A Short History of English Liberalism/VI

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The significance of the victory of 1832 was immense. It broke up and reconstructed the whole of the machinery by which the old Toryism had managed the people, and it involved the first great revision of social values which had taken place in England. It was perhaps more important as a precedent for future changes than for what it was in itself. It was very far from implying the triumph of Revolutionary principles, though the spread of Revolutionary principles had alone made it possible. The Whigs themselves remained aristocratic and territorial, and they still dominated politics. The small group of commercial and manufacturing Members of Parliament was considerably increased by the enfranchisement of the new towns. But members continued for another generation to be chosen for the most part from the nobility and gentry, and only their constituents and the tone of their policy were changed. Very few members and only a small proportion of the newly enfranchised class had any belief in the equal worth of individuals in the State. The revision of values extended no farther than the middle class. Capital was appreciated in relation to land. Labour was still depreciated in relation to both. An end was put "to all the advantages which particular forms of property possess over other forms,"[1] but property as a whole was still supreme. The Reform Act was intended to enfranchise "the middle class of England, with the flower of the aristocracy at its head, and the flower of the working classes bringing up its rear."[2] From their new elevation these looked down upon the mass of wage-earners as the old Tories had looked down upon them. "I would withhold from them," said Macaulay, "nothing which it might be for their good to possess.... If I would refuse to the working people that larger share of power which some of them have demanded, I would refuse it because I am convinced that, by giving it, I should only increase their distress. I admit that the end of government is their happiness. But that they may be governed for their happiness, they must not be governed according to the doctrines which they have learned from their illiterate, incapable, low-minded flatterers."[3] In just such language had Pitt referred to the working class and the Corresponding Society. Just as the old Tories had held that the landed gentry were the natural leaders of the nation, so the new Whigs paid the same tribute to the upper and middle classes combined. "The higher and middling orders are the natural representatives of the human race."[4] The disposing habit had come down a step. But it remained the disposing habit.

The new governing class had that dislike of forms and liking of individual liberty to which reference has been made. The Parliamentary Whigs, no less than the manufacturers, were imbued with the same spirit. The natural bias of their party had always been in that direction. They had abolished slavery, had emancipated Dissenters and Catholics, had defended free speech during the reaction, and had finally substituted the control of the middle class of the common people for that of the aristocracy and the landed interest. In recent years they had been infected with the temper, even while they despised the philosophizing, of the Benthamites. In one respect they lagged behind the Philosophic Radicals. They were landed proprietors, and their adoption of Free Trade was slow and reluctant. It was as unnatural for them to lower the price of their tenants' corn as it was for the manufacturers to reduce the hours of their men's labour. But their general tendency to restrict the action of Government was as marked as that of the avowed Utilitarians. They constantly, as in the reference to "happiness" already quoted, used the very language of the creed. The following words of Macaulay might have been spoken by Grote or Roebuck. "The business of Government is not directly to make the people rich, but to protect them in making themselves rich.... We can give them only freedom to employ their industry to the best advantage, and security in the enjoyment of what their industry has acquired. These advantages it is our duty to give at the smallest possible cost. The diligence and forethought of individuals will thus have fair play; and it is only by the diligence and forethought of individuals that the community can become prosperous." The Reform Bill would thus indirectly conduce to the national prosperity. "It will secure to us a House of Commons which, by preserving peace, by destroying monopolies, by taking away unnecessary public burdens, by judiciously distributing necessary public burdens, will, in the progress of time, greatly improve our condition."[5]

"Reform," said Sydney Smith, "will produce economy and investigation; there will be fewer jobs and a less lavish expenditure; wars will not be persevered in for years after the people are tired of them; taxes will be taken off the poor and laid upon the rich;... cruel and oppressive punishments (such as those for night poaching) will be abolished. If you steal a pheasant you will be punished as you ought to be, but not sent away from your wife and children for seven years. Tobacco will be 2d. per lb. cheaper. Candles will fall in price ... if peace, economy, and justice are the results of Reform, a number of small benefits ... will accrue to millions of the people; and the connection between the existence of Lord John Russell and the reduced price of bread and cheese will be as clear as it has been the object of his honest, wise, and useful life to make it."[6]

