A Short History of English Liberalism/VII

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[ 190 ]



While Peel was thus, with the co-operation of the Whigs, making some approach towards Liberalism, the real control of Liberal policy was passing out of the hands of the old governing class altogether. The active force in the Liberal movement of this period was the Manchester School. The members of this school were not unlike the Philosophic Radicals, and the two were generally found on the same side. But the Manchester men differed in character, if not in opinions, from the philosophers, and as they were more numerous, they were more powerful. Conclusions which in the one case were reached by reasoning from accepted principles of human nature were reached in the other by the ways of practical experience. The manufacturer liked individual liberty, not because he believed that it was only by leaving every man to pursue his own interest that the greatest happiness of the greatest number could be secured, but because he felt that he could manage his business best if no outside person interfered with him, and that in similar circumstances others could do the same. The Radical was a Free Trader because Protection benefited one class at the expense of another. The manufacturer was a Free Trader because Protection, by raising the price of corn, made his workpeople wretched, lowered the purchasing power of the people, and lessened the demand for his manufactures, or else forced him to pay higher wages and exposed him to foreign competition. The Radical suggested that war should be made expensive, in order that human nature [ 191 ] might revolt against it. The manufacturer confined himself to the commercial view that, so long as war existed, it was better to make it cheap and to confine it to the smallest possible area. The Radical approved of colonial independence because he believed that the Home Government could not understand the interests of the colonists as well as the colonists themselves. The manufacturer approved of colonial independence because it lessened the expenses and lightened the taxation of the English people. By different roads the two schools generally reached the same end.

The Manchester School was essentially a middle-class school. The Radicals had nothing in common but their Radicalism. The Manchester men were almost all of that sober, clear-headed, independent class, often sadly wanting in gracefulness and culture, but always amply endowed with courage, enterprise, and common sense, which has built up the cotton industry of East Lancashire. They were not democratic in any theoretical sense.[234] They cared nothing either for aristocracy or democracy. They were accustomed to mix on terms of equality with men of all classes, and their estimate of a man's worth was always their own, and depended on nothing but his capacity. So far as personal intercourse is concerned, there is no part of the world where the social estimate of a man depends less upon the accidents of birth than that part of England where the Manchester School flourished. The manufacturers were not proof against the attacks of interest, and their opposition to factory legislation is a serious blot on their political character. They believed as firmly as the Whigs in the virtues of property, and most of them had no liking for such things as universal suffrage. But in other respects they had an influence upon the progress of Liberalism which was profound and continuous. They made Parliament think highly of the common people.

Their general principles were best stated by Fox, of Oldham. "I have gone into politics," he said, "with this question constantly in my mind, What will your theories, your forms, your [ 192 ] propositions, do for human nature? Will they make man more manly? Will they raise men and women in the scale of creation? Will they lift them above the brutes? Will they call forth their thoughts, their feelings, their actions? Will they make them more moral beings? Will they be worthy to tread the earth as children of the common Parent, and to look forward, not only for His blessing here, but for His benignant bestowment of happiness hereafter? If institutions do this, I applaud them; if they have lower aims, I despise them; and if they have antagonistic aims, I counteract them with all my might and main."[235] The language is more florid than that of Bentham would have been. But the principles are Bentham's, and they are purely Liberal.

The policy thus expounded by Fox was not a mere creed of pounds, shillings, and pence. The Manchester School is often denounced alternately as cold-hearted and material and as warmhearted and sentimental, of sacrificing at one time humanity to trade and at another national interests to a feeble love of peace. It in fact combined an intense moral earnestness with a degree of plain good sense which has never been surpassed. It is, on the one hand, largely due to the efforts of the School that ideas of international unity have supplanted the old ideas of the balance of international hostilities. But their whole programme—Free Trade, peace, non-intervention, reduction of armaments, retrenchment, arbitration, and colonial self-government—might have been, and in suitable circumstances always was, urged on grounds of convenience and interest. Both the Peace Society and Mr. Norman Angell are descended politically from the Manchester School, and without the union of the two forces, moral and economic, the School would have effected little. No popular agitation can ever succeed without an appeal to a moral sense, good or bad. Cobden and Bright and the other Manchester men saw, what the men of the world who differ from them never see, that in politics, as in all life, your ultimate interest coincides with morality. Honesty, if it had no virtue in itself, would still be the best policy. It is as [ 193 ] true among nations as among individuals that material good is achieved most easily and maintained most securely by treating your neighbour as you would have him treat you. Interference, boasting, hostile tariffs, regulating the affairs of a nation without regard to the feelings of its members, all mean unrest, expense, heavy taxation, and perhaps war. Order and peace are essential to prosperity, and order and peace can only be secured by moral conduct. Even the dullest economic programmes were thus touched by the Manchester men with moral fire. "I see in the Free Trade policy," said Cobden, "that which shall act on the moral world as the principle of gravitation in the universe—drawing men together, thrusting aside the antagonism of race, and creed, and language, and uniting us in the bonds of eternal peace."[236] The hope was sanguine, and its realization will not come yet. But it is only by hopes like this that the world has ever been moved. We advance by the labours of those who identify interest with morality, and not of those who calculate morality in terms of interest. To domestic and foreign policy alike the Manchester School gave a tone which they had never possessed before. The international ideas of the French Revolution, thus identified with national interest, were by them made part of the inheritance of Liberalism.

