A Short History of English Liberalism/IX

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The history of the Disraeli Ministry which in 1874 followed that of Gladstone is almost entirely a history of foreign policy. The new Premier had described the domestic activity of his predecessor as a policy of plundering and blundering, and he himself avoided the imputation of either form of error by doing little of any significance at home. In effect he revived the system of Palmerston, and endeavoured to distract the popular attention from domestic grievances by splendid demonstrations abroad. One or two useful Liberal measures, besides the Employers and Workmen Act, were passed into law. An Artisans Dwellings Act empowered municipal corporations to acquire land by compulsory purchase, for the erection of workmen's houses. This was an entirely wise application of the new collectivist principles, and a belated individualist was discovered in Mr. Fawcett, who opposed the Bill, on strictly logical grounds, as "class legislation." The same argument would abolish the Poor Law. Another measure of great utility was forced on the Government by Plimsoll, a Liberal philanthropist. It provided for the inspection and detention of unseaworthy ships, and was a notable example of interference with private property and freedom of contract in the interest of a class of adult men. A third reform of a Liberal kind was due to Parnell, the new leader of the Irish Nationalists, who amended the Prison Bill of 1877 by inserting a clause that persons guilty of seditious libel should be treated as [ 266 ] first-class misdemeanants and not as common criminals. This was the high-water mark of the reaction from the eighteenth-century treatment of political criticism. In 1777 an honest Republican might have been treated as a felon. Since 1877 allowance has been made for the motives even of the advocate of Revolution. Even the law shows respect for the right of the common man to censure his governors. A last Liberal measure was the Act of 1878, which enabled Universities to confer medical degrees upon women. These Acts were substantially all the important domestic legislation of the Ministry.

While thus abstaining from activity at home, Disraeli gratified his instinct for magnificence abroad, and sacrificed morality and interest on the altar of prestige. One bold stroke was to buy from the Khedive of Egypt his shares in the Suez Canal. This feat was not so splendid as it was claimed to be. It gave England no additional hold over the route to India, which, in time of war, can only be maintained by the fleet, whether the Canal is English or Egyptian. But it gave England a deciding voice in the management of a neutral waterway, and prevented it from falling into the hands of other and less altruistic Powers. This action at least did no harm. The other proceedings of the Government were almost uniformly disgraceful, and most disgraceful where they were most pretentious. In the Balkans and in Afghanistan they were guilty of conduct which was at once vainglorious, unsuccessful, and wrong, and neither in objects, nor methods, nor results was there anything worthy of credit. The first of these shabby performances took place in the Near East, where they adopted Palmerston's policy of protecting Turkey without any of his excuse. It could be urged in favour of the Crimean War that it was undertaken to enable the Turks to set their house in order, and a firm belief in the possibility of that regeneration might justify an honest man in supporting Turkey against Russia. Palmerston retained that belief until his death. At the time of Disraeli's accession it could not have existed in the mind of any reasonable being. After twenty years, Turkish Government of subject Christian races remained what it had always been, and in [ 267 ] 1876 a just and necessary revolt in Bulgaria was suppressed with the usual Turkish incidents of massacre, burning alive, rape, torture, and destruction of property. Gladstone was inspired to a passionate demand for armed intervention, and the British peoples have never been so deeply stirred as by his pamphlet to ignore the distinctions of party, class, and creed. Disraeli treated the news of outrage with characteristic flippancy, and talked airily of "coffee-house babble," even when Lord Derby, his Foreign Secretary, was instructing the British Ambassador at Constantinople to protest against the atrocities of the Turkish agents. The responsibility of Great Britain could not be questioned. We had taken Turkey under our protection twenty years before, to serve our private ends, and as we had helped to maintain the system of government, so we were entitled to denounce its abuse. There was indeed only one step for an honourable and courageous people to take, to confess our error and to confine Turkish sovereignty to Turkish people. There was no question of single-handed action. Russia, Austria, and Germany agreed, in the Berlin Memorandum, to require the Sultan to reform his government, and France and Italy concurred. Great Britain refused to join the others, on the ground that she had not been consulted from the first. This policy had but one motive, distrust of Russia; it had but one consequence, the encouragement of Turkey. The joint Memorandum was ineffective, and in the face of Anglo-Russian jealousy, the Sultan snapped his fingers at suggestions of reform.

The climax was reached when Great Britain refused to join Russia in a naval demonstration in the Bosphorus. The Tsar then declared that he would act alone, and gave the British Ambassador his word of honour that he had no intention of annexing any part of the Turkish dominions or of permanently occupying Constantinople. On the lips of the Tsar Nicholas of the Crimean War such a pledge might have meant little. On the lips of the Tsar Alexander, a genuine Liberal, who had emancipated the serfs and given his subjects, for the first time in their history, courts of law in place of bureaucratic caprice, it [ 268 ] meant very much. Nothing is more certain than that the Tsar was honest in his professions, and that he was impelled by a disinterested wave of enthusiasm among his subjects. The Balkan question is the one question on which a Russian Government always expresses the opinions of the Russian people. But even if the Tsar had been dishonest, and if England had been placed in a real dilemma, it was entirely England's fault. The Tory Government, by refusing to act in concert with the other Powers, had left only two alternatives possible to Russia: to do nothing, or to interfere single-handed. When she showed signs of adopting the second, Disraeli at the Lord Mayor's Banquet made ominous references to war. Everything was done by the Tory Press to inflame the popular mind against Russia, and to divert attention from the real issue. Even the Liberal Opposition was distracted, and in Parliament Mr. Gladstone maintained his straight and courageous course almost without a helper.[310] When the Russians had crossed the border, and, after an astonishingly successful resistance by the Turks, were actually approaching Constantinople, the balance of English opinion swung against them, and the Government openly prepared for war.[311] The music-halls rallied to their support, the name of Jingo was invented, and Gladstone's windows were broken by the mob. But the conclusion of peace by the Treaty of San Stefano ended the war between Turkey and Russia and prevented the war between Russia and Great Britain. The Tory Government was saved, by no fault of its own, from a moral disaster which no material successes could have effaced. During the negotiations which followed the Treaty they made full use of the dangerous temper which they had aroused.

