History of England, Part III, William and Mary to 1887

Tout, T. F. --Powell, F. York

1898

CHAPTER III: Victoria - Melbourne and Peel 1837-1846

1. [1] The new Queen was only eighteen years old, and had been brought up so quietly by her mother, the Duchess of Kent (who lived apart from the Court, having quarrelled with King William), that very few people knew much about her. But her first acts pleased everybody. Greville speaks of her

"perfect calmness and self-possession, her graceful modesty and propriety,"

in the trying time of her accession.

" If she had been my own daughter,"

said ,

" I could not have desired to see her perform her part better."

's tottering Government was now propped up for a time by the young Queen's support.

"She has really

nothing to do with anybody else,"

says Greville.

"

Melbourne

is at her side at least six hours in the day: and she fretted herself into an illness at the notion of his going out of office. His manner to her is perfect; hers to him is simple and natural. It is become his province to educate, instruct, and form the most interesting mind and character in the world."

In the Government, anxious to fulfil the hopes of its supporters, and to do signal service to the sister country, carried a Poor Law for Ireland, despite the violent resistance of Irish members of all parties. This brought into Ireland the English system with a strict workhouse test, but without the law of settlement. This Bill did as much as any law could to stop pauperism in a poor country. The Irish Tithe Bill-a long-desired reform-() and Irish Corporation Bill () also got through at last, though much cut about by the Opposition. But there was much disaffection among the Canadian French, and a rising among the negroes in Jamaica. The budget was high, and Whig finance was still a byword. Even the Penny Postage system, carried in at the suggestion of Rowland Hill, though a great blessing to the people, was a dead loss to the revenue.

2. [2] The state of the country grew worse. Workmen suffered from long spells of forced idleness through bad trade, or laboured hard in miserable workshops for a wretched pittance. Floating discontent found one expression in the schemes of the brilliant Welshman Robert Owen to reorganise society on the basis of Socialism (see Chapter VI.), and came to a head in the Chartist movement. In Feargus , a boisterous Irishman, bold in speech but irresolute in action and unstable in character, formerly one of 's

"Tail,"

became the leader of those who demanded the Five Points of the People's Charter, which gave a unity of aim to the hitherto divided and scattered reformers.

The Points were- 1. Universal suffrage. 2. Vote by ballot. 3. Annual Parliaments. 4. The abolition of the property qualification for Members of Parliament. 5. Payment of Members. 6. Equal electoral districts was originally a sixth Point, but this was left out in the National Petition.

At bottom the movement was social, not political; what the poor Chartists felt was the dulness, hopelessness, and misery of the workman's daily life. Their mistake was in

176

[1] 
thinking that changes in the State alone would make it brighter and better. No doubt it could do something, but they too completely believed that political reforms could bring about social amelioration.

"The principle of the People's Charter,"

said the hot-headed preacher Stephens,

"is the right of every man to have his home, his hearth, and his happiness. The question of universal suffrage is after all a knife-and-fork question. It means that every workman has a right to have a good hat and coat, a good roof, a good dinner, no more work than will keep him in health, and as much wages as will keep him in plenty."

In Attwood, the old Reformer, laid before Parliament the National Petition of the Chartists, with more than a million signatures. But the Commons took no heed of it, and the

"physical force"

party (so the more desperate Chartists were called) drilled their followers, held great meetings, and got ready for revolt. Riots burst out at Birmingham, at Devizes, and Llanidloes; and the excitable Welsh colliers and ironworkers marched down from the Monmouthshire hills to seize Newport. A regular fight broke out in Newport streets; but the brave Mayor, Phillips, scattered the Chartist bands, and their leaders, Frost, Jones, and Williams, were tried and punished. Want of leaders and organisation, and the great difference in objects among the Chartists themselves, led to their failure. For a while Chartism was stayed.

3. [3] The best thing about the Government was still 's foreign policy. His great aim now was to destroy the Holy Alliance in the East, and he wrongly believed that Turkey could be made to live a new life as a civilised European power, and be England's greatest support against Russia and her allies. Along with France, he succeeded in breaking the bondage of Turkey to Russia, which sprang from the Treaty of Unkiar-Skelesi. But France was playing her own game, and her restless and crafty Minister backed up Mehemet Ali, Pasha of Egypt (now in revolt against the Sultan), in his conquest of Syria from the Turks. hotly resented this.

" The mistress of

India

,"

he cried,

" could not permit France to be mistress of the road to

India

."