The School naturally subordinated foreign and colonial policy to domestic policy. Foreign affairs were bluntly described by one of them as a gigantic system of outdoor relief for the aristocracy, and they resented the use of the common people for the dynastic aims of diplomatists. "Crowns, coronets, mitres," said Bright, "military display, the pomp of war, wide colonies, and a huge empire, are, in my view, all trifles light as air, and not worth considering, unless with them you can have a fair share of comfort, contentment, and happiness among the great body of the people."[237] "It was with that view," said Cobden, "that I preferred my budget, and advocated the reduction of our armaments; it is with that view, coupled with higher motives, that I have recommended arbitration treaties, to render unnecessary [ 194 ] the vast amount of armaments which are kept up between civilized countries. It is with that view—the view of largely reducing the expenditure of the State, and giving relief, especially for the agricultural classes—that I have made myself the object of the sarcasms of those very parties, by going to Paris to attend peace meetings. It is with that view that I have directed attention to our Colonies, showing how you might be carrying out the principle of Free Trade, give to the Colonies self-government, and charge them, at the same time, with the expense of their own government."[238] "The condition of England question," wrote Cobden to Peel, after the repeal of the Corn Laws, "there is your mission!"[239] It was certainly the mission of Cobden and his associates.

This insistence upon the paramount importance of domestic policy led the Manchester men into an exaggerated contempt for foreign policy. Their patriotism was not wanting in sturdiness, but it was of that noble and rare variety which is not afraid to rebuke national insolence and oppression. Their opposition to the Crimean War and the support which most of them gave to the North during the American Civil War are among the best things which the School ever did for England. Bright spoke of "the high example of a Christian nation, free in its institutions, courteous and just in its conduct towards all foreign States, and resting its policy on the unchangeable foundation of Christian morality.... I believe there is no permanent greatness to a nation except it is based upon morality.... The moral law was not written for men alone in their individual character, but that it was written as well for nations."[240] The patriotism of a man like this may have been mistaken, but it was never mean. The title of a "Peace at any price man" was never deserved by any member of the School. It opposed only the aggressive and risky policy, which in Palmerston's day passed for the maintenance of national dignity and influence, and wasted the wealth of the people in quarrels with which they had no real [ 195 ] concern. "The middle and industrious class of England can have no interest apart from the preservation of peace. The honour, the fame, the emoluments of war belong not to them; the battle-plain is the harvest-field of the aristocracy, watered with the blood of the people.... It is only when at peace with other States that a nation finds the leisure for looking within itself, and discovering the means to accomplish great domestic ameliorations."[241] So they suspected British rule in India, partly because it involved wars, partly because its temper reacted upon free government at home. So they maintained that England should never interfere in the quarrels of other peoples. The Balance of Power was to them a mere phrase, and unless the interests of England were directly involved, the Government had no right to inflict upon her common people the miseries even of a successful war. If Russia abused the Poles, or invaded Hungary to reduce it into the power of Austria, that was their affair, and not ours. "We are no more called upon," said Cobden, "to wrest the attribute of vengeance from the Deity, and deal it forth upon the Northern aggressor, than we are to preserve the peace and good behaviour of Mexico, or to chastise the wickedness of the Ashantees."[242] "It is not our duty," said Bright, "to make this country the knight-errant of the human race."[243] This was a rule of good sense. The breach of it was not only costly, but a bad precedent. "If you claim the right of intervention in your Government you must tolerate it in other nations also.... I say, if you want to benefit nations struggling for their freedom, establish as one of the maxims of international law the principle of non-intervention."[244] Cobden once went so far as to say that "at some future election we may probably see the test of 'no foreign politics' applied to those who offer to become the representatives of free constituencies."[245] But he was never opposed to a policy which protected our own [ 196 ] interests, and he approved of offers to mediate between two contending foreign nations.[246] This dislike of armed force went much farther than the old Whig principle. The Whigs denounced active interference in the domestic affairs of other peoples. The Manchester School would have prevented interference for the protection of one nation against another. Let the Continent settle its own quarrels, and however much we may abhor particular acts of immorality, let us confine ourselves to cases where we are ourselves concerned. This marked the extreme of the reaction against the policy of aggression, and it went farther than a Liberal ought to go. The Manchester men were probably driven to exaggerate their principles by the excesses of Palmerston. Canning, who was a true Liberal, interfered in defence of national rights, but only when he had a good chance of success. Palmerston often interfered when he had no chance of success, and irritated to no purpose. The reaction against Palmerston's ill-judged activity brought the Manchester School to the point of justifying inactivity even where activity would have been safe for England and of benefit to a foreign people. But however ill-judged it may have been in particulars, the general effect of this depreciation of foreign affairs was beneficial. The condition of England has ever since remained the first care of English Governments.

The domestic policy which the Manchester School made the first object of government was in the direct course of Liberalism. As has already been stated, they agreed generally with the individualist proposals of the Philosophic Radicals. "I do not partake," said Cobden, "of that spurious humanity which would indulge in an unreasoning kind of philanthropy at the expense of the great bulk of the community. Mine is that masculine species of charity which would lead me to inculcate in the minds of the labouring class the love of independence, the privilege of self-respect, the disdain of being patronized or petted, the desire to accumulate, and the ambition to rise.... Whilst I will not be the sycophant of the great, I cannot become the parasite of the [ 197 ] poor."[247] This habit of mind was expressed in a general opposition to institutions and policies which interfered with individual freedom. The School gave no assistance to proposals for economic regulation, and opposed Factory Bills in the same spirit as they opposed Protection.

