Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol II (1901).djvu/299

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Gladstone
Gladstone
287


the numbers were — for Gladstone, 1,034; for Perceval, 885.

On 18 April 1853 Gladstone introduced his first, and in some respects his greatest, budget. But before he did so he had provided in a separate measure for reducing the national debt by eleven millions and a half every year. This memorable budget was universally admitted to be a masterpiece of financial genius, worthy of Peel or Pitt. In introducing it Gladstone spoke for five hours, and for felicity of phrase, lucidity of arrangement, historical interest, and logical cogency of argument, his statement has never been surpassed. The leading principles of his budget were the progressive reduction of the income tax, and the extension of the legacy duty, under the name of succession duty, to real property. It was estimated to produce an annual sum of 2,000,000l. The income tax was to remain at sevenpence in the pound from April 1853 to April 1855. From April 1855 to April 1857 it was to stand at sixpence; from April 1857 to April 1860 it was to be fivepence, after which it was to be entirely extinguished. It was extended to incomes between 100l. and 150l., but on them it was at once to be calculated at fivepence in the pound. It was also, for the first time, to be imposed in Ireland. On the other hand, and as a set-off, the debt incurred by Ireland at the time of the great famine, six years before, was wiped out. But Ireland was a loser by the transaction; for while the interest on the debt was 245,000l., the Irish income tax brought in about twice as much. Gladstone's triumph was so complete that no effective resistance could be offered to his main proposals in the House of Commons. Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton (afterwards Lord Lytton) divided the committee against the continuance of the income tax, but he was beaten by a majority of seventy-one. Among the other provisions of this budget it repealed the soap tax, reduced the tea duty by gradual stages to a shilling in the pound, and took off the tax on more than a hundred minor articles of food. As originally framed, it lowered the advertisement duty, which had been a heavy burden on newspapers, and a great check to their multiplication, from eighteenpence to sixpence. But in the month of July, mainly at the instance of Thomas Milner-Gibson [q. v.], the duty was abolished altogether, in spite of opposition from the government, by 70 votes against 61.

This budget promised to be the beginning of a new financial era, which would carry out and carry further the principle of free trade. But Gladstone's plans were seriously delayed, though not ultimately defeated, by the outbreak of the Crimean war. On 4 Oct. 1853 Turkey declared war against Russia. On the 12th Gladstone went to Manchester to unveil a statue of Peel. In an eloquent and earnest speech he described Russia as 'a power which threatened to override all the rest.' He added, in language which, though conciliatory in form, was in substance ominous, that the government was still anxious to maintain the peace of Europe. That was true of himself, of the prime minister, and of perhaps half the cabinet; but the government was a divided one. Lord Palmerston, Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, British ambassador at Constantinople, and Lord Clarendon treated war as inevitable. In December Palmerston resigned. The nominal cause was Lord John Russell's persistence in attempting to introduce a reform bill. But when he returned to office a few days afterwards the British fleet was ordered to the Black Sea. On 28 March 1854 England and France declared war against Russia. Gladstone, who as a cabinet minister was, of course, jointly responsible for the war, always maintained that it was not undertaken on behalf of Turkey, but to preserve the balance of power, to vindicate the public law of Europe, and to restrain the ambition of an overweening autocrat.

Meanwhile, on 6 March, when war was known to be imminent, though it had not actually begun, Gladstone introduced his second budget. It was very different from the first. He had to provide for an expenditure of which he had no idea in the spring of 1853. But he declined to borrow. He made an animated protest against carrying on war by means of loans, which he said had nearly ruined the country at the close of the last century. His proposal was to double the income tax for half the year, thus raising it from sevenpence to fourteenpence, and to collect the whole of the increase within the first six months. On 8 May, however, he was obliged to introduce a supplementary budget, and to double the tax for the second half-year too. He also raised the duty on spirits, increased the malt tax, much to the disgust of the agriculturists, and made a small addition to the duty on sugar. He courageously defended these proposals, on the double ground that the year's expenditure should be met within the year, and that all classes of the nation should contribute to the cost of a national war. Although there was a good deal of grumbling, this budget also passed without serious difficulty.

The winter of 1854-5 was one of unusual