. Indeed, though it is not so bright as some with military glories, its sky is adorned with a most significant and expanding rainbow of popular and reforming legislation. It is splendid with the triumphs of all the arts of peace, and it can fairly boast in literature not only an unexampled abundance of brilliant ability, but some things worthy of the best days. This period, above all, has seen the completion of the English constitutional system. For more than half a century the subjects of the British Empire had at home lived under a Sovereign who had never, in the smallest degree, sought to interfere with the principle of self-government involved in Parliamentary rule. Her Prime Ministers had been chosen and retained in office in subjection to the will of a majority of the House of Commons and the English system of party government had thus brought to the head of affairs the men who were in succession indicated by the votes of the people.
The accession of Edward VII seemed to mark a new era for the great Empire over whose destinies the death of his august mother had called him to preside. Seemingly isolated a short time before, the Empire had given the world an instructive object lesson by transporting 250,000 soldiers 6,000 miles by sea, maintaining them in a hostile territory as large as France, which it finally annexed. At the same time it had taken the leading part in the chastisement of the “Boxers,” and now through a formal alliance with Japan in Eastern and a commercial one with the United States in the Western Hemisphere, it offered a front such as no coalition of the Great Powers could venture to assail.
The aid furnished by the Australian Colonies during the Boer war had been suitably acknowledged by the special act of Parliament establishing Australian Federation, which had its beginning January 1, 1901.
The union of the two great Anglo-Saxon nations was still further strengthened by the new canal agreement (November, 1901) abrogating the obsolete Clayton-Bulwer treaty, and giving the United States the sole right to construct, maintain and control- the Isthmian water-way.
Thus the Empire gives new promise of stability and of progression along the lines which civilization points out to nations, as to individuals, who would not die.