The greatest practical service which they rendered was the emancipation of industry from the system of Protection. Import duties were an interference by Government with the freedom of the individual to use his capital and his intelligence as he thought best, and they gave advantages to certain classes and interests over other classes and interests and over the community at large. An import duty raised the price of the taxed article for the benefit of the industry which produced the same article in England. Two consequences followed. The industries which used the taxed article paid an artificially high price for the benefit of the industries which made it, and the tax might be so high that they would be unable to continue in the face of foreign competition. Government was incapable of selecting what industries might be taxed in this way without injury. It made an arbitrary selection without regard to the general interest, or at the instigation of classes which desired to be benefited at the expense of the community. Some industries were maintained by this artificial system which could not have maintained themselves by their own efficiency. Other industries were crippled which, in a freer system, could develop themselves to an indefinitely greater extent. Protection was vicious precisely as government by a class was vicious or as a system of religious disabilities was vicious. It established an aristocracy of industry, which was as bad as an aristocracy of birth or of creed. Every industry should have an equal chance with every other, and no industry should be given the chance of exploiting the common people.

The Free Trade movement had begun with Adam Smith in the eighteenth century. But little progress had been made in practical politics before the Reform Act. A [ 198 ] few economists like Ricardo and Joseph Hume argued the case in the Commons with as much persistency as Cobden and Bright. But the country gentry were not economists, and their main practical object had been the maintenance of their rents by import duties on corn. The common people, without any direct voice in politics, had been stung by their own sufferings into a vision of the truth, and resolutions in favour of free imports of corn had been passed at some of the Radical meetings after the French War.[248] In 1820 a number of London merchants presented a petition to the House of Commons which covered import duties of every kind, and stated "That freedom from restraint is calculated to give the utmost extension to foreign trade, and the best direction to the capital and industry of the country."[249] Huskisson, who was President of the Board of Trade from 1826 to 1828, had done something to readjust some of the import duties as between raw materials and partly or wholly manufactured goods. The Whig victory took the matter no farther. The Whigs were at first occupied with constitutional changes, and after Melbourne had succeeded Grey, they ceased to apply themselves to reform of any kind. Immediately before their defeat in 1841 they made one or two vague proposals, but were beaten before they could carry them into effect. The arrival of Peel, a Utilitarian Tory, decided the fate of the old system.

Peel, with Gladstone at the Board of Trade, carried on Huskisson's policy with vigour and success. The tariff in 1842 included no less than 1,200 separate articles. On 750 of these the duties were cut down, and a general rule was established that duties on raw materials should never exceed 5 per cent. of their value. Though this was not Free Trade, it was a great departure from the existing system of regulating trade by taxes. But the corner-stone of Protection was the Corn Law, and this remained in force, modified, but in principle untouched. Whigs and Tories alike believed in the supremacy of land, and nothing [ 199 ] but a revolt of the manufacturers could break it down. The revolt was led by the Manchester School.

The details of this famous struggle are not to be stated here. One or two quotations will indicate the Liberal temper of the Free Traders. The Radicals attacked the Corn Law in Radical language. "It is the duty of Parliament," said Hume, "equally to protect all the different interests in the country.... Are we warranted in giving to one particular interest a monopoly against the other interests? I see no reason for giving the capital employed in agriculture greater protection than the capital vested in other branches of trade, manufacture, or commerce."[250] The manufacturers hated the landowners with a more personal hatred. They had little respect for these ignorant country gentlemen who maintained their own dignity at the expense of the manufacturer's capital and the workman's life. "The sooner the power in this country is transferred from the landed oligarchy, which has so misused it, and is placed absolutely in the hands of the intelligent middle and industrious classes, the better for the condition and destinies of this country."[251] The Corn Law was described as saying to the people, "Scramble for what there is, and if the poorest and the weakest starve, foreign supplies shall not come in for fear some injury should be done to the mortgaged landowners."[252] "The labourer's bones and muscles are his own property, and not the landlord's. We claim for ourselves that which we concede to him—the fair produce of whatever power, privileges, or advantages we possess. Here our principle claims the same respect, the same sacred veneration, for the rights of property of the man who has nothing in the world but the physical strength with which he goes forth in the morning to earn his dinner at noon, and that of the inheritor of the widest and most princely domain which can be boasted of in this country of Great Britain.... There is no doubt that any duty on the importation of corn must enhance the price of food; and whatever enhances the price of food takes away from the fair earnings [ 200 ] of the industrious."[253] The victory of the Anti-Corn Law League meant the victory of the people over the landowners.