There was therefore very little disposition among the Whigs to undertake economic reforms. "We can no more prevent time," said Macaulay, "from changing the distribution of property and intelligence, we can no more prevent property and intelligence from aspiring to political power, than we can change the courses of the seasons and of the tides."[7] But in the immediate present they would decline to change the distribution of property as firmly as to change that of political power. The two things in fact went together. Society was based on property; universal suffrage meant the confiscation of property. Therefore the franchise must be limited to the owners of property. "My firm conviction," said the same typical Whig, "is that, in our country, universal suffrage is incompatible, not with this or that form of government, but with all forms of government, and with everything for the sake of which forms of government exist; that it is incompatible with property, and that it is incompatible with civilization."[8]

This refusal to undertake anything in the nature of graduated taxation or social reform was accompanied by a dislike of the organizations by which the working people endeavoured to help themselves. After the repeal of the Combination Acts in 1824 the number of Trade Unions had greatly increased. The methods of these associations were often of a violent and dangerous character. Any unusual poverty will produce disorder, even among men of good understanding. The effect on men of poor education is much worse. The new-found power of combining was thus often abused, intimidation and assault were common, and even murder was not unknown. To the Whigs, as to the philosophic Radicals, the whole system of Trade Unionism was nothing but tyranny and oppression. They failed to see the necessity for combination. They assumed that nothing could increase wages but an increase of production, and consequently that so long as the total earnings of a trade remained fixed a Trade Union could produce no result except a bad temper. They ignored the possibility that the master's profits and the landlord's rent might both be reduced without injury to the industry as a whole. In all this the Utilitarians agreed with them. But theorists like Hume and Roebuck were compelled logically to admit that if a man was to be free to pursue his own interest, he was to be free to combine with others. A Trade Union was thus not offensive to a Radical except when it abused its rights and acted oppressively. The Whigs had a much stronger objection. A Union to them was obnoxious in itself, probably because it had a social and political, as well as an industrial complexion. The Radical employer at least understood his men. The Whig landowner probably did not. Brougham described the Union leaders as "idle, good for nothing agitators," and declared that "the worst enemies of the trades themselves, the most pernicious counsellors that they possibly could have, were those who had advised them to adopt the line of conduct which they had followed since the repeal of the Combination laws."[9] Palmerston referred constantly in his correspondence to the rise of Trade Unions as a danger to the State.[10] This is the style in which modern Tories spoke during the miners' strike of 1912. The grievances were ignored or not understood, and the attempts at self-help were treated only as evidence of a malicious and dangerous spirit.

This temper led the Government into one gross abuse of power. In 1834 an Agricultural Labourers' Union was formed in Dorsetshire. Some foolish person thought it necessary to bind the members by an oath. One of the Statutes of the Revolution period had made it illegal to administer an oath to a member of any association. The Act had been passed in consequence of the mutiny at the Nore and the activities of societies like the United Irishmen, which were avowedly criminal. It had not been intended to apply, and it had practically never been applied to any other kind of society. It was suddenly revived in the case of the Dorsetshire labourers. Six of them were tried at Dorchester, found guilty, and sentenced to seven years' transportation. The ferocity of the sentence was surpassed by the indecent haste with which the Government hurried the wretched men out of the country. They proceeded exactly as the Tories had proceeded in the cases of Muir and Palmer. The prisoners were put on board a convict ship, which set sail before the matter could be discussed in Parliament. To the working man new Whig was but old Tory spelt differently. But on this occasion popular opinion was against the Government. The men were ignorant, but honest. Two of them were Methodist preachers. None of them was, in any real sense of the word, criminal, and the whole country was roused in their behalf. Petitions poured in from towns of every sort, from Oxford, Cheltenham, Leeds, Newcastle, and Dundee. Hume, Roebuck, and O'Connell spoke in the House of Commons. Twenty thousand workmen, headed by Robert Owen, marched on one occasion to Whitehall, and Melbourne was compelled to receive a deputation. Humanity and reason at last had their way, but it was two years before the prisoners received a pardon, and longer before they had all returned home. In this episode the country showed itself more Liberal than the Government, and the Whigs were sharply reminded that the Reform Act had changed their own situation no less than that of the Tories.