The terms of the Treaty gave them an opportunity of enforcing a Liberal principle, and for the first time Russia made [ 269 ] a false step. The treaty gave Russia a small indemnity and a little territory. Bulgaria was made an independent principality, and the Turks, as Gladstone had demanded, "one and all, bag and baggage, cleared out from the province they had desolated and profaned." Russia had done single-handed what it should have been the duty and the pride of England to help her to do. But the treaty, as it stood, was as much an infraction of the Treaty of Paris as the placing of armed ships upon the Black Sea, and the British Government very properly required an international agreement. Russia at first refused, and if this difficult situation had not been the direct result of their own unprincipled conduct, the British Government would have had a very good excuse for war. A disaster was once more imminent, and Lord Derby finally resigned. He was succeeded by Lord Cranborne,[312] and the Tory Press once more fanned the flames of national hatred.

But Disraeli was above all things a contriver of effects, and while his followers applauded his firmness and resolution in maintaining the Treaty of Paris, he was privately engaged in pulling it to pieces. He made a secret treaty with Russia, agreeing to support her at the international conference in asking substantially for what she had obtained by the Treaty of San Stefano. He then proceeded with great solemnity to Berlin, after having apparently humiliated his adversary, and Russia obtained what she wanted without difficulty. The Treaty of Berlin made few alterations in the Treaty of San Stefano, and the most important was unquestionably for the worse. The extent of the New Bulgaria was reduced, and it was divided into two provinces, which a few years later joined together to form the present State. The reduction was effected by the restoration of Macedonia to Turkey, and as these words are being written that unhappy district, after another generation of distress, has become the cause of another Balkan war. The policy of Disraeli was for the time as popular as that of Palmerston had ever been. Surveyed after thirty-five years, it appears to have consisted in [ 270 ] encouraging Turkey to fight in defence of an iniquitous system of government, and, after nearly involving the British people in a war for a vile cause, in forcing the inhabitants of Macedonia to suffer for another generation at the hands of their unregenerate oppressors. Through this policy, for the last thirty years the Macedonian peasant, setting out in the morning for the fields, has not known that on his return in the evening he would not find his house burnt to the ground and his wife dishonoured. Through this policy, the bloody issue of the Balkans has now been settled for the second time by a savage and destructive war. The transaction, so selfish in its origin, so shameless in its methods, and so horrible in its consequences, is generally described by admirers of Beaconsfield in his own words, as his achievement of "Peace with Honour."[313]

The next scene for the display of this reckless and improvident system was Afghanistan. The Viceroy of India was Lord Lytton, whose strong character was expressed in a wise and vigorous conduct of domestic affairs, and a conduct of foreign affairs which was only vigorous. His attention was directed, soon after the Balkan difficulty began, to Central Asia. In that quarter Russia, following her usual habit of advancing in Asia whenever she was repulsed in Europe, had come into touch with the Afghans. The policy of the Gladstone Government, in similar circumstances, had always been to negotiate directly with Russia, and they had steadily refused to use other peoples as tools of their diplomacy. This was not merely a moral, it was also a wise rule of conduct. Just as strong and independent Balkan States were better barriers against Russia than a corrupt [ 271 ] and enfeebled Turkey, so the best bulwarks of India were native tribes who had no reason to fear British aggression, and every reason to believe that she would protect them against the encroachments of other States. The policy of Liberalism coincided with that of almost every Indian statesman of experience. Everything had been done, in past times, to avoid the appearance of dictating to the small peoples beyond the frontier. "Surround India," wrote Lord Lytton's predecessor, "with strong, friendly, and independent states, who will have more interest in keeping well with us than with any other Power."[314]

This was the policy of wisdom. Lord Lytton and his Home Government preferred to adopt the other policy, and to make the Amir of Afghanistan a pawn in their game with Russia. "A tool in the hands of Russia I will never allow him to become. Such a tool it would be my duty to break before it could be used."[315] In other words, the Amir was to put himself into the hands of England in order that he might be unable to put himself in the hands of Russia. He was requested to receive a British Envoy in terms which would have been more properly addressed to an open enemy than to an ally, and from the first Lord Lytton adopted a tone which did nothing to conciliate and everything to disturb a race who are, beyond almost all others, suspicious of foreign interference. The result was that Shere Ali was driven into the arms of Russia, whose manners were better if her aims were not less selfish than those of the British Viceroy. Russia was not reluctant to embarrass England in Central Asia, and the Bulgarian dispute was followed by the despatch of a Russian mission to Kabul. The Amir objected, but was powerless. The Russian representative soon left the country, but not before his object, the provocation of the Viceroy, had been achieved. Lord Lytton retaliated by sending [ 272 ] an envoy of his own, who was turned back at the Kyber Pass. War began in November, 1878, and the Parliamentary parties were divided more sharply than by the threatened war with Russia.

Gladstone was on this occasion supported by all the Liberal Opposition, and in the House of Lords, Lord Lawrence, one of the greatest Englishmen who had ever governed in India, was on the same side.[316] Liberal principles had been offended in more than one way. The Viceroy had bullied Afghanistan as Palmerston had bullied China. He had attempted to interfere with her independence. He had endeavoured to repair the blunders of his diplomacy by war, and to supply his own deficiency of wisdom by brute force. If he had had any real cause of quarrel it was with Russia, and he had used Afghanistan simply as an unwilling means to an end of his own, on account of transactions in which she had had no freedom and no responsibility. "Having a cause of complaint against the strong," said Whitbread, "they fixed the quarrel on the weak; and they have brought us to a war, in which already gallant men's lives have been lost, and homes made desolate, to atone for the blunders and errors of their administration."[317] Mr. Chamberlain, the rising hope of the uncompromising Radicals, reiterated those general principles which are familiar to all who have read the debates on the China War in 1860. "Is it sufficient to call a man a barbarian in order to discharge oneself of all obligations to treat him with common fairness and consideration?... Only admit that a country has to follow the law of self-preservation without reference to others, and it is evidently a justification for an attack, say of France upon Belgium, or Germany upon Holland, or the absorption of Canada by the United States, and this deliberate attempt to substitute might for right in dealing with Indian Princes, and the law of force for the law of nations, is certain, in my opinion, to [ 273 ] have a most disastrous effect upon the true foundations of our Indian Empire."[318]