So, in July , he formed a Quadruple Alliance with Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Turkey, which left France quite by itself. In November Beyrout was bombarded and Acre taken. The Egyptians were thus driven out of Syria. was eager for war, but shrewd Louis Philippe was

177

too weak at home to run the risk, and won the day; but he lost our friendship with France, and laid himself open to the charge of meddlesomeness abroad and arbitrary self-will at home. England also succeeded in the Opium War with China, which brought the English the little island of Hong Kong, and opened five Chinese ports to our trade (). But it was long before the terrible disasters of the Afghan War turned into victories for the English.

4. [4] In May saw his majority reduced to five votes, and gave up office. But would not form a ministry unless the Whig ladies in the Queen's Household went out along with their husbands. The Queen grew indignant.

"They wished to treat me like a girl,"

she cried;

"but I will show them that I am Queen of England."

" I have stood by you,"

she said to her ministers,

"and now you must stand by me."

For two years more her favour alone kept them in power, for the changes now made in the ministry did not strengthen it much, though they brought into place as Secretary-at- War the famous essayist, historian, talker and orator, Thomas Babington . The meaner Tories cried loudly against the Queen, but as time went on himself came to see that she was mostly right.

[5] On 10th February the Queen married her cousin , younger son of the Duke of Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha, who, though only twenty years old, proved from the first a wise, prudent, and unselfish adviser, honestly and modestly striving to fulfil his duty, while keeping himself in the background to avoid jealousy.

" I study the politics of the day,"

wrote the Prince Consort (this was what people called him from the first, though it was not till that it became his official title),

"with great industry. I speak quite openly to the Ministers on all subjects, and endeavour quietly to be of as much use to

Victoria

as I can. In foreign affairs I think I have done some good."

Himself learning much from , he saved the Queen from too great dependence on a falling minister. He saw that

"if monarchy was to rise in popularity, it could only be by the sovereign leading a good life, and keeping quite aloof from party."

With great tact, and without very much friction, he brought the monarchy into touch with the state of things brought about by the Reform Bill. He did for the Crown what did for the House of Lords. Just as the Duke saw that the Lords must give up setting themselves

178

[1] 
against the national will strongly expressed, so did the Prince see that the Crown could no longer exercise those legal rights for which had fought so manfully. Like the Lords, the Crown now became a checking and regulating, rather than a moving, force. It remained as the pledge and symbol of the unity and continuity of the national life, and could do good work in tempering the evils of absolute party government. Such of the royal prerogatives as were not dead must be carried out by ministers. The royal influence continued to run through every branch of the State.

5. [6] Beaten hopelessly in the old Parliament, the Whigs went to the country with a plan to change the shifting corn tax into a moderate fixed duty. But no one believed in the sincerity of their sudden conversion to free trade, and the frightened landlords and farmers sent back a majority of ninety Conservatives to uphold English agriculture in the new Parliament.

"I knew it would be so,"

exclaimed , as he resigned. On 4th September was admitted to office, and was well received by Queen and Prince, though he had cut down the Prince's income, and disputed his position. Yet

"it was,"

says Greville,

"a day of severe trial to the Queen. She looked flushed, and her heart was brim-full; but she preserved complete selfpossession and dignity, though her feelings were evident.

Peel

told me that she had behaved perfectly to him."

Peel's Ministry, 1841-46.

The new ministry was very strong in talent and experience. Headed by the

" greatest member of Parliament that has ever lived,"

it included the brilliant and versatile Lyndhurst as Chancellor, and the experienced Goulburn as Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Duke of

Wellington

was broken in health, but he sat in the Cabinet without office. The dashing and eloquent

Stanley

,

" the Rupert of debate,"

and the able, though unpopular, Graham, were now quite at one with the Conservatives, and were Colonial and Home Secretaries, while Lord Aberdeen again had charge of Foreign Affairs and

Ripon

was President of the Board of Trade. Among the young men, gradually coming into notice in minor offices, were William

Gladstone

, son of a rich

Liverpool

merchant, and

" the rising hope of the stern and unbending Tories,"

whose ability, eloquence, and high character already marked him out for a great career; the accomplished and popular Sidney

Herbert

and Lord Canning, son of the famous statesman, and Lord Dalhousie' both of whom were soon to make great names for themselves in

India

.'

" It is remarkable,"

says Greville,

"to see

Peel

's complete mastery in Parliament over friends and foes. His own party have surrendered at discretion, and he has them as

well disciplined as the crew of a man-of-war. There is every probability of his being minister for as many years as his health may endure. There can be no doubt now that he is a very great man."