The case of the Dorchester labourers is sufficient proof that the Whigs had little understanding of the working classes and little sympathy with their point of view. The agitation for the people's charter, manhood suffrage, annual Parliaments, vote by ballot, and the rest, never made any impression upon Parliament. The Chartists were sent to prison when they broke the law, their meetings were sometimes dispersed by force, and they were sometimes shot dead in the course of riots. For several years after the Reform Act the Whig Government was engaged in watching and suppressing political agitation almost as regularly as the Tories before it. But more than one important economic reform was carried through Parliament about the same time, and conferred considerable benefits upon the common people. One was the Act of 1834, which reconstructed the Poor Law system. This was purely Benthamite, and the Report of Royal Commissioners, upon which it was based, was drafted by the Utilitarian, Nassau Senior. The new Poor Law combined the thorough, scientific, mechanical principles of the theory of utility with the characteristic Benthamite avoidance of restrictions on liberty. The old system had been promiscuous and charitable. Relief had been granted in many quarters promiscuously, and without regard to indirect consequences. Wages had been kept down, bastardy had been encouraged, no tests had been required to show that the applicants were really distressed. Rates had in consequence increased enormously, and in one parish had reached such a height that the whole economic system had broken down, and industry had actually ceased. There were some remarkable exceptions,[11] but the general state of the country was slovenly. The reform was of the most drastic character. A central body of commissioners was appointed to introduce uniformity. Small parishes were united to form efficient units of administration. Relief was to be granted by elected Boards of Guardians, and not by inexperienced justices of the peace. But for the purposes of this book the most important changes were in the system rather than in the machinery. Every applicant for relief must pass a test. He was offered relief, but only coupled with the workhouse, where he must make some return in labour for what he received. The workhouse must be of such an unattractive character that none but those who were in actual want would enter it. In short, the poor man must be forced, by this sufficient deterrent, to rely upon his individual strength and skill. The new system met with great apparent success, and much of the success was real. It unquestionably stopped the demoralization of the labourers, and rates were everywhere reduced. The failure was of the sort which was inevitably incident to Benthamism. The law checked pauperism, but it did not abolish poverty. It prevented the abuse of public assistance, but it did not deal with those causes of poverty which did not depend on the motives of the poor themselves. The idler was driven by the workhouse into work. The honest man who was made destitute by the bad organization of casual labour, by the periodic fluctuations of trade, by the introduction of machinery, or by the bankruptcy of his employer, could only be driven into the street. Where independence depended upon the will of the man himself the unpleasant nature of poor relief was beneficial. Where it depended upon causes beyond his control it was actually harmful. The Utilitarian dislike of positive attempts to improve conditions of life and labour thus left their work incomplete.

A second economic reform was the Factory legislation of 1831 and 1833. The object of the Acts, which, owing to inadequate inspection, was only partially attained, was to restrict the hours of labour of children and young persons. Peel's Act of 1825 had prohibited the employment of children under sixteen for more than twelve hours of actual work a day, and it applied only to cotton mills. The Act of 1833 prohibited all night work in all textile mills, prohibited the employment of children under nine except in silk mills, imposed a limit of forty-eight hours a week on children up to thirteen, and a limit of sixty-nine hours on young persons up to eighteen. It also provided for a system of inspection, which unfortunately proved insufficient. This was the first important example of a general State interference in economic conditions, and the campaign for its improvement and extension divided all parties.

The true line of Liberal action was undoubtedly in the direction of restricting the liberty of the individual to exploit those who were unable to protect themselves. But such a course was contrary to the general individualistic current of the time, and a large section of the Whig party was persistently and bitterly hostile. The best of them eventually came to the same conclusions as Macaulay. "I hardly know which is the greater pest to society, a paternal Government, that is to say, a prying, meddlesome Government which intrudes itself into every part of human life, and which thinks that it can do everything for everybody better than anybody can do anything for himself; or a careless, lounging Government which suffers grievances, such as it could at once remove, to grow and multiply, and which to all complaint and remonstrance has only one answer: 'We must let things alone; we must let things find their level.'... I hold that, where public health is concerned, and where public morality is concerned, the State may be justified in regulating even the contracts of adults.... Never will I believe that what makes a population stronger, and healthier, and wiser, and better, can ultimately make it poorer."[12] But there were few of the Whigs who held these wise opinions immediately after their triumph in 1831, and even Macaulay in 1832 defeated a Tory candidate whose views on Factory legislation were at that time far sounder than his own. Those Whigs who belonged to the middle class were generally hostile to the whole movement. Cobden, not yet in Parliament, would have prohibited all employment of children under the age of thirteen.[13] But Brougham, Harriet Martineau, and the type of business man which was best represented by John Bright, were bitter opponents of reform. The utmost which could be got from the middle-class Parliaments which followed the Reform Act was a restriction of the work of children. The protection of adults, even by the regulation of machinery, ventilation, and temperature, was always repugnant to their stubborn belief in the power and the duty of the individual to work out his own salvation.