Force triumphed, for the time, over morals. But retribution came with more than its usual swiftness. The Afghans were beaten in the field. Shere Ali disappeared, and his son Yakúb Khan took his place. Lord Lytton had distrusted the father, who was no worse than weak. He confided in the son, who was thoroughly bad. Major Cavagnari entered Kabul as British Envoy on the 24th of July, 1879. On the 3rd of September he was murdered with all his people. A second war was undertaken, more lives were lost, and the Government actually proposed to partition Afghanistan, and to incorporate the eastern part in the Indian Empire. This course could have produced only three consequences. Free Afghanistan would have been thrust into the arms of Russia. British Afghanistan would have been in a perpetual condition of unrest. Our military responsibilities would have been extended beyond the natural barrier of the great mountains at the same time that they would have been indefinitely increased by the direct contact with the Russian frontier. Entangled in difficult passes, and surrounded by unfriendly hill tribes, our troops would have been infinitely less formidable to Russia than in the plains of India. The General Election of 1880 extricated Great Britain from this dangerous folly, and the new Government evacuated Afghanistan and abandoned the project of a British Envoy at Kabul. From that day to this the Afghans have been treated according to the principles laid down by the Liberal Opposition.[319] They have been encouraged to believe that Great Britain will protect them against external aggression, and nothing has been done to make them suspect that she has any intention of interfering with their independence.

One other action of this Tory Government betrayed the same [ 274 ] desire to acquire territory and to extend responsibilities as their enterprise in Central Asia. In 1877 they annexed the Transvaal Republic. This step was prompted partly by military motives, as giving additional security against the Zulus, whose quarrels with the scattered Dutch farmers caused perpetual unrest. It was also part of a scheme for South African federation, which was the offspring of the growing spirit of Imperialism. Nor did it seem at first that annexation was contrary to Boer sentiment. The Republic was loosely organized, its finances were in a bad state, its great mineral wealth was unknown, and some of the inhabitants were anxious to obtain the stability which the British connection would afford. If the promise of representative institutions, which was made at the time, had been fulfilled with reasonable speed, the hostile section might have been reduced to insignificance. But the British Government seemed to forget that it was dealing with a race whose dislike of foreign domination was as stubborn as that of their own people. It is unquestionable that the bulk of the Boer population resented the annexation, and used every peaceful means of expressing its real wishes. But in spite of deputations, public meetings, and petitions signed by practically every elector of the old Republic, the Disraeli Ministry continued to govern by the arbitrary methods of Crown Colony Government. When the Liberals came into power, in 1880, three years after the annexation, the Boers were still without the promised institutions, and the opponents of England were no longer a faction, but the whole people. Want of imagination never stumbled into a worse folly.


The General Election of 1880 is the only election which has ever been fought in Great Britain on the general principles of foreign policy. Gladstone had retired from the nominal leadership of the Liberal party after his defeat in 1874. But there was no question who had directed its policy in the last few years, and Lord Hartington, in 1880, was obviously no more than the lieutenant of his principal follower. Any doubts which may have before existed were dispelled by Gladstone's election campaign [ 275 ] in Midlothian. He invaded the strongest Tory constituency in Scotland, beat the nominee of the Duke of Buccleuch, and in his speeches dictated the issues upon which candidates fought all over Great Britain. These speeches were almost entirely concerned with the Liberal case against egoism in foreign affairs, and the result of the polls was an emphatic approval of their principles. There were some errors in the speeches. To represent the Zulu War as an outrage of the same kind as the annexation of the Transvaal, or the invasion of Afghanistan, was absurd. The rights of bloodthirsty and aggressive savages are different from those of civilized white men or even the comparatively peaceful tribes of Asia. But this was only an unwise application of the sound general principles which were expressed in the speeches.

The Midlothian speeches reproduced the opinions of Granville's Memorandum of 1851 and those of Clarendon's statement of 1871. Gladstone dissented from the absolute pacificism of the Manchester School.[320] But while he admitted the occasional necessity for war, and pointed to his own readiness to protect Belgium as a proof that he did not believe in peace at any price, he required that a real and sober policy should be substituted for the ostentatious vanities of the Tories. "What we want in foreign policy is the substitution of what is true and genuine for what is imposing and pretentious, but unreal.... Let us get rid of all these shams and fall back upon realities, the character of which is to be quiet, to be unostentatious, to pretend to nothing, not to thrust claims and unconstitutional claims for ascendancy and otherwise in the teeth of your neighbour, but to maintain your rights and to respect the rights of others as much as your own."[321] "The great duty of a Government, especially in foreign affairs, is to soothe and tranquillize the minds of a people, not to set up false phantoms of glory which are to delude them into calamity, not to flatter their infirmities by leading them to believe that they are better than the rest of the world, and so encourage the baleful [ 276 ] spirit of domination; but to proceed upon a principle that recognizes the sisterhood and equality of nations, the absolute equality of public right among them."[322] The speaker denounced Beaconsfield's reference to "Imperium et Libertas" as he had once before denounced Palmerston's use of "Civis Romanus Sum," and appealed to "the sound and sacred principle that Christendom is formed of a band of nations who are united to one another in the bonds of right; that they are without distinction of great and small; there is an absolute equality between them, the same sacredness defends the narrow limits of Belgium as attaches to the extended frontiers of Russia, or Germany, or France."[323] From this admission of the equality of nations came the need for the observance of public law. "There is no duty so sacred, incumbent upon any Government in its foreign policy, as that careful and strict regard to public law."[324]