But that victory was emphasized not only by the triumph of principle, but by the triumph of organization. The fighting was done almost entirely by Cobden and Bright outside Parliament. Both of the leaders, with Hume, Villiers, and other members, made speeches in Parliament. But the real work was done by the League, which was founded in 1838, and for eight years carried on an indefatigable but orderly campaign in the country. It bore some resemblance to the Political Unions which had supported the great Reform Bill. But those Unions had been massed behind the official Whig Opposition. The League had very few Members of Parliament at its head, and not one of those was within the circle of Whig favour. The Unions had forced their policy upon the Tory party. The League forced its policy upon Parliament. So far as active assistance was concerned the Opposition was no more to the Free Traders than the Government. Both official parties looked upon it with suspicion, and the old jealousy of popular organization which had faced the Corresponding Society and the Catholic Association was displayed by Whig as well as by Tory landlords. The lecturers of the League were denounced, not only as "commercial swindlers," but as "the paid hirelings of a disloyal faction," and "revolutionary emissaries," who inflamed the public mind "with sentiments destructive of all moral right and order."[254] In 1843 the League was accused of promoting a strike of factory hands in the North, and of rick-burning by agricultural labourers in the South, and it was rumoured that the Government intended to suppress it, as it suppressed the Catholic Association. It was not until Lord John Russell published his manifesto in favour of repeal in 1845 that a Member of Parliament of official rank openly allied himself with the League. Once the leaders of Opposition had given way the work was easy. The political centre of gravity was thus shifted from Westminster to the [ 201 ] country. It was no longer open to Parliament to decide policy, and to direct the fortunes of the nation as it thought fit. Not even Opposition could make a free choice of the topics of controversy and of legislation. It became the duty of members to observe the main currents of opinion, to check and deflect them, but no longer to originate them. They must look in future, not to their leaders, but to their constituents, for the principles which were to direct their conduct. The people were brought into direct touch with politics, and asserted their right, not only to censure their representatives by unseating them at elections, but positively to influence their actions while they sat in the House.

An equally remarkable feature of the League, though its immediate political importance was much less, was its use of a women's branch, which took an active part in the work. This was the first organized employment of women in practical politics. The women who took part in Reform demonstrations like that of Peterloo belonged to an impotent class, and did little active work. The women of the Anti-Corn Law League did not make speeches.[255] But short of appearing on public platforms they did the same kind of work as their men. Politics were at last acknowledged by the most powerful class in the State to be women's work as well as men's. For the moment there was no demand that women should control their own political affairs. But the one step followed inevitably from the other. It was impossible that a woman of strong character should thus engage in a strenuous political agitation without acquiring some of that desire for personal control which is the essence of democratic politics. Among the men of the League there were probably few who would have allowed women to work with them except as subordinates, and the supporters of the women used language which showed that they were not very far removed from the eighteenth century. "I offer no apology," quaintly says the historian of the League, "for the course they took, for I never [ 202 ] had the smallest doubt of its perfect propriety and its perfect consistency with the softer characteristics of female virtue."[256] It did not occur to him that, even if it had been inconsistent with those softer characteristics, it might still have been consistent with the desire of the women to use their natural powers as they themselves, and not as he, thought fit. Men had not yet got to the point of allowing women to regulate their own lives in their own way. But when they admitted that they might safely take part in serious public business, they sowed seed which has since borne much fruit. The modern Women Suffrage movement began in those Northern districts where the League was powerful, and it has made least impression in those quarters where the League was weak.

The repeal of the Corn Law was the greatest practical achievement of the Manchester School. In other matters they divided the credit with the Radicals, who were avowed followers of Bentham, and with the Peelites, who were often Utilitarian in practice though not in theory. So far as domestic policy was concerned their Liberalism was of the negative and incomplete kind. An attempt had been made in 1835 to establish agricultural training schools and model farms in Ireland. It was not enough to relieve the distress of that miserable land, but it attacked one of its most urgent problems in the right way. The Manchester men objected to their support of a particular industry by the State, and Peel and the Benthamites took the same side. In 1844 Peel ended the system of practical instruction, and the model farms were nearly all abandoned. In the same temper the Manchester School opposed Shaftesbury's Factory Bills, and if Free Trade is the best thing which they did for their country, their resistance to Factory legislation is the worst. Many of them accepted restrictions on the hours of child labour. But anything which forced the employer to regulate his buildings or his machinery or his processes in the interests of the health or safety of his workmen was opposed fiercely and persistently by the majority. They objected to any interference with adult [ 203 ] men. On a motion to inquire into the condition of journeymen bakers, Bright once spoke with a most unpleasant flippancy. "He did not see how Parliament was to interfere directly and avowedly with the labour of adult men.... He should be ashamed to stand up in defence of about two hundred stalwart Scotchmen, who could publish a Gazette of their own, and write articles in it of considerable literary merit, and appeal for a remedy to that House."[257] He and his associates overlooked the fact that the difference between a man and a woman or a child was only a difference of degree. They misunderstood the principle of all legislation of this kind. Women and children were protected not because they were women and children, but because they were economically weak. They were not organized, they were poor, and their employers could use them as they pleased. Any class of men which was economically weak was morally entitled to the same protection. To say that they were adult men was no answer to a complaint which had nothing to do with sex or age. Maleness did not of itself prevent either long hours or dirty premises. Here Radicals and Manchester men failed, and by 1867 Parliament had got no farther than to prohibit the employment of children under eight years, to restrict the hours of labour of women and youths under eighteen to ten or twelve hours a day, and to impose conditions about sanitation, ventilation, and the fencing of machinery upon some of the more unhealthy or dangerous trades. This progress, qualified by many exemptions, was all that could be won in the face of individualist opposition to economic reform.[258] But in another quarter the different schools of individualists were united with conspicuous success.