The real impulse to Factory legislation came from two different quarters. The first was Tory philanthropy. The second was the industrial democracy which had worked for Parliamentary Reform, and had been left out of the Act of 1832. These last acted obviously from interested motives. Their own health and happiness were at stake, and their campaign on behalf of the children was only part of a general campaign for shorter hours and better conditions of labour. The Tory Evangelicals acted as Tory theorists. Robert Southey, Richard Oastler, Michael Sadler, whom Macaulay beat at Leeds in 1832, and Lord Shaftesbury, who succeeded Oastler as the Parliamentary leader of the movement, were Tories of a pronounced type. But they were philanthropists, they had no personal interest as manufacturers, and their Toryism left them logically free to employ the power of the State on behalf of their philanthropy. Their general readiness to dispose of the affairs of others was in this case wholly beneficial. Shaftesbury hated Catholic Emancipation, Free Trade, life peerages, the higher criticism, the Oxford movement, everything which during his lifetime tended to free the individual from the control of selfish interests and monopolies. But as he refused to allow a Catholic or a Tractarian religious freedom, or the common people political freedom, so he refused to allow a cotton-spinner economic freedom. To his narrow mind, no less than to his large heart, the legal protection of working people against economic tyranny is due. It must not be supposed that he found more favour with the ordinary Tory than with the ordinary Whig or Benthamite. It was only where philosophic Toryism was combined with the philanthropic instincts of Evangelical Christianity that there was any marked superiority in one party over another. Shaftesbury had to fight every step of his way, and he encountered indifference, if not opposition, wherever he turned.[14]


Apart from this lamentable neglect of economic reforms the Whigs of the Reform Bill made valuable contributions to the work of Liberalism. Something was done to abolish the cumbrous devices which made legal procedure unintelligible and costly, and the method of conveying land was simplified and cheapened.[15] A Bill to establish local courts for the recovery of small debts was introduced by Brougham, but abandoned. The reform of Parliament was followed by the reform of municipal corporations. The old close corporations were of the same type as the old close House of Commons. All were founded on monopoly, most were corrupt, and hardly any were responsible to the ratepayers whose affairs they administered. By an Act of 1835 the old system was destroyed, and the control of local government in towns was vested in bodies elected by the ratepayers.[16] The representative principle was thus asserted in local as in national affairs. The domination of the landed interest was further reduced. The old Game Laws had made the killing of game the exclusive privilege of landowners. No one else could kill game legally, and the law, sparing offenders of higher rank, was ruthlessly enforced by landowning magistrates against the poor. Between 1827 and 1830 more than 8,000 persons had been sentenced, some of them to transportation for life, for offences against this law. In 1831, before the passing of the Reform Bill, the Whigs altered the savage and partial Game Laws by permitting any one to kill game who obtained a licence from the Inland Revenue authorities.[17] After the election of the first reformed Parliament, a second attack on land was made. In 1807 the land of traders only had been made liable to the payment of his simple contract debts. Romilly had in vain attempted to make this provision impartial. But in 1833 the liability was extended to all classes, and the country gentleman was no longer allowed to evade the obligations which were imposed by law upon his social rivals.[18]

In the same year slavery was abolished in the West Indies. The trade had been stopped in 1807. But it was still legal for the planters to own slaves, though they could no longer import them. In 1821 Wilberforce had solemnly confided the leadership of his cause to Thomas Fowell Buxton. Mackintosh, Brougham, and Lushington had supported him steadily in the Commons, and they had always had the help of Canning. But the planters had succeeded, partly by threats of secession, partly by promises of amendment, in maintaining their abominable system. The decline of the West Indian trade since the peace had reduced their influence, and Parliament, free from unrest at home, could turn its attention more easily to the Colonies. The planters were presented with twenty millions of public money. The slaves were to be treated as apprentices for seven years and afterwards were to be free labourers. Thus the last trace of acknowledged slavery was removed from the British Empire. It is melancholy to reflect that the men who expended so much honest sympathy and indignation over slavery in the West Indies should have so carefully refrained from using it to abolish the slavery which oppressed their fellow-countrymen. Slavery is not always a matter of buying and selling, of chaining and whipping; and in the sweated labour and prostitution which were rife in England there were things no less horrible than the worst barbarities of the colonial planters.