Gladstone laid down six general principles by which our foreign policy should be guided. "The first thing is to foster the strength of the Empire by just legislation and economy at home, thereby producing two of the great elements of national power—namely, wealth, which is a physical element, and union and contentment, which are moral elements—and to reserve the strength of the Empire, to reserve the expenditure of that strength for great and worthy occasions abroad.... My second principle ... is this—that its aim ought to be to preserve to the nations of the world ... the blessings of peace. My third principle is this—when you do a good thing, you may do it in so bad a way that you may entirely spoil the beneficial effect; and if we were to make ourselves the apostles of peace in the sense of conveying to the minds of other nations that we thought ourselves more entitled to an opinion on that subject than they are, or to deny their rights—well, very likely we should destroy the whole value of our doctrines. In my opinion the third sound principle is this—to strive to cultivate and maintain, ay, to the very uttermost, what is called the Concert of Europe; to keep the Powers of [ 277 ] Europe in union together. And why? Because by keeping all in union together you neutralize and fetter and bind up the selfish aims of each.... My fourth principle is that you should avoid needless and entangling engagements. You may boast about them, you may brag about them. You may say you are procuring consideration for the country. You may say that an Englishman can now hold up his head among the nations.... But what does all this come to, gentlemen? It comes to this, that you are increasing your engagements without increasing your strength; ... you really reduce the Empire and do not increase it.... My fifth principle is, to acknowledge the equal rights of all nations. You may sympathize with one nation more than another.... But in point of right all are equal, and you have no right to set up a system under which one of them is to be placed under moral suspicion or espionage, or to be made the constant subject of invective.... The sixth principle is that ... subject to all the limitations that I have described, the foreign policy of England should always be inspired by the love of freedom. There should be a sympathy with freedom, a desire to give it scope, founded not upon visionary ideas, but upon the long experience of many generations within the shores of this happy isle, that in freedom you lay the firmest foundations both of loyalty and order; the firmest foundations for the development of individual character, and the best provision for the happiness of the nation at large.... It is that sympathy, not a sympathy with disorder, but, on the contrary, founded upon the deepest and most profound love of order, ... which ought to be the very atmosphere in which a Foreign Secretary of England ought to live and to move."[325] The most important of these general principles was that of the equality of nations, "because, without recognizing that principle, there is no such thing as public right, and without public international right there is no instrument available for settling the transactions of mankind except material force. Consequently the principle of equality among nations lies ... at the very basis and root of a Christian [ 278 ] civilization, and when that principle is compromised or abandoned, with it must depart our hopes of tranquillity and of progress for mankind." The policy of the Tory Government had been "unregardful of public right, and it has been founded upon ... an untrue, arrogant, and dangerous assumption that we were entitled to assume for ourselves some dignity, which we should also be entitled to withhold from others, and to claim on our part authority to do things which we would not permit to be done by others."[326] These general rules, to be applied, not in the temper of logical pedantry, but, like all general political rules, as far as the circumstances of each case will permit, form the complete theory of a Liberal foreign policy.

Every one of Gladstone's principles had been violated by the Government. The welfare of the people had been subordinated to a costly display of energy abroad. The ordinary expenditure on armaments had increased by more than six millions in five years, and a special vote of credit had been required by the quarrel with Russia. The acquisitions in the Transvaal, in Zululand, in Cyprus, and in Afghanistan had increased our burdens without adding to our strength. Peace had always been in danger, and had more than once been broken. The Government had claimed a peculiar right to dictate to Turkey, had threatened Russia with war for appearing to claim a similar right, and had made international action impossible by refusing to join the Concert of Europe. They had prevented Russia from making a separate treaty with Turkey because it violated the Treaty of Paris, and they had themselves made a treaty with Turkey which violated the Treaty of Paris in the same way and to the same extent. They had made an indefinite engagement with Turkey to go to war in defence of her Asiatic territory, no matter how she abused her sovereign rights. They had been partial and capricious in their friendships and in their antipathies. Russia could do nothing right, Turkey could do nothing wrong. The claims of freedom had been ignored. The Transvaal had been annexed against the formally expressed wish of its inhabitants. [ 279 ] The Afghans had been coerced into accepting an envoy. Nothing had been done to help the Bulgarians against the Turks, and when Russia undertook the work which England should have done, she had been opposed instead of helped. The worst thing that Gladstone said of his opponents is the worst thing that posterity can say of them. He quoted from a dispatch of the Turkish Government: "The Sultan's Ministers lay great stress on the maintenance of the Beaconsfield Cabinet, which has given so many proofs of its benevolent intentions for the Turkish Empire." The approbation of these men, whose praise was blame, is more damning to the Tory foreign policy of this period than any censure of their party enemies. Gladstone made some mistakes in his general attack. But posterity has seldom been so nearly unanimous as in its belief that on his two main lines, Turkey and Afghanistan, he was completely right.

The history of the Liberal Ministry which succeeded that of Beaconsfield is not a splendid record. The Cabinet and the party were in fact in process of disintegration, and even without the Irish controversy, some new grouping of the parties would soon have taken place. All sections of the Liberals were united in their dislike of the Imperialist foreign policy of their predecessors. But the younger men, headed by Mr. Chamberlain and Sir Charles Dilke, were aggressively Radical, deeply tinged with new theories about land, capital and labour, and the unfair distribution of wealth. Older men, like the Duke of Argyll, held by the individualist ideas of a previous generation, and Goschen refused to join the Government at all because he objected to proposed extensions of the franchise. The internal differences of such a composite Ministry inevitably weakened it in the face of the enemy. The external difficulties were also unusually great. A trade depression in 1878 and 1879 caused great distress among the working classes. Ireland was again seething with discontent, the Land League had begun a campaign against the payment of rent, and agrarian and political crime soon attained to such proportions that it seemed as if Society would be dissolved. In Parliament, the Irish Nationalists [ 280 ] made the obstruction of business a fine art, and the Fourth Party,[327] shouldering Sir Stafford Northcote out of the leadership, conducted the Conservative Opposition with equal vigour and success. These different obstacles reduced the real power of the Government below its apparent strength. But it contrived, nevertheless, to apply Liberal principles with considerable success, both at home and abroad.