But difficulties soon sprang up on every side which tried the ministry to the uttermost. did best where the qualities of the sober and sensible man of business were most wanted, but he lacked sympathy, insight, and foresight, and this led to his final fall.

6. [8] Aberdeen ended the long-standing dispute with the United States, about the exact boundary of Canada, by the Ashburton Treaty of . [9] But there was another boundary question, in the wild north- west region of Oregon, now becoming ripe for settlement. Long negotiations had almost brought about an under standing, when the new President, Polk, headed the anti English

"Democratic"

party in America in rejecting all compromise. In war seemed unavoidable, but the Americans acted more sensibly than they talked, and the moderation and good sense of Aberdeen led to renewed negotiations. In the Oregon question was peacefully settled by a treaty which left Vancouver's Island to the English, and secured the navigation of the Columbia river to both nations. 's ministry began much better with France than ended, for was a great friend of Louis Philippe and his Protestant minister Guizot, who had replaced , and was a student and writer on English history, and an admirer of the English Constitution. [10] But in a French admiral arrested the English consul at Tahiti, and annexed the island. Bad feelings were roused, before France was persuaded to disavow the admiral's act, and restore Tahiti to its queen, Pomare. Personal interviews between and Louis Philippe again restored the much-talked of

"entente cordiale."

[11] But in the King of the French broke his most solemn pledges by arranging a double marriage between the young Queen Isabella of Spain and her unworthy cousin, Francis of Assis, Duke of Cadiz, and between her younger sister, the Infanta Louisa, and his favourite son, the Duke of Montpensier, having good hopes that the Spanish succession would thus fall to the Orleans family. But his low cunning overreached itself, and, perhaps, cost him his own throne, while England and France were for a third time within six years brought to the verge of war.

7. [12] In again started the Repeal agitation, but the movement had but little life in it. In a new party arose. A band of ardent enthusiastic young Irishmen, headed by Charles Gavan , Thomas Davis, John Dillon, and Thomas started the Nation newspaper in Dublin, to

"represent the new mind which has grown up among us, and unite Protestant and Catholic, Milesian and Cromwellian, the Irishman of a hundred generations, and the stranger within our gates in a common national party."

The fiery verses and impassioned prose of the Young Ireland party stirred up deep feeling. Their motives were lofty :-

"The work that should to-day be wrought defer not to the morrow. The help that should within be sought scorn from without to borrow. Old maxims these, yet stout and true, they speak in fullest tone, To do at once what is to do, and trust ourselves alone."

They did not stick at rebellion, and gloried in spirited lines at the treasons of the past:-

"Who fears to speak of Ninety-Eight?

Who blushes at the name ?

When cowards mock the patriot's fate,

Who hangs his head for shame?

He 's all a knave or half a slave

Who slights his country thus;

But a true man like you, man,

Will fill his glass with us."

Though altogether wanting in judgment, balance, and sound sense in practical things, they set Ireland all aglow, and, at first joining hands with , kindled a wide- spread agitation; , as ever, doing his best to urge his hot-headed followers to act within the pale of the law.

[13] The rejection by Parliament of Smith 's motion for inquiring into Irish grievances was followed by a series of

"Monster Meetings."

In August the Liberator (so was called) told the vast throng gathered together at Tara, the old home of Irish kings, that a year would see Parliament back again on College Green. But in October the Government stopped the projected meeting at Clontarf (a suburb of Dublin), and arrested . In February was condemned for conspiracy, but the House of Lords reversed the verdict. Yet 's influence never recovered from the blow this trial inflicted on his prestige. He was

181

now old and broken, and died in May at Genoa, on his way to Rome on a pilgrimage.

[14]  saw that the constant disturbances in Ireland showed that something was radically wrong, and knowing that the land question was at the bottom of Irish grievances, he appointed a strong commission of inquiry, at the head of which was Lord Devon.[15]  Meanwhile he sought to lessen the religious grievances of the Catholics by increasing the scanty state endowment of Maynooth College, where the Roman priests were brought up in poverty and squalor, and by establishing three Queen's Colleges at Belfast, Cork, and Galway, where the Catholic and Protestant youth of Ireland might receive side by side a sound secular education. All the fierce ignorance of Protestantism rose in arms against what was called the endowment of Popery.

" The Orangeman,"

said ,

"raised his war-whoop. Exeter Hall set up its bray."

"Two-thirds of

Peel

's party are against him,"

lamented Prince ;

"of bigotry and spite there is no end."