A Liberal reform no less important than the Factory Act was the establishment of a State department of education. In 1833 Radicals like Roebuck and Grote and Whigs like Brougham persuaded Parliament to grant £20,000 to supplement the private donations which were being administered by the different societies for education. Whitbread had introduced a Bill to establish schools in all poor parishes in 1807. Brougham had obtained returns showing the existing provision for popular education in 1818. But nothing was done by the State to remedy the deficiencies of private enterprise until 1833, and even what was done then was so unscientific that, the private societies being all Protestant, Roman Catholic children got no benefit from it at all. After further efforts by Brougham and other enthusiasts, the Government in 1839 proposed to appoint a committee of the Privy Council as a central education authority. A training school for teachers was to be established under its supervision, and the State grant was to be increased to £30,000.

These proposals were slight enough in themselves. But they produced one of those ugly conflicts which are inevitable in English politics so long as one religious sect holds a privileged position. Some of the clergy of the Established Church claimed the control of all popular education, religious and secular. The more responsible claimed to control the religious education only. The Archbishop of Canterbury used language which was none the less insolent because it fell from the lips of an amiable and benevolent man. "The moral and religious instruction of the great mass of the people of this country was a subject peculiarly belonging to the clergy of the Established Church.... In the distribution of the public money for the encouragement of religion, their first object ought to be to maintain and extend the religion of the State."[19] "The State," said the Bishop of London, "has established a great National Church, a great instrument of education, which ought to conduct the whole process as far as religion is concerned. The Church is the only recognized medium of communicating religious knowledge to the people at large; and where there is an Established Church the Legislature ought to embrace every fit opportunity of maintaining and extending the just influence of the clergy, due regard being had to complete toleration."[20] In other words, these ecclesiastics regarded it as perfectly fair that money should be taken from Dissenters to pay for the teaching of doctrines of which they disapproved, while none was expended on the teaching of doctrines of which they did approve. They were answered firmly by Ministers, more bitterly and more effectively by Brougham. "In what does the tolerance consist?" asked Brougham. "Is it in permitting the Dissenting children to be instructed in those schools in which the Church doctrines alone are taught?"[21] The meaning of religious liberty was extended. "Men who value religious liberty do not, in these days, dread anything that can be called persecution, but they do dread privileges and oppressive exclusions, preferences to one sect over another;... they are resolved never to pay to man any tax to support education, if the fruit of the tax does not go to maintain education to which all shall have an equal access."[22] The issue was thus again joined between those who would dispose of the consciences of others and those who would allow every man an equal right with every other for the propagation of his own opinions.

On this point the Whigs were successful. Their proposals for distribution between the sects were in the direct line of their removal of ancient political disabilities, and they stood their ground. One concession was made. The inspectors of schools were to present their reports to the Bishop of the diocese as well as to the Committee of Council. But after several close divisions in the Commons and several defeats in the Lords the scheme was established. It must not be supposed that the majority of the Whigs supported these novel proposals in a very Liberal spirit. Brougham was passionately Liberal. The Radicals made State education part of their practical philosophy of equality. To men of this type education was a means of increasing the individual's power to develop and express himself. But to very many of the supporters of Government the measure was rather a measure of police than of emancipation. Ignorance meant discontent and danger to society and property. In answering the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Lansdowne said: "In the 80,000 uninstructed children now growing out of infancy your Lordships may see the rising Chartists of the next age."[23] Eight years later Macaulay declared that "It is the duty of Government to protect our persons and our property from danger. The gross ignorance of the common people is a principal cause of danger to our persons and property. Therefore it is the duty of the Government to take care that the common people shall not be grossly ignorant."[24] This is more in the temper of Wilberforce than in that of Tom Paine. But whatever their motives, the services of the Whigs were great. Their grant was absurdly inadequate. But they had at least begun to enable the common people to think for themselves, and if they had not prevented the disputes of sects, they had at least secured that no sect should have an artificial advantage over another.


The great Whig administration went out of office in 1841. Their foreign policy was the policy of Palmerston, and is perhaps best treated in connection with his conduct of affairs after 1846, when his party returned to power for an almost continuous period of twenty years. Lord Grey retired in 1834, and was succeeded by Lord Melbourne, an easy gentleman, whose only claim to the gratitude of posterity was his careful training of the young Queen Victoria. Under his guidance the country was little troubled by legislation, and the closing years of the Ministry were marked by no important domestic achievement. But the establishment of a new Constitution in Canada marked the beginning of a new and Liberal colonial policy. This was the work of Lord Durham, who had outrun all his colleagues at the time of the Reform Bill, and earned for himself the name of "Radical Jack." He received little support from the Home Government during his service in Canada, and all the credit which it deserves is his alone.[25]