The progress of reform was along the lines which had been marked out by the last Liberal Government. Education was made compulsory in 1881, almost without opposition. The household franchise, conferred upon dwellers in towns by the Act of 1867, was extended to rural districts by an Act of 1884, and so far as men were concerned, the right of the individual to control his own government was thus secured, nearly a hundred years after the French Revolution began. Almost more significant than this legislation as a mark of the appreciation of the voter was the construction of the modern party machine on the model of Mr. Chamberlain's system in Birmingham. Electors are now grouped in wards and divisions, each section having its elected committee, and all linked up together in a central caucus. Communication between voters and representatives has thus become more direct than ever before, and the Member of Parliament is now completely subject to the authority of those whom he is supposed to govern. Both parties, and the women auxiliaries who, about this time, were organized in connection with them, adopted this organization of public opinion between 1880 and 1890, and the effect on political life has been very great. The common man is brought into direct touch with the machinery of the State, his information is more precise, and the expression of his wishes more effective. The party system as it exists to-day has in fact completely reversed the eighteenth-century theory of government. In 1812 the Legislature, within very wide limits, enforced the wishes of its members upon the people. In 1912 the people, within very [ 281 ] wide limits, enforced its wishes upon the members of the Legislature. Ministers have ceased to be the leaders of the Houses in which they sit, and have become leaders of the people. Their appeal is direct to the constituencies, and it is among the rank and file of their party in the country that they find their strength. The new system is not without its dangers. If it is a more efficient check upon abuse of the common people than the old, it offers less freedom to the independent member, and where we once contrived party as a means of controlling our government, we are now rather inclined to cast about for some contrivance which will control our party. The extent to which the Cabinet, relying upon its hold over the party machine, is enabled to dictate its wishes to the members who depend upon that machine for their own success, is the greatest danger to real political freedom which at present exists. The Cabinet is now almost as much a legislative as an executive body. But whatever the difficulties and the risks involved, the construction of this political machinery in 1880 was a distinct mark in the progress of Liberalism.

The condition of women once more attracted the attention of a Liberal Parliament. An Act of 1882 finally separated the wife from her husband in all matters concerned with property, and permitted her to make contracts, and to acquire, hold, and dispose of property as if she were a single woman. Even this reform was incomplete. A husband is still responsible for all the civil wrongs of his wife, except those which consist in breach of contract, and the year 1912 has seen a husband sent to prison because he could not pay income tax on his wife's income which she earned by her own exertions and had not disclosed to him. But the existing relics of the old legal theory which subjected the wife to the husband, and made him responsible for her conduct as if she were a child, are not very numerous or important. Substantially, so far as the law allows, the wife has been economically independent of her husband since 1882. The Contagious Diseases Acts were suspended in 1883, and were finally repealed in 1886. In 1885 the Criminal Law [ 282 ] Amendment Act raised the age of consent to sixteen, and penalties were at last imposed upon those who procured women and girls for immoral purposes. Another reform was effected by administrative act. Professor Fawcett, the Postmaster-General, began to employ women in the inferior posts in his department, and so opened to the sex the whole of the large field of labour provided by the Civil Service. These successive improvements in the state of women were made with little difficulty except such as sprang from ignorance, and the indifference of legislators to the special claims of disfranchised classes. As has always been the case, practical reforms were executed by the Legislature when the demand for the enfranchisement of women became urgent. This House of Commons actually contained a majority who had promised to vote for Woman Suffrage. The pledges, given in response to pressure from the women of the middle class, were of that easy, good-natured sort in which Parliamentary candidates indulge in matters to which party is indifferent. The women trusted that they would be carried into effect by an amendment of the Reform Bill of 1884. But the House of Lords offered so much opposition to the Bill as it stood, that Gladstone spoke against the inclusion of women, and the proposal was defeated. The Toryism of class was destroyed. That of sex remained, and it was not until the Liberal revival of twenty years later that it was ever again threatened.

On ancient subjects of party controversy temper again rose high. Church and Chapel fought the last of many battles over the Burials Bill. The point raised by this measure was very simple. In more than 10,000 parishes the only burial ground was the churchyard. In large towns, where there were public cemeteries, and in districts where Nonconformists were wealthy, and could purchase private ground, no difficulty arose. But in the other cases no Nonconformist could be buried except with the Burial Service of the Established Church. The service, however majestic in its language, expressed opinions which were obnoxious to many Nonconformists, and the Burials Bill provided that any person might be buried in the yard of the parish church with [ 283 ] such religious service as his relatives desired. The Church party, while claiming that the Church was the Church of the nation and not of a sect, protested against being deprived of the absolute control of the public burial grounds. Any person might be buried there, but only on such terms as they chose to appoint. It was a plain case of a conflict between public right and private privilege. The Bill had been passed four times by the last Liberal House of Commons. It was beaten in the following Tory House. In the Parliament of 1880 it was at last accepted by the Lords, and the Nonconformist grievance was removed.

A second religious controversy provided a useful illustration of the difference between Liberalism and the Liberal party. The Nonconformist members, in debating the Burials Bill, had expressed the pure Liberal doctrine that no man should be prevented from exercising a public right by his opinions on matters of conscience. When they came to deal with Charles Bradlaugh, many of them showed themselves to be as Tory in their essential habit of mind as the most bigoted vicar who ever shut out a Quaker funeral from his churchyard. Bradlaugh was a dogmatic atheist, and as honest a man as was ever elected to Parliament. He was chosen for Northampton with Henry Labouchere, who was a man of no more Christian opinions and of much less pure character than himself. Labouchere, like other easy-going men, had no scruples about taking the oath required from Members of Parliament; Bradlaugh refused to swear, and claimed to make affirmation in the form prescribed by Statute for witnesses in courts of law. A Committee of the House decided against him, and he then offered to take the oath in the ordinary way. There arose such a storm of bigotry and insolence as is generally to be found only in Orange Lodges. Gladstone and Bright, two men in whom Christianity was usually conspicuous, contended in vain, not only against Tories, but against those of their own party whose religious tolerance did not extend beyond the Jews. It was resolved that Bradlaugh could neither swear nor affirm, and when he refused to withdraw he was committed to the Clock Tower. Eventually, he made affirmation and took his seat, [ 284 ] speaking on several occasions with good sense. But the matter was not ended. An informer obtained a judgment against him in the King's Bench Division, and his seat was declared vacant. He was re-elected, and again attempted to enter the House. On this occasion he was thrown out by the police. A third election sent him back again, and he sat for some time below the bar of the House. In 1883 a special Bill was introduced which enabled any person, who thought fit, to make affirmation instead of taking an oath. It was thrown out. Bradlaugh resigned, and was elected for the fourth time in February, 1884. But it was not until the end of this Parliament, and after an enormous waste of time, energy, and money in agitation and litigation, that his struggle came to an end. He was elected to the new Parliament of 1885, and took the oath without serious opposition. In 1888 he himself introduced and carried through the enabling Bill. In 1891, when he died, all the hostile resolutions were expunged from the records of the House, and freedom of conscience received at last full recognition.

