Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 59.djvu/216

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agitation for parliamentary reform. Walpole's attitude was much misunderstood and misrepresented. He and his party took office after the defeat of Lord Russell's ministry on a division in committee during the discussion of the liberal government's Reform Bill. As soon as Lord Derby became prime minister in June, the reform league organised, among other demonstrations in favour of an advanced measure of parliamentary reform, a great procession through the streets of London and a meeting in Hyde Park, which were advertised to take place on 23 July. Walpole came to the conclusion, after consulting the best authorities, that the government had no power to prevent the meeting, and early in July he carried to the cabinet a note, still preserved among his papers, in the following terms: ‘The government do not think they are justified in suppressing the meeting with force. The meeting will be permitted to assemble, but in the event of it becoming disorderly a stop will be immediately put to it.’ The cabinet, at the instigation of Lord Derby, overruled this advice, and on 19 July Walpole announced in the House of Commons that no meeting of the league would be permitted in Hyde Park. Orders were issued by the home office to Sir Richard Mayne, the chief commissioner of police, to shut the gates of the park in the face of the mob on the day appointed for the demonstration. This course was carried out, with the result that on Monday, 23 July 1866, the mob that had gathered to take part in the meeting, finding the gates closed against them, made a forced entry into the park. Next day disturbances about the park were renewed. On the third day, Wednesday the 25th, Walpole received at the home office a deputation from the organisers of the meeting. Walpole informed them that, ‘as the only question which had given rise to the disturbances was the alleged right of admission to the park for the purpose of holding a public meeting, her majesty's government would give every facility in their power for obtaining a legal decision on that question.’ After the deputation had withdrawn, two or three members of it returned and asked Walpole ‘whether the government would allow a meeting on the subject of reform to take place on the following Monday.’ In reply, Walpole said that the question must be put in writing, in order that it might be submitted to the cabinet. The same evening Edmond Beales [q. v.], the president of the reform league, addressed the necessary application in writing, and on the following day was told, also in writing, that the government could not allow such a meeting to be held in Hyde Park, but would not object to the use of Primrose Hill for that purpose. Before, however, the reply reached Beales, the reform league issued a placard, which they had the assurance to post on the entrances of the park, expressing an earnest hope that, pending the decision on the main question, ‘no further attempt would be made to hold a meeting in Hyde Park, except only by arrangement with the government on Monday afternoon, 30 July, at six o'clock.’ Owing to the government's intimation the meeting was not held.

It was naturally assumed at the time that Walpole must have said something at the interview which justified the inference that the league would be allowed to hold the meeting in the park on the 30th; and it was further reported that he had been so moved that, while receiving the deputation, he lost his head and wept. Mr. G. J. Holyoake, however, who was present, generously came forward to deny the first of these stories; and he afterwards published his own version of what occurred in his ‘Fifty Years of an Agitator's Life.’ He stated that the story that Walpole lost his head and wept was entirely untrue.

In the following May, during the discussions on the government's Reform Bill, the same difficulty recurred. The reform league announced its intention to hold a meeting in Hyde Park on 6 May, and the government issued on the 1st a notice that the use of the park for such a purpose was not permitted, and warning well-disposed persons against attending it. The government served copies of this notice on leading members of the reform league. Ministers, when they issued this notice, had learnt from their law officers that it would not be permissible to disperse the meeting by force, and that their only remedy against those defying the warning was an action for trespass. But they did not disclose the difficulty in which they were placed by this opinion, and relied on the warning which they had issued to stop the meeting. The reformers were not deterred by the implied menace. The meeting was duly held on 6 May, and the public was astonished to find that no penalty attached to its holding. Earlier on the same day Lord Derby had addressed his supporters at the home office, and, while informing them that no steps would be taken to interfere with the meeting, defended Walpole from charges of mismanagement in regard to it. Popular indignation, however, was on all sides great, and Walpole was the chief object of attack. He bowed before the storm and retired from office; but Lord Derby, when announcing