The most complete and the most successful application of Liberal principles during this period was in the reconstruction [ 204 ] of the colonial system. The American Rebellion and the restoration of Canada had been isolated examples, the first of Liberal defeat, the second of Liberal victory. But by the middle of the century this casual wisdom had been developed into a deliberate and consistent policy. The growth of the other Colonies at the Cape, Australia, and New Zealand forced upon the Home Government the reconsideration of their methods of transacting colonial business. The Cape had been taken from the Dutch during the French War. Australia and New Zealand had been discovered at the end of the eighteenth century, and by 1840 were both recognized as British Colonies. The Government were then faced with the same problem as that which had confronted them in America. The old system was government by the Colonial Office, and in one respect it had been more deliberately egoistic than in any other part of the world. The Australian Colonies had for a long time been used as a dumping ground for social rubbish. The people for whom the Home Government could not provide in England, it had been accustomed to send to New South Wales, to Western Australia, and to Van Diemen's Land. A large part of the population of these countries consisted partly of transported convicts and partly of paupers whom public or private money had enabled to emigrate. As Sir William Molesworth bluntly described it, "Colonial Office colonization consists in the transportation of convicts and the shovelling out of paupers."[259] The time was at length reached when the independent emigrants and the descendants of earlier settlers who were themselves of good character protested against this use of their country without their own consent.[260]

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In 1839 Russell, as Colonial Secretary, stopped transportation to New South Wales. But convicts were still sent to Tasmania and Norfolk Island. In four years no less than sixteen thousand of these unwelcome immigrants had been forced upon the inhabitants of Tasmania, and in 1840 they presented a petition praying that the system might be stopped. Peel's Government suspended transportation to Tasmania for two years, but actually contemplated reviving it in the case of New South Wales. Transportation was apparently regarded as a sort of administration of human alcohol. So long as the proportion of convicts to independent settlers did not exceed a certain figure no harm would be done. But the inhabitants of New South Wales protested loudly, and when the Whigs came into office in 1847, with Lord Grey as Secretary for the Colonies, they abolished all transportation except to Bermuda and Gibraltar. A last attempt to impose upon colonists was made in 1849. A shipload of convicts was then taken to the Cape. There was a violent outburst of feeling, and the noxious cargo was finally discharged in Tasmania. After a few more years of bickering between the embarrassed Imperial Government and the determined colonists, the system was completely abandoned in 1853.[261]

The next step was to entrust the colonists with the management of their own domestic affairs. The details of the various Acts of Parliament are not important. In 1842 Peel's Ministry had established a Legislative Council in New South Wales. The Whigs extended the system to the whole of Australia. But the real credit for establishing the new spirit belongs to the Manchester School and the Radicals, of whom Sir William Molesworth was the most conspicuous. Russell and Grey always took the Liberal line, but with more coldness. They were content with nominated or partly nominated Legislatures. Molesworth argued boldly for a complete system of responsible government. "The nostrum of the Colonial Office for the Australian Colonies is the [ 206 ] single, partly nominated Chamber. Now every one acknowledges that such an institution is not only in opposition to the principle of political science, but to the universal experience of Anglo-Saxon communities in every part of the globe.... An Englishman, when he emigrates to the United States, carries with him in reality all the laws, rights, and liberties of an Englishman; but if he emigrates to our Colonies, on touching colonial soil he loses some of the most precious of his liberties, and becomes the subject of an ignorant and irresponsible despot at the Antipodes."[262] He proposed "that the Colonial Office shall cease to interfere with the management of the local affairs of these Colonies, and that they shall possess the greatest amount of self-government that is not inconsistent with the unity and well-being of the British Empire."[263]

The practical proposals of Molesworth were not immediately accepted, and the first colonial constitutions did not provide for the responsibility of Ministers to the Legislature. But a clause in the Australian Colonies Government Act of 1850 provided that the Colonies might alter their own constitutions, and it was not long before they took advantage of the permission. The Liberal principle of local independence was thus permanently established. The temper in which the Imperial Government has ever since applied itself to the details of administration has been that of Molesworth. "The great principle of colonial government is, that all affairs of merely local concern should be left to the regulation of the local authorities; to that principle I know of no general exceptions, unless in cases where local interests may clash with the interests of the Empire at large, or in cases where some one predominant class of a society might be disposed to exert such powers, so as unjustly to depress some feebler and defenceless class."[264] In modern times the line between local and Imperial interests has been pushed farther back. Some Acts of [ 207 ] Colonial Legislatures have been disallowed by the Crown. These have generally conflicted in spirit or in letter with the Imperial law. Among them have been Acts for reducing the salary of a Governor-General, for regulating copyright and shipping, for checking foreign immigration, and for altering the law relating to marriage and divorce. But with the growth of colonial populations even this interference has become rarer. Acts for checking Chinese immigration into Australia and for permitting marriage with a deceased husband's brother in New Zealand have been recently sanctioned by the Crown. Under the influence of this Liberal temper the self-governing Empire has grown to its present proportions. A queer freak of political fortune has made Tories of the present generation the self-styled champions of communities which, if Tory doctrines had been applied to their government half a century ago, would have been long since driven into revolt and independence.