The whole proceeding did little credit to a Liberal House of Commons. Parliament had been opened to Dissenters in 1828, to Catholics in 1829, and to Jews in 1858. If these reforms had any significance at all, they meant that for political posts only political tests were to be applied, and that a man's opinions upon subjects which were not political were not the concern of the State. Liberty of thinking is one and indivisible. As Gladstone, himself the most dogmatic of Churchmen, put it, "On every religious ground, as well as on every political ground, the true and the wise course is not to deal out religious liberty by halves, quarters, and fractions, but to deal it out entire, and make no distinctions between man and man on the ground of religious differences from one end of the land to the other."[328] Every argument which could shut out Bradlaugh could shut out a Quaker or a Wesleyan. The atheist was to the Nonconformist of the day, what the Nonconformist had been to the Churchman of 1800, a person who held opinions other than his own. [ 285 ] Experience of toleration should have satisfied those who could not see truth by their own light. The ablest men in the Cabinet were of the utmost possible diversity of religious belief. The Prime Minister was a High Churchman, Lord Hartington was a Low Churchman, Bright was a Quaker, Mr. Chamberlain was a Unitarian, Forster belonged to no Church and professed no creed. But there were members of the Liberal party who tolerated this latitude in their leaders, and yet could not bear the society of an avowed atheist. They drew the line at God. The case was made somewhat worse by Bradlaugh's opinions on the limitation of population. But the real weight of the charge against him was that he did not believe in the existence of a deity, and was sufficiently honest and sufficiently public-spirited to endeavour to preach his gospel. Some Liberals abstained from voting in these divisions. Others joined the most bigoted and reactionary of their usual opponents, and used arguments against Bradlaugh which, if logically applied, would have excluded from Parliament more than one of the best men in the Cabinet.

While old issues were thus fought out, the new economics made a further impression upon legislation. Fawcett again led the way by making the Post Office extend its activities farther into the field of private enterprise, and experiment as a Savings Bank, in the creation of annuities, and in the management of the telegraph. About this time also began the modern development of municipal trading, which has converted the local authority from a mere regulating body to a body which supplies the means of light, heat, and locomotion to the inhabitants of its area. The debts of English municipalities in 1875 amounted to about £93,000,000. In 1905 they were about £483,000,000, and the bulk of this increase is represented by the various gas, water, electricity, and tramway enterprises which are managed by the local bodies. All this large part of national industry is now monopolized by collective management, and it is not now denied that on the whole the public wants are better supplied by these municipal monopolies than by the competition of private traders.

An extension of national and municipal enterprises was [ 286 ] accompanied by more direct legislative restrictions upon economic freedom. The Employers' Liability Act of 1880 began the series of statutes which have compelled employers to insure their workmen against accident. The legal doctrine of "common employment" had produced a stupid state of affairs. A man who was injured through the negligence of another man's servant, acting in his employer's business, might recover damages from the employer. But if both men were the servants of the same employer, and if the transaction in which the injury was inflicted was part of their common business as servants of the same master, no claim for compensation was allowed. A master was liable for the negligence of his workmen to everybody but his other workmen. The Act of 1880, in the face of loud opposition from employers of all parties, to some extent abolished this absurd distinction, and made the master liable to his men for injuries sustained through the negligence of his superintendents or foremen. An Act giving the English tenant the right to kill game on his own land was followed by an Agricultural Holdings Act, which entitled him to compensation against his landlord for unexhausted improvements. In 1884, in response to an agitation which had nothing to do with party, the Government appointed a Royal Commission to inquire into the housing of the poor, and thus prepared for an extension of the system which had been begun by their predecessors.[329] But the most striking economic experiment made by this Liberal Government, as by the last, was made in Ireland. The condition of that country was now more dangerous than at any time since the Rebellion of 1798. The wholesale and systematic depopulation of the country by rack-renting and evictions had demoralized and degraded those whom it had not driven out of the country or starved to death, and throughout the most congested districts no spirit was to be found [ 287 ] but hatred of the landlords and the English connection. Boycotting had now been invented, and boycotting was accompanied by agrarian outrages of the most brutal description. The Land League was supreme. Rents could not be collected. No man would work for a tenant who paid his rent, or for a man who took a farm from which a former tenant had been evicted. The whole country seemed to be in sympathy with the Moonlighters and maimers of cattle, informers were murdered or intimidated, and the perpetrators of some of the most atrocious crimes were never discovered. The Government applied itself at once to the suppression of disorder and to the redress of grievances. Drastic Coercion Acts armed the executive with new powers, and in 1881 Gladstone introduced and carried, practically single-handed, a new Land Act.

This Act went farther than any previous Act of Parliament in interfering with freedom of contract. It strained the relations of the two sections of the Cabinet almost to breaking point, and the Duke of Argyll actually resigned. The Act of 1870 had provided that the tenant should be compensated for eviction except in case of non-payment of rent. The exception took nine-tenths of the virtue out of the Act. The country was crowded with poor people who wanted land and could not live without it. The tenant got no compensation so long as he kept his farm, and so long as he kept it he was rack-rented. If he was at last evicted, he was probably no better off for his compensation, because he had little chance of getting a second farm on any better conditions than the first. In these circumstances, bad landlords did very much as they pleased, and a Royal Commission reported that "Freedom of contract did not in fact exist."[330] The tenant was at the mercy of the landlord in every case. The Government therefore stepped in to protect him, on the principle that interference is justified "where the necessities of one of the parties to a bargain deprive his seeming freedom of choice of all substance."[331] Their Bill accepted the recommendations of the [ 288 ] Royal Commission, and established what were known as "the three F's," fair rent, fixity of tenure, and freedom of sale. The amount of the rent was to be fixed by an impartial Land Court. The tenant was to pay this rent for fifteen years, after which it might be revised. The right to remain in the holding at this rent was to be transferable to any purchaser. No tenant whose land was worth less than £200 a year could contract himself out of the benefits of the Act. This sweeping reform prevented the rack-renting of tenants. But the state of Ireland was now such as no remedies could affect. Parnell, the Irish Nationalist leader, was imprisoned in October, and all the extraordinary powers of the executive were employed. But in 1882 Lord Frederick Cavendish, the newly appointed Secretary for Ireland, was brutally murdered in Phœnix Park, and the release of Mr. Parnell, and an Act for extinguishing arrears of rent, were accompanied by new measures of coercion. Two years of hard administration of the law suppressed the disorder. But the national feeling was as ill as ever, and no Liberal Ministry could confound the maintenance of order with government. To produce moral corruption in his subjects is the worst wrong of which any governor can be capable, and coercion disgraces government more than it punishes crime. The disease of lawlessness was not to be cured by the mere suppression of its symptoms. So long as the temper of the people remains unchanged, obedience to the commands of authority is worth little or nothing. The attempt to find a new method of Irish government in 1885 settled the course of English politics for a whole generation.