Since the loss of the American Colonies, Canada was the only considerable colony of white men which England possessed. Australia and New Zealand were comparatively recent discoveries, and South Africa, captured from the Dutch during the great war, was only sparsely populated. Canada represented a civilization of an older type, and a large portion of its inhabitants was French. In 1791 a Constitution had created two Provinces, Upper and Lower Canada, which corresponded roughly with the distribution of the two nationalities. The arrangement was satisfactory to nobody. Upper Canada was dominated by an oligarchy which monopolized public offices, and had acquired the bulk of the public land for its own use. The Governor and his Executive Council habitually rejected the advice of his elected Legislature, and the Province was in practice governed by officials. In Lower Canada the elected House was chiefly French, and the Governor, packing the Upper House with English, managed his Province much as England had managed Ireland. The real Government of both Provinces was in fact the Colonial Office. Parliament generally was indifferent. Many of the Radicals, following Bentham, accepted in full the theory that local affairs must be controlled by local representative assemblies. But they pushed their theory to logical conclusions, and, believing that the complete independence of the Provinces must come, sooner or later, were little inclined to administer the affairs of territories which were only costly burdens upon the British taxpayer. The Whigs, misreading the lesson of the American Rebellion, saw no alternatives but this complete independence and the present difficult and irritating subjection. In this atmosphere the officials had their own way. Bickerings about domestic affairs continued from 1810 to 1837. The Lower Province wanted an elected Upper House and power to dispose of the Crown Lands. The Upper Province wanted responsibility of Ministers and no oligarchy. Commissioners were sent to Canada in 1836 to inquire into complaints, and at once came to grief. In March, 1837, the English House of Commons, in spite of Radical opposition, resolved that it was inexpedient to make the Upper House of Lower Canada elective. In August the Assembly of the Province was dissolved, and rioting began. Troops were called in, and Canadians were killed. In May, 1838, Durham arrived at Quebec on an errand of pacification. Some of his acts were arbitrary, and he was at last forced to resign by a torrent of abuse, which the Home Government did nothing to avert. But his policy was in effect adopted, and his Report contains the statement of the principles which have ever since been the foundation of our colonial system.[26]

The reforms were not until a later date completed by the consolidation of the two Provinces, which directed the energies of the two races into the management of their common affairs, and so ended the discord which had nearly ruined Lower Canada. But both Provinces were separately endowed with responsible government. Full control was given over revenue, Ministers were made responsible to the Legislature, and the nominated Houses were abolished. "Hitherto," said Durham, "the course of policy adopted by the English Government towards the colony has had reference to the state of parties in England, instead of the wants and circumstances of the Province." In future, other principles were to prevail, and the first step was to equip the colony with the machinery for managing its own business. "I do not anticipate that a Colonial Legislature, thus strong and thus self-governing, would desire to abandon the connection with great Britain. On the contrary, I believe that the practical relief from undue interference, which would be the result of such a change, would strengthen the present bond of feelings and interests; and that the connection would only become more durable and advantageous, by having more of equality, of freedom, and of local independence. But at any rate, our first duty is to secure the well-being of our colonial countrymen; and if in the hidden decrees of that wisdom by which this world is ruled, it is written that these countries are not for ever to remain portions of the Empire, we owe it to our honour to take good care that, when they separate from us, they should not be the only countries on the American continent in which the Anglo-Saxon race shall be found unfit to govern itself.

"I am, in truth, so far from believing that the increased power and weight that would be given to these Colonies by union would endanger their connection with the Empire, that I look to it as the only means of fostering such a national feeling throughout them as would effectually counterbalance whatever tendencies may now exist towards separation. No large community of free and intelligent men will long feel contented with a political system which places them, because it places their country, in a position of inferiority to their neighbours." The object of the reforms was to give as much freedom to the colonists as was compatible with the sovereignty of the Crown. They would then lose two temptations to rebellion; the interference of foreign officials in the disputes of their own parties, and the contrast which the liberty of Americans as well as of English presented to their own condition. Some points were left open, and were not settled until a later date. But Parliament had at last been brought to recognize that "Englishmen abroad are the same animals as Englishmen at home—energetic, self-relying, capable of managing their own affairs, impatient of needless and domineering interference."[27] The egoistic habit had received a decisive check.