Catholics and Protestants joined in denouncing the

"godless"

Queen's Colleges, and experience showed that it would have been as well to do nothing as to stop short of establishing a regular Catholic college. With all his wish to do right, was too stiff, too English, and too Protestant to understand the real needs of Ireland. Yet the report of the Devon Commission, which first authoritatively laid bare the misery of the Irish peasant and the scandals of the Irish land system, marks a new beginning in the history of Ireland, and the first real effort of England to go to the bottom of Irish discontent. But Protestant prejudice and party blindness still stood in 's way. Before anything was done a grievous famine brought things to a crisis.

8. England was still unrestful. In the Scottish Church burst violently asunder, and in came the crisis of the new High-Church movement in the secession of John Henry to Rome (see Chapter VI.). In gangs of Welsh peasants dressed like women stirred up the Rebecca Riots against the harsh and unequal turnpike tolls. The Chartists were again active. The poor were suffering from the dearness of bread. So early as the vigorous, rough, graphic

" Corn-Law Rhymes"

of , set down every evil to the bread tax with its

"maw like the grave,"

and held up to scorn the bad government:-

182

[1] 

"It is the deadly Will that takes

What labour ought to keep;

It is the deadly Power that makes

Bread dear and labour cheap."

[16] Yet all political parties upheld some sort of corn laws, and even the Chartists repudiated sympathy with repeal. At last the Anti-Corn Law League was started in at , where the millowners found that they were the losers by the high prices of food, and strove vigorously for the total and immediate repeal of the tax on corn. Its leaders were two manufacturers, Richard , a Sussex yeoman's son and a man of great earnestness, activity, and simplicity, and the strong, straightforward Quaker orator, of Rochdale. Lord Ashley (afterwards Earl of Shaftesbury) sought by new Factory Acts (see Chapter VI.) and provisions for schools to make the state of the people better. Though saw little of the higher and deeper needs of the time, his sound administration and careful attention to reform showed that, so far as he went, he worked on right lines. He was especially successful in restoring the national credit, weakened by Whig mismanagement, and putting the national finances into a thoroughly sound condition. This, he believed, was the best way to get work and wages. Trade grew much more active after he entered office.

[17] In and Goulburn brought in a new sliding-scale for the corn tax, giving advantages to colonial over foreign wheat, and stopping the duty altogether when corn rose about 74s. a quarter. They also made a new Tariff, which cut down the duty on more than 700 other articles, a vast stride towards free-trade. To make up the deficiency in revenue, established an Income Tax, from which incomes under £ 150 a year were altogether free. In he renewed the Bank Charter Act, on terms that destroyed the power of the Bank of England to issue notes above £14,000,000 unless it had the gold in its cellars to pay them off at once, and restricted the issue of notes by private banks. He also brought down the three and a half per cent. funds to three per cent. Every year the budget went nearer free trade, to the principles of which , whose sympathies were with the manufacturers from whom he sprung, was fast becoming converted. But his party was not with him. The

"landed interests"

thought their prosperity bound up with Protection, and wanted to keep

183

up the taxes that made it hard for foreigners to compete with English industry.

9. [18] The rank and file of 's followers had long been murmuring, but party discipline was strong, and they had no spokesman. In the standard of revolt was raised by the brilliant and fantastic Young England Party, headed by Lord John Manners, now Duke of Rutland, and Benjamin , son of , a well-known and eccentric Jewish man of letters, which had sought for some years to revive old- fashioned and picturesque notions, and turned with disgust from the sordid materialistic present to a

"nobler age,

When men of stalwart heart and steadfast faith

Shrunk from dishonour rather than from death;

When to great minds obedience did not seem

A slave's condition or a bigot's dream ;

When Mother Church her richest stores displayed,

And Sister State on her behalf arrayed

The tempered majesty of Sacred Law ;

When kings were taught to feel the dreadful weight

Of power derived from One than kings more great."

"

Disraeli

the Younger,"

as he called himself, was already much talked about for his strange romantic political novels, teaching a new historic Toryism learnt in the school of and Wyndham, which was popular, radical in a sense, and above all intensely national, and sought to revive the strength of Church and Crown as the advocates of an oppressed and starving people. He disliked the commonplace middle-class Conservatism of almost as much as the narrowness of the old Whig clique and the levelling, utilitarian, let-things-alone Radicalism of and . His first speech was a failure, and he cut a strange figure dressed in a

" bottle-green frock- coat, and waistcoat covered with a network of glittering chains, large fancy-pattern pantaloons, and black tie with no shirt-collar."