Two disasters overtook the Government in foreign affairs. The first occurred in the Transvaal, and it was entirely their own fault. They had criticized the annexation when it took place: it had obviously been carried through in haste and contrary to the wishes of the inhabitants, and the right and wise course was to withdraw. Crown Colony Government, which meant government by Sir Owen Lanyon, an honest but unsympathetic official, had brought the Boers to the verge of revolt by the time that the [ 289 ] Liberals came into office. They were in fact restrained only by their confidence that a change of government would mean a change of policy. But this very absence of turbulence deceived the new Ministry. They were officially informed that the Boers were reconciled to British rule, and Gladstone, Bright, and Chamberlain were overruled by their less Liberal colleagues. Unofficial warnings went astray, arrived too late, or were disregarded. By January, 1881, the Boers were in arms, and had repulsed Sir George Colley at Laing's Nek. The Government, at last aware that the population of the Transvaal wanted independence, opened negotiations. A rash move by Colley produced the defeat at Majuba and his own death.

The situation was now such that the Government could gain little credit, even by doing what was right. They had the choice of three alternatives. They could defeat the Boers and keep the Transvaal. They could defeat the Boers and give up the Transvaal. They could stop fighting and give up the Transvaal. The first meant that in order to avenge a defeat in a battle which ought never to have been fought they should do some more men to death, and then keep a country which they confessed they should never have taken. Having been guilty in the first place of robbery, they should endeavour to repair its consequences by murder, and having made it difficult to work with the Boers by apparent insincerity, they were to make it impossible by deliberate cruelty. The second course meant simply that they should do men to death to gratify their own wounded vanity. Either course was brutal, and the first was also stupid. No Liberal Government, with the case of Ireland before its eyes, could undertake the permanent domination of a free white people by force of arms. The Ministry, in the face of a loud outcry from those who believed that the strength of England consisted in her readiness to assert her own brute strength at the expense of others, chose the third way out of the difficulty. What was right before Majuba was not wrong after Majuba. The negotiations which had been begun were allowed to proceed. No more lives were destroyed, and the Transvaal regained its independence, subject [ 290 ] to some vague provisions for British suzerainty. In 1884 all references to this suzerainty were struck out of the Convention by the hand of the Colonial Secretary himself, and there is no question that it was then implied that England waived all right to interfere in the domestic concerns of the Dutch Republic. The Government acted as a Liberal Government was bound to act. It preferred to act according to moral rules, and to do what it thought right without regard to the protests of national egoism. This was the moral and the courageous course. But tardy moral courage is not an adequate political substitute for timely wisdom. For twenty years the two races cherished the memories of this miserable episode, and the recollections of wounded pride on the one hand and of hard-won triumph on the other were at last found to be excellent fuel for the flames of a second war.

The blunders of the Government in South Africa were balanced by other blunders in North Africa. Beaconsfield had declined to occupy Egypt openly and with the sanction of the Concert of Europe. Gladstone stumbled into it against his will, asking in vain for European sanction, and protesting his intention to withdraw at the earliest possible moment. Never was such a successful experiment in government begun in such an irresolute and unmethodical way. The details of the occupation of Egypt are not important for this book. The main outlines are clear enough. To increase the extent of the Empire by the appropriation of any country was a violation of the principles of the Midlothian speeches, and there is no question that the entry into Egypt was made with misgiving and reluctance. But circumstances were too strong, and for the first and last time in his life Gladstone masqueraded in the trappings of Imperialism.

Egypt, nominally subject to the Sultan of Egypt, had long enjoyed an insolvent independence under its Khedive. In 1879 its finances had been entrusted, in the interest of foreign bondholders, to the joint control of England and France, represented for the purpose by a large and costly army of officials. The entanglement of England in Egypt was thus the first example of what is now a common political case, the disposition of the [ 291 ] fortunes of a whole people by its investing class. Plutocracy was beginning to usurp the temper, as well as the place, of aristocracy. In 1881 a revolt began, which was partly due to military discontent, and partly to a nationalist dislike of foreign domination. Had the British Government been free to act as they pleased, they would probably have abstained from interference, and would have recognized and supported the first Nationalist Government of Egypt, whatever its constitution might have been. But their hands were tied by the financial arrangements of their predecessors. The Khedive was acting under the advice of England and France, and could not be deserted. When the revolt became fanatical, and Europeans were massacred in the streets of Alexandria, there was no longer any room for choice. The other Powers declined to interfere, France withdrew when it came to the use of armed force, and the revolt was suppressed by English ships and English troops. One step after another led England deeper into occupation. In 1883 the Dual Control was abolished, and Sir Auckland Colvin became the sole Financial Adviser of the Khedive. By 1885 British financial control was established throughout Egypt, and evacuation, though the intention of it was not abandoned by either Liberals or Conservatives for some time afterwards, really became impossible. The total effect of this new acquisition can hardly yet be estimated. It was infinitely less equivocal in origin than our conquest of India, and the material benefits which it has conferred upon the native population are immense. The real test of its temper will arise when the Egyptians desire to take the control of their own affairs into their own hands. If the British bureaucracy can surrender its supremacy as generously as, on the whole, it has employed it, it will prove itself a miracle of magnanimity. In the meantime, the events of this time are important as marking the intrusion of high finance into foreign politics, and the beginning of a series of huge extensions of territory, which have reacted very forcibly upon the fortunes of the British peoples.