The total contribution of the Whigs to Liberalism was very large. They had declared that government, national and local, was to be no longer the business of a class, but the interest of the people as a whole; that no form of religious opinion was to be appreciated at the expense of another; that no man should be allowed to have property in the body of another; that land should not be privileged against goods in relation to legal debts, and that landowners should not be privileged against landless men in relation to the killing of game; that employers and parents should not be allowed to dispose of the health and happiness of children; that the English people should not be permitted to regulate the domestic concerns of one of their colonies. Much remained to be done. The middle class was admitted to political power, but the working class was not. Catholics and Dissenters were no longer practically disabled by the Church, but both were still depreciated by the establishment of the rival sect, and the Jew was still excluded from Parliament and office by the Christian. Land was still privileged by the Corn Law as against industry, and particular industries as against the public by the protective tariff. The poor working man was still liable to be abused by his wealthy employer. If the Colonies were emancipated, Ireland was not. The condition of women had not been improved, or even considered. Some of these reforms were simply applications of old Whig theories about the responsibility of Government to the people and the toleration of heterodox opinions. A Whig of 1688 would have understood the ideas which lay beneath the Reform Act, the Canadian Constitution, the repeal of the Test Act, and Catholic Emancipation, even if he had disliked the particular expression of them. Other reforms were novel not only in themselves, but also as implying a new attitude of mind, a new conception of the relations between the State and society. The education scheme and the Factory Act meant that men were ceasing to look upon the State as something external to the people, a thing which was contrived simply to protect individual human beings from being injured either by foreign invaders or by domestic law-breakers. They were beginning to look upon it as an engine which might be put to positive as well as to negative use, which might be employed to strike off fetters as well as to prevent their imposition, which might be consciously directed towards improving a man's natural capacity as well as towards allowing it free play. It was a long time before these ideas received much fuller expression. Political power remained in the hands of classes who required little assistance of this sort for themselves, and were incapable of seeing how urgently it was needed by others. Until the Reform Act of 1867 had transferred power to the working classes the new conception of the State was only rarely and unsystematically expressed in legislation. In the meantime the landed gentry and the manufacturers exaggerated rather than diminished the old idea of individualism, and neglected or resisted every proposal which tended to restrict competition.


In 1841 the Tories under Peel came into office. The Toryism of this short administration was very different from that of Pitt, of Castlereagh, and of Liverpool. The Prime Minister was not in the least aggressive in foreign policy, and was far more Liberal in abstaining from interference with other nations than was a Whig like Palmerston. At home he was influenced by the spirit, if not by the direct teaching of Bentham, and the Peelite school of Ministers was a group which for efficiency and economy has never been surpassed in England. Peel's most conspicuous virtue was perhaps his incapacity to make permanent resistance to sound argument. Men like Liverpool would hold to a bad principle at any cost. Peel was always open to conversion. In 1829 he had, by one of these wise surrenders, saved the country from the maintenance of the Catholic disabilities, and he was now in a similar way to abandon Protection. But the real credit for this Liberal triumph belonged to the Manchester School. In other matters he moved in the same line without outside pressure. The most conspicuous exhibition of Liberalism which was made by Peel of his own initiative was his treatment of Ireland, and his most useful project was frustrated by his own party. He applied himself with his usual disinterested ambition to the government of Ireland. He saw that that country must be treated according to its own nature, and not according to that of England, if it was ever to be prosperous and contented. Its principal grievances were the subjection of Catholicism to Protestantism, and the distortion of a peculiarly Irish system of landholding to the peculiarly English rules of law. Both problems were attacked by Peel in the right spirit, if not in the right way,

One of the worst consequences of the religious inequality was the ignorance of the Catholic clergy and population. No honest Catholic would set foot in the Irish Universities, which were exclusively Protestant in temper. A small annual grant of £9,000 had been made to the Catholic College for priests at Maynooth since the beginning of the century. This was all that had been done to carry out the conciliatory policy of Pitt. Peel in 1845 proposed to increase the grant to £26,000. This was not a purely Liberal way of dealing with the difficulty. No system of endowment can establish equality between sects, because no Government is capable either of endowing all sects or of deciding what sects should be selected in preference to the others. Endowment can only create inequalities. The only levelling process is disendowment. But the Maynooth grant was a practical measure, however little it squared with logic. The Whigs supported it, and in the face of a clamour which recalled the days of the Puritan Revolution, Peel had his way.[28] A second Bill established three colleges for laymen, which offered education to all comers irrespective of creed.