The fidelity of Parliament to the new theory was once more seriously tested in 1853, when the Whigs were no longer in absolute power, and the government was in the hands of a coalition of Whigs and Peelites. The Tory side was then weighted by the influence of the Church of England, in whose favour an unfortunate reservation had been made in Canada. The question arose out of the appropriation of some lands in Canada for the endowment of the Church. The Canadian Legislature had presented an address to the Crown, praying that the disposition of these lands might be left to itself as a matter of purely local and not Imperial concern. There had been considerable dispute about the subject in previous years, and in 1840 Parliament had passed an Act appropriating the revenues of the Clergy Reserves in part to the Church of England, in part to the Church of Scotland, and otherwise for religious and educational purposes. The Canadian Legislature now asked that Parliament should invest it with full power to deal with the endowments according to the wishes of the inhabitants of the Colony. The issue was plain. The Churches were in Canada, the clergy were in Canada, the lands were in Canada. [ 208 ] Were their affairs to be managed by Canadians or Englishmen? The Church fought for its privileges. In 1840 the Bishops in the House of Lords had demanded that whatever other concessions were made to colonial feeling, the Church at least should be maintained at all costs. "The Church wished, for the sake of peace, to make any reasonable concessions with regard to property, provided always that the Church was recognized as the Established Church of the Colony."[265] The Canadians were to be adapted to the use of the Church, not the Church to the use of the Canadians.

In 1853 these arguments were employed in the House of Commons by Sir John Pakington and by Lord John Manners. Property had been appropriated to the Church of England, and it must remain with her even at the cost of colonial independence. Sir William Molesworth and Gladstone put the Liberal case as forcibly as on the Australian Bill. "It is high time," said the latter, "to have done appealing to one part of the people. We know of old the meaning of these words—we know from disastrous experience their effects—we know that the effect of them was to create knots and cliques of intriguers, who put upon themselves the profession of British supporters, who denied the name of loyalists to all who would not adopt their shibboleth, and caused a strong reaction in the minds of the colonial population; so that, if under that system of government you would look to govern the people of Canada, you must expect the spread, if not of disloyalty, yet of dissatisfaction and dissent; and that pervading the great mass of the community there will be a current of public opinion throughout the Colony, if not contrary to, yet distinct from, the current of British feeling."[266] This argument, showing clearly that the speaker's mind was already moving towards the Irish policy of which he himself had as yet no conception, was sufficient to keep the House in the path upon which it had previously entered. The Church was beaten by 275 votes to 192, and the last foundation-stone of Empire was firmly laid. The strength of the [ 209 ] structure was tested again in 1858, when the Canadian Parliament was allowed to impose duties upon British manufactures. It stood the strain, and in 1879 it was finally acknowledged that in its fiscal arrangements a Colony might treat the Mother Country as it treated a Foreign State.[267]


In foreign affairs the predominance of Palmerston gave a uniform tone to English policy for a whole generation. The Whigs were in power from 1830 to 1841, from 1846 to 1852, and, with a brief interval, from 1852 to 1866, and though Palmerston was not always at the Foreign Office, his influence was always great while his party was in a majority. Generally his sympathies were on the side of Liberalism. He believed in the theory of nationality, and, though he was no enthusiast for democracy, he had a great hatred of tyranny. But while his principles were in the main Liberal, his methods were essentially Tory. He had a constant desire to see England play a great part in foreign affairs, and while he sometimes oppressed small peoples for unworthy objects, he frequently irritated and offended Great Powers without any profitable result. As one of his subordinates said of him, "He wished to make and to keep England at the head of the world, and to cherish in the minds of others the notion that she was so."[268] "England," he said, "is strong enough to brave consequences."[269] The braving of consequences in foreign, even more than in domestic affairs, is a dangerous game to play. It was a game in which Palmerston delighted, and whenever he was in office the country might count on a succession of hazardous enterprises being undertaken for its amusement, and at its expense.

This egoistic policy was not inconsistent with the principles of Whigs who liked national independence and English political institutions, and in some of his most dangerous exploits Palmerston had the powerful support of Lord John Russell. But it was opposed on the one hand to the theories of Peelites like Peel himself, Gladstone, and Lord Aberdeen, and on the other to the [ 210 ] theories of Cobden and Bright and the Manchester School. The former disliked everything that was unmethodical, disturbing, and expensive. The latter hated Palmerstonism, because it so vividly expressed that aristocratic subordination of domestic to foreign affairs, that use of the common people for purposes which they could not understand, which it was their habit to attack in all its forms. The conflict which extended over the whole of the Palmerston era was thus rather a conflict between a Tory use of Liberalism and a Liberal use of it than between Toryism and Liberalism. There was no general disposition on either side to interfere directly in the domestic concerns of foreign peoples. Palmerston was more than once guilty of this gross offence. But men so opposite as Peel and Cobden were agreed on the point, and Peel's dignified request for fair play for the Socialist French Republic of 1848 is more in the vein of Fox and Grey than in that of Pitt and Grenville. Even Palmerston would not dispute the soundness of the general principle. But his constant attempts to dictate policies to other peoples made his Liberalism a very different thing from that of his opponents, who, while they were sometimes ready to offer mediation, were never ready, as he was, to hazard the fortunes of the English people on behalf of causes where success was doubtful or impossible.

