Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol II (1901).djvu/31

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Churchill
Churchill
19

navy. On 20 Dec. 1886 he wrote to Lord Salisbury saying that the total of 31,000,000l. for the two services 'is very much in excess of what I can consent to.' 'I know,' he added, 'that on this subject I cannot look for any sympathy or effective support from you, and I am certain that I shall find no supporters in the cabinet.' Under the circumstances, as he did not 'want to be wrangling and quarrelling in the cabinet,' he requested permission to give up his office and retire from the government. Lord Salisbury replied two days later, expressing his full concurrence with the views of Lord George Hamilton and W. H. Smith as to the necessity for increased expenditure on the coaling stations, military ports, and mercantile harbours, and declining to take the responsibility of refusing the supplies demanded by the heads of the war office and the admiralty. The prime minister concluded by accepting the resignation of the chancellor of the exchequer with 'profound regret,' and with the caustic observation that 'no one knows better than you how injurious to the public interests at this juncture your withdrawal from the government may be.' In his subsequent explanation in the House of Commons (27 Jan. 1887) Lord Randolph complained that Lord Salisbury offered him no opportunity for reconsideration, nor did he endeavour to adjust the differences between the chancellor of the exchequer and the other two ministers. Filled with the sense of his own commanding position in the conservative ranks, Lord Randolph probably imagined that he would be implored to withdraw his resignation. But the terms of his letter of 20 Dec. were such that Lord Salisbury was bound to permit the retirement of his subordinate, unless he was prepared to modify the entire foreign and military policy of the government. At any rate, on receiving the premier's letter of the 22nd, Lord Randolph perceived that the step he had taken could not be retraced. He spent the evening with Lady Randolph at a theatre, and at midnight went down to the office of the 'Times' and communicated the news of his resignation to the conductors of that journai. Earlier in the day he had sent a reply to Lord Salisbury, which, however, did not reach the prime minister till the following morning, and by that time the resignation of the chancellor of the exchequer had been made known to the world. In this communication he abandoned the curt brevity of his former note and endeavoured to vindicate his action on general principles. 'The great question of public expenditure,' he wrote, 'is not so technical or departmental as might be supposed by a superficial critic. Foreign policy and free expenditure upon armaments act and react upon one another. ... A wise foreign policy will extricate England from continental struggles, and keep her outside German, Russian, French, or Austrian disputes. I have for some time observed a tendency in the government attitude to pursue a different line of action, which I have not been able to modify or check. This tendency is certain to be accentuated if large estimates are presented to and voted by parliament. The possession of a very sharp sword offers a temptation which becomes irresistible to demonstrate the efficiency of the weapon in a practical manner. I remember the vulnerable and scattered character of the empire, the universality of our commerce, the peaceful tendencies of our democratic electorate, and the hard times, the pressure of competition, and the high taxation now imposed ; and with these factors vividly before me I decline to be a party to encouraging the military and militant circle of the war office and admiralty to join in the high and desperate stakes which other nations seem to be forced to risk. ... A careful and continuous examination and study of national finance, of the startling growth of expendituie, of national taxation, resources, and endurance, has brought me to the conclusion, from which nothing can turn me, that it is only the sacrifice of a chancellor of the exchequer upon the altar of thrift and economy which can rouse the people to take stock of their leaders, their position, and their future.' Whatever collateral and personal motives may have influenced Lord Randolph's conduct at this juncture, there can be little doubt that in these passages he expressed his genuine convictions. His anxiety for economical administration and careful finance had been declared for several years past. In his election address at Birmingham in 1885 he urged that it should be part of the policy of the tory party so 'to utilise the powers of the House of Commons as either to effect financial retrenchment and departmental reform or else to make sure that the present expenditure of the people's money is justifiable and thrifty.' In a speech at Blackpool on 24 Jan. 1884 he denounced the extravagance of both parties, and advocated a searching inquiry into the administration of the army, which he condemned as wasteful and inefficient. If such an investigation were held, 'we should find,' he said, 'that we spend annually from sixteen to eighteen millions on our army. Germany, Austria,