The second line of advance was towards the establishment of the tenant's right to compensation for improvements. The Irish land question had at last attracted the earnest attention of an English Government. The particular difficulty with which Peel now endeavoured to grapple was the result of the English legal theory that everything put into the soil was the property of the landlord, and the Irish custom which allowed the tenant to make all the improvements in the holding. A tenant who spent his own money on building, fencing, and ditching found his rent raised on the ground that the land had thereby been made more valuable, and in default of payment, was mercilessly evicted. In England, where the landlord paid for most permanent improvements, this rule was not unjust. In Ireland, where the landlord paid for none of them, it was little better than robbery. Bills entitling the tenant to compensation for his improvements had been introduced in 1835, 1836, and in 1843. A Royal Commission appointed by Peel presented a favourable report in 1845, and a fourth Bill was brought forward in the Lords. That Assembly, by one of its most fatal displays of Tory spirit, killed the Bill, and it was not introduced again for thirty-six years.

The debate in the Lords presented the Tory theory of Irish government in its crudest form. It was nothing that the history and the economic structure of Irish society were entirely different from those of English society. If Ireland appeared different, it was a reason, not for trying to understand her, but for trying to coerce her. If she would not behave like England, she must be forced. If she would not swallow of her own free will those provisions which formed the ordinary diet of England, they must be rammed down her throat. Thirty-six Peers, owning Irish land, presented a petition against the Bill. Lord Clanricarde stated the case with precision. "What," he asked, "had of late years been the drift of their Irish legislation? Had it not been, as far as they could, to assimilate the laws of that country to those of Britain? And if they meant to preserve tranquillity—to support the Union—they must persevere steadily in that course of legislation."[29] To this disastrous policy Lord Stanley, for the Government, Lord Devon, the chairman of the Commission, and one or two other Peers, offered a vain resistance. Nobleman after nobleman rose to denounce this interference with the rights of property. The Bill was thrown out, and Parliament returned to its dull application of armed force to the management of the affairs of Ireland.

  1. Macaulay's Miscellaneous Writings; Westminster Reviewer's Defence of Mill.
  2. Macaulay's Speeches: Speech on Reform, 16th December, 1832.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Macaulay's Miscellaneous Writings; Mill on Government.
  5. Macaulay, Speeches, on Reform, 20th September, 1831.
  6. Works (1869), 670 (written in 1830).
  7. Speeches, on Reform, 16th December, 1831.
  8. Speech on the People's Charter, 3rd May, 1842.
  9. Hansard, III. xxiii. 101, 102.
  10. Bulwer's Palmerston, ii. 174, 178. See also his Memoirs, iii. 322, 323; Torrens' Life of Melbourne, i. 437; Walpole's Life of Russell, i. 264; and the Edinburgh Review, July, 1834. The King included the Catholic Association, the Orangemen, the Political Unions and the Trade Unions in one dislike, and wished they could all be put down by law (Walpole's Russell, ubi sup.).
  11. See, for instance, Webb's Local Government; The Parish and the County; Peet's Liverpool Vestry Books, vol. i.
  12. Speeches, on Ten Hours Bill, 22nd May, 1846.
  13. Morley's Life of Cobden, i. 464.
  14. Hodder's Life of Shaftesbury, passim; Oastler's letters on Slavery in Yorkshire (1830); Hutchin and Harrison's History of Factory Legislation, ch. iii.-vi.
  15. The Acts were the Common Law Procedure Act (1832) and the Fines and Recoveries Act (1833).
  16. The House of Lords did its utmost to maintain the old abuses. The Bill was sent back to the Commons "with the title altered but the preamble changed.... Out of 140 clauses 106 have been in substance omitted, 18 other clauses have been introduced, and of the whole purport and intention of the original Bill little is to be found in the Bill which is now come down to us" (Lord John Russell in Hansard, III. xxxiv. 218). The Government stood firm, and, with the help of Peel, obtained the greater part of what they wanted.
  17. The contending principles were most clearly expressed in the Lords. The Duke of Richmond and Lord Wharncliffe supported the Bill because it abolished a class distinction. Wellington opposed it for precisely that reason (Hansard, III. vii. 129).
  18. Romilly, Memoirs, iii. 252; Memoir of Earl Spencer, 185.
  19. Hansard, III. xlviii. 1252.
  20. Ibid., 1304, 1305.
  21. Hansard, III. xlviii. 1321.
  22. Ibid., 1322.
  23. Ibid., xlviii. 1263.
  24. Speeches, on Education, 18th April, 1847.
  25. He was very ably supported by his secretary, Charles Buller.
  26. Parliamentary Papers, 1839, xvii. 53.
  27. Adderley, in Hansard, III. cx. 578 (1850).
  28. In ten days 5,884 petitions were presented against this "endowment of error."
  29. Hansard, III. cxxxi. 1123.