He looked

"tall and thin, with a countenance lividly pale, intensely black eyes, broad forehead, overhung by long and flowing ringlets of coal-black hair."

His manner was excitable and his rhetoric florid. No wonder suspected and mortally offended his fantastic follower. As a result,

"in

1845

his solitary voice from the Tory benches prophesied that Protection was in the same condition as Protestantism in

1828

,"

denounced a

"Conservative government as an organised hypocrisy,"

and held up to scorn

184

[1] 
for

"catching the Whigs bathing and running away with their clothes,"

and

"being like the Turkish admiral who steered his ship right into the enemies' port."

The cheers of the Tory squires showed that he expressed what they had long been thinking. Yet seemed as strong as ever.

10. [19] The Anti-Corn Law League still carried on its crusade, held meetings, circulated pamphlets, and raised vast sums of money. But its greatest work was the conversion of the Prime Minister himself, who now saw clearly that the swarming popu lation of England could only be fed cheaply if foreign corn were let in duty free. The famine in Ireland caused by the failure of the potato crop brought things to a head. On 1st November summoned his Cabinet, told them that anyhow the corn tax must be relaxed to feed the starv ing Irish, and that once given up no minister could venture to bring it in again. The ministers were divided, and took time to think about it. Thereupon Lord John wrote his famous Edinburgh Letter, in which he threw over the old Whig doctrine of a moderate fixed duty, and went in for total repeal of the Corn Laws. Meanwhile Lord still held out against , who resigned on 5th December. But Lord John could not form a ministry, as Lord Grey (son of the Reform Premier) refused to serve if went back to the Foreign Office. In a fortnight was again in power, alone refusing to follow him, and being replaced as Colonial Secretary by . In January laid before Parliament his plan for the repeal of the Corn Laws.

proposed to admit corn in February at a nominal duty, and until then to keep up a reduced sliding-scale, falling to 4S. when wheat was 54s. a quarter. He sought to win over the country party by removing some burdens from land and relieving local by imperial taxation to the extent of £250,000 a year.

The mass of the Conservatives was aghast, and broke into open revolt. Lord (a shrewd, hard headed racing-man, whose sole ambition had hitherto been to win the Derby, but who hated because he believed that he had hounded his uncle to his grave) joined with in organising the Protectionist forces. After stormy debates, in which denounced with ruthless cruelty, the Whigs and Radicals joined with the ministers and their personal following, and carried 's Bill, though the

"men of metal and large-acred

squires"

voted almost solidly against him. nobly assigned the merit of the change to the

"unaffected and unadorned eloquence of Richard

Cobden

."

11. [20] 

"The field is lost,"

said the real leader of the Protectionists,

"but at any rate there should be retribution upon those who had betrayed it."

A chance for vengeance was soon found. brought forward a Coercion Bill to put down disorder in Ireland, and on 25th June the Protectionists joined with the Whigs and Radicals in voting against its second reading, though both alike had supported the measure when first introduced. The result was inevitable.

"They say we are beaten by 73,"

whispered a Cabinet minister to .

"

Peel

looked very grave, and extended his chin, as his habit was when he was annoyed and cared not to speak. He began to comprehend his position, and that

'the emperor was without his army.'

"

A few days later the great ministry came to an end.

"We felt so safe with them,"

wrote the Queen;

"never during five years did they recommend to me what was not for the country's best, and never for the party's advantage only."

But in a state governed by party the indignation of the Protectionists was intelligible, if not excusable. Yet the people had got cheap bread.

 
 
Footnotes:

[1] Queen Victoria and the Melbourne Ministry, 1837-1841.

[2] Chartism, 1838-39.

[1] [1839-1840]

[3] Palmerston at the Foreign Office, 1837-41.

[4] The Bedchamber Question, 1839.

[5] Prince Albert (1840-61) and the New Position of the crown.

[1] [1841-1846.]

[6] The Conservative Reaction and the Election of 1841.

[8] Foreign Policy.

[9] Oregon, 1842-46.

[10] Tahiti, 1844.

[11] The Spanish Marriages,1846.

[12] Repeal and Young Ireland, 1812.

[13] Trial of O'Connell, 1844.

[14] The Devon Commission, 1844.

[15] The Maynooth grant and the Queen's Colleges, 1845.

[1] [1842-1845.]

[16] The Anti-Corn Law movement, 1831-46.

[17] Financial reforms, 1842-44.

[18] Disraeli and Young England, 1843-45.

[1] [1845-1846.]

[19] Repeal of the Corn Laws, 1846.

[20] The Coercion Bill and fall of Peel, 1846.

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