The Gladstone Government, having been pushed and dragged into Egypt, was at least determined to go no farther. A wise [ 292 ] application of Liberal principle was the withdrawal from the Soudan. The death of General Gordon, who ought never to have been sent to Khartoum, has invested this operation with an unreal significance. To conquer and hold the southern provinces would have been as difficult and as costly as to conquer and hold Afghanistan. Being in Egypt, the Government wisely decided to restrict their responsibilities. The reorganization of finance was the first condition of the conquest of the Soudan, and a few years later the swift, successful, and cheap campaign of Lord Kitchener did what could at that time only have been done at the cost of enormous financial burdens. The wisdom of the policy of evacuation is not now questioned. But the loss of Gordon, due as much to his own disobedience to orders as to the tardiness of the Government, was very damaging to their reputation. They ought either to have kept out of Egypt altogether, or to have gone into it with a determination to do the work thoroughly. A vote of censure was averted in February, 1885, by only fourteen votes, and it was obvious that the days of the Government were numbered.

One flash of vigour illuminated their decline. The Ameer of Afghanistan, by the judicious treatment of Lord Ripon and Lord Dufferin, had been converted into a firm friend of Great Britain. An advance by Russia in Central Asia made some definition of boundaries necessary, and while negotiations between the two Powers were in progress some Russian troops made an attack upon Afghans in Penjdeh. The Government promptly obtained a vote of credit for six and a half millions, and showed Russia plainly that, however anxious they were to restrict the extent of the Empire, they were ready at all times to defend those peoples whom they had taken under their protection. The dispute was referred to the arbitration of the King of Denmark. The reference was denounced by the Tories as a cowardly surrender. The Liberals were content with the victory of morality over prestige. This affair took place in April. In the middle of June the Government, distracted by the prospect of more coercion in Ireland, resigned, and Lord Salisbury became Prime Minister. [ 293 ]

In spite of their difficulties, this Liberal Ministry had contrived to do much for the cause of Liberalism. They had extended the control of the individual over his government to substantially all men. They had raised the value of women. They had removed one of the few remaining disabilities of the Dissenters. They had restored freedom to the Transvaal, and saved incalculable expense to both Great Britain and India by withdrawing from Afghanistan. They had blundered into Imperialism in Egypt, and though they had treated Ireland without egoism, like all their predecessors they had failed to pacify it. In the new spirit of collectivism they had stepped in between the economically weak and the economically strong. The Irish peasant had been further protected against the Irish landlord. The English farmers had got compensation for improvements and the right to protect their crops against game. Something had been done to get the poor into better houses. Workmen had got some protection against the negligence of their employers. The record of emancipation in the various fields of class, of sex, of race, and of wealth was respectable, if not glorious. Everything except the state of Ireland indicated the future course of Liberalism with clearness. Mr. Chamberlain expressed the opinions of the advance guard when he demanded the reform of the House of Lords, the compulsory purchase of land for agricultural holdings, free as well as compulsory education, the disestablishment of the Church, and a graduated income tax. This was the work to be done, to reduce the power of aristocracy in government, which had been displayed of late in more than one conflict between the two Houses, to perfect the equalization of sects in the State, to employ the superfluity of wealth in mitigating the conditions in which poverty lived. But the actual course of events was determined by the state of Ireland.

310 ^  One of his resolutions advocating intervention was beaten by 131 votes, a far greater majority than the Government could expect on any party measure.

311 ^  Lord Derby and Lord Carnarvon resigned their posts in the Ministry rather than share the responsibility of such a crime. The former suspended his resignation for a few weeks.

312 ^  Afterwards Marquis of Salisbury.

313 ^  Beaconsfield did not stop at this point. He made a treaty with Turkey, binding us to defend her possessions in Asia, and her to reform her system of government. The reforms were never carried out, and fifteen years later the Armenian massacres showed what Turkish promises were worth. One omission was made in these arrangements. Bismarck offered to support a British occupation of Egypt. Beaconsfield refused thus to impair the integrity of the Ottoman Empire, and took a worthless "lease" of the island of Cyprus instead. The sanction of Europe for our incursion into Egypt was thus lost.

314 ^  Lord Mayo, quoted in Hansard, III. ccxliii. 312. Lady Betty Balfour's Lord Lytton's Indian Administration is a very good account of the Viceroy's aims and methods. See also the Blue Book, Papers Relating to Afghanistan (1878).

315 ^  Balfour, 30.

316 ^  For the Parliamentary debates see Hansard, III. ccxliii. 245 (Lords), and 310 (Commons). Lord Lawrence's views were quoted from a dispatch of his (1869) at p. 311.

317 ^  Hansard, III. ccxliii. 349.

318 ^  Hansard, 380. Mr. Chamberlain's defence of the claim to criticize a war while it is in progress (p. 382) is the best possible comment on his treatment of Pro-Boers twenty years later.

319 ^  The best Liberal speeches are in Hansard, III. ccxliii., Lords Halifax (245), Lawrence (261), and Grey (406); Whitbread (310), Chamberlain (380), and Gladstone (541).

320 ^  The Midlothian Campaign (speeches in 1879 and 1880), 113.

321 ^  Ibid., 194.

322 ^  The Midlothian Campaign, 19.

323 ^  Ibid., 66.

324 ^  Ibid., 131.

325 ^  The Midlothian Campaign, 58.

326 ^  The Midlothian Campaign, 63.

327 ^  Lord Randolph Churchill, Mr. Arthur Balfour, Sir John Gorst, and Sir Henry Drummond Wolff.

328 ^  Hansard, III. cclxxviii. 1174. Bright's best speech is at cclx. 1199.

329 ^  Times, 21st November, 1883; Nineteenth Century, January and February, 1884. Miss Octavia Hill, who knew more about the subject than anybody else, was not appointed a member of the Commission, though she gave evidence. Twenty years elapsed before a woman sat on a Royal Commission.

330 ^  Report of Lord Bessborough's Commission (1881), 21.

331 ^  Lord Morley's Miscellanies, iv. 306.