Between 1830 and 1841 Palmerston was chiefly concerned with the Iberian Peninsula and the Near East. In 1832 he very rightly sent a fleet to the Tagus to stop Miguel's abuse of British subjects, and he declined with equal propriety to prevent France from doing the same on her own behalf. He then proceeded to open negotiations for filling the thrones of both Portugal and Spain, which were inconsistent with Liberal principle and produced no result except to excite the jealousy of France. Hostility to France combined with hostility to Russia to shape his policy in Turkey and Egypt. He had at this time a belief, which he never lost, that Turkey could regenerate herself. When Mohammed Ali, the Pasha of Egypt, threw off his allegiance to the Sultan, and not only expelled the Turks from his own territory but conquered a large part of their possessions in Syria, [ 211 ] Palmerston interfered to prevent his advance. France had shown sympathy with Egypt, Russia with Turkey. To leave the matter where it stood meant the permanent separation of the two Eastern countries, neither strong enough to stand alone, and each therefore dependent on and dominated by one of the two European Powers whom Palmerston disliked. At all costs Turkey must be kept from Russia and Egypt from France. The British fleet was therefore sent to Syria, and Mohammed Ali was stripped of his conquests and sent back to his own country. This was a clear case of the exploitation of weaker races in the interest of England's private disputes with other Powers.

The Chinese War of 1840, in which English ships and men were used to force the opium traffic upon China, was hardly Palmerston's fault, and was begun and conducted by the British diplomatic agents. In 1841 he rendered great service to the cause of international friendship by procuring the European Powers to consent to a convention for the suppression of the Slave Trade, and thus completed the work which had been begun by Wilberforce and Clarkson more than fifty years before. In 1846, after the fall of Peel, he began his second term of office by a refusal to join France and Austria in interfering by force of arms in the internal disorders of Switzerland, and procured a settlement by mediation. This was as wise and temperate a course as could be required. But immediately afterwards he began a series of extraordinary violations of Liberal principle. In July, 1846, he instructed the British Ambassador in Spain to lecture the Spanish Government on its unconstitutional domestic policy, and in order to thwart Louis Philippe of France, meddled with the marriage of the young Queen. In November he sent a fleet to Lisbon to overawe the Portuguese Junta, and re-established the Queen, who had been expelled, on condition of her giving up her absolutism and undertaking to govern with free institutions. In the next year he sent Lord Minto to Italy on a pedagogic tour among the various Governments, bidding them set their houses in order before the prevailing unrest upset them. [ 212 ] All this was in the worst possible manner, and love of national freedom was strangely mixed with jealousy of France and Austria. In 1848, the year of Revolutions, when every country in Europe except Russia was disturbed, and even England suffered a final and sporadic outbreak of Chartism, Palmerston indulged his love of freedom to the full. Neither he nor Lord John Russell concealed their sympathy with the Poles, the Hungarians, and the Italians, and while they declined to join in Continental wars, they upheld the Sultan in his refusal to give up Hungarian refugees to Austria and Russia. No Liberal could find much cause for complaint in this sympathetic policy, even though it incurred the hostility of reactionary Governments. Contrasted with Russia assisting Austria to put down the Hungarians, and with the French Republic helping Austria to destroy the Republic of Rome, England at this time appeared conspicuously magnanimous. But in 1851 Palmerston's gay pugnacity led him into a gross blunder.

The object of his censure was Greece. The condition of that State was such as Palmerston could not overlook. British subjects had from time to time reason to complain of the inefficiency of the law and of the delays and evasions of the Government. A riot, in which a substantial amount of private property was destroyed, at last gave an excuse for intervention. Claims for compensation were presented to the Greek Government, and Palmerston, without advising the sufferers to try the law, and without himself allowing any play for diplomacy, sent a fleet to blockade the Piræus, and demanded the settlement of all the claims in full. Some of these claims, of which that of the Maltese Jew Pacifico was the worst, were notoriously extravagant or dishonest, and Palmerston, by his hasty action, had made the British fleet an instrument of the most impudent blackmail. France and Russia stepped in, at first with offers of mediation, and then, when Palmerston flouted their suggestions, with vigorous remonstrance. In the face of this opposition such a bad case could not be pressed, and the matter was referred to arbitration. Palmerston's egoism had betrayed him. He had bullied Greece. [ 213 ] He gave way to France, and he abased himself before Russia. The note addressed to the Russian Ambassador by Count Nesselrode is perhaps the most humiliating document ever received by an English Minister. "It remains to be seen whether Great Britain, abusing the advantages which are afforded her by her immense maritime superiority, intends henceforth to pursue an isolated policy, without caring for those engagements which bind her to the other Cabinets; whether she intends to disengage herself from every obligation, as well as from all community of action, and to authorize all Great Powers, on every fitting opportunity, to recognize to the weak no other rule but their own will, no other right but their own physical strength. Your Excellency will please to read this dispatch to Lord Palmerston, and to give him a copy of it." To the meek acceptance of lectures like this was Great Britain reduced by Palmerston's "spirited and aggressive" policy. The rebuke was not made less effective by the fact that every word of it might have been addressed to Russia herself. But Palmerston, with his theories of the Balance of Power and his bluster in Spain and Portugal, no less than with his genuine love of national independence and constitutional government, had contrived to offend all the Great Powers in turn, and they clutched eagerly at this chance of reading a lecture to the man who had so often played the pedagogue towards themselves.

The case of Don Pacifico was the cause of a general attack upon Palmerston's conduct of foreign affairs. In the House of Lords, Stanley carried a vote of censure on the particular incident. This was answered in the Commons by Roebuck's motion of general confidence in the whole policy. The debate lasted for six days, and Palmerston defended himself in the finest speech he ever made. He claimed to have maintained the honour of England, and to have entitled every subject of the Crown to boast of his citizenship like the old Romans. He was answered as brilliantly by Peel and Gladstone, by Molesworth, and by Cobden. "I protest," said the philosophic Radical, "against the honourable and learned gentleman's doctrines, which would [ 214 ] make us the political pedagogues of the world.... I maintain that one nation has no more right to interfere with the local affairs of another nation than one man has to interfere in the private affairs of another man."[270] Gladstone was less dogmatic but equally forcible, and it is in his speech rather than in those of Radicals and Manchester men that the real Liberal view of the case was expressed. He admitted that it might sometimes be right that one nation should interfere with another, and that if England ever interfered she should interfere on the side of liberty as against despotism. But his case against Palmerston was that he interfered on behalf of revolution before it was successful. We should interfere, if at all, to protect an established constitutional Government, and not to set it up. "The difference among us arises upon this question: Are we, or are we not, to go abroad and make occasions for the propagation even of the political opinions which we consider to be sound? I say we are not.... We must remember that if we claim the right not only to accept, when they come spontaneously and by no act of ours, but to create and catch at, opportunities for spreading in other countries the opinions of our own meridian, we must allow to every other nation a similar license both of judgment and of action. What is to be the result? That if in every country the name of England is to be the symbol and the nucleus of a party, the name of France and Russia, or of Austria, may and will be the same. And are you not, then, laying the foundation of a system hostile to the real interests of freedom, and destructive of the peace of the world?... Interference in foreign countries, sir, according to my mind, should be rare, deliberate, decisive in character, and effectual for its end.... I protest against these anticipations of occasion, on every ground both of policy and of justice. The general doctrine is that we are not entitled to recognize a government, far less to suggest one, until we see it established, and have presumptive evidence that it springs from a national source."[271]

On the point of Don Pacifico, Gladstone administered a rebuke [ 215 ] which was equally crushing. "It would be a contravention of the law of nature and of God, if it were possible for any single nation of Christendom to emancipate itself from the obligations which bind all other nations, and to arrogate, in the face of mankind, a position of peculiar privilege.... What was a Roman citizen? He was the member of a privileged caste; he belonged to a conquering race, to a nation that held all others bound down by the strong arm of power. For him there was to be an exceptional system of law; for him principles were to be asserted, and by him rights were to be enjoyed that were to be denied to the rest of the world.... He adopts in part that vain conception that we, forsooth, have a mission to be the censors of vice and folly, of abuse and imperfection, among the other countries of the world; that we are to be the universal schoolmasters."[272]

The victory of argument was with the critics. But Palmerston triumphed in the Lobby, and there is no question that his policy was popular. A few months later he was turned out of office. He procured his downfall by a succession of foolish acts. Kossuth, the Hungarian patriot, paid a visit to England early in 1851, and Palmerston gave a cordial reception to a deputation which described the Emperors of Austria and Russia as despots, tyrants, and odious assassins. The language was not very inaccurate. But it was not the business of the Foreign Secretary to receive it with approbation. Public feeling was in this matter with Palmerston, and he was allowed to keep his place. But in December of the same year Napoleon, then President of the French Republic, tore up the Constitution under which he held office, shot down some of his subjects in the streets of Paris, imprisoned his principal enemies, and took steps to get himself elected Emperor. The affair was as flagrant a violation of moral rules as any revolution that had ever taken place, and the most stubborn of English Tories might have been repelled by such a breach of faith. The Government, acting on the Liberal principle of non-interference, instructed the British Ambassador to be strictly neutral. But Palmerston privately told [ 216 ] the French Ambassador that he strongly approved of what had been done. This was too much for the Queen and for the Cabinet, and it was also too much for Parliament and the people. The offending Minister was dismissed. With him went the strength of the Whig party. In a few months the Ministry had fallen to pieces, and a coalition of Whigs and Peelites, with Lord Granville at the Foreign Office, had taken the place of the Tory Ministry which succeeded it.

In a Memorandum addressed to the Queen, Lord Granville laid down the main principles of the new foreign policy. They were a distinct expression of Liberal ideas. "It was the duty and interest of a country such as Great Britain to encourage progress among all other nations. But for this purpose the foreign policy of Great Britain should be none the less marked by justice, moderation, and self-respect, and avoid any undue attempt to enforce her own ideas by hostile threats.... They did not attach to the expression 'non-intervention' the meaning implied by some who used it, viz., that diplomacy is become obsolete, and that it is unnecessary for this country to know or to take part in what passes in other countries.... With respect to the internal affairs of other countries, such as the establishment of Liberal institutions and the reduction of tariffs in which this country has an interest, H.M.'s representatives ought to be furnished with the views of H.M.'s Government ... but they should be instructed to press those views only when fitting opportunities occurred, and only when their advice and assistance would be welcome or be effectual.... With the countries which have adopted institutions similar in liberality to our own, it ought to be the endeavour of H.M.'s Government to cultivate the most intimate relations ... and also to exert its influence to dissuade other Powers from encroaching on their territory or attempting to subvert their institutions. Cases might occur in which the honour and good faith of this country would require that it should support such allies with more than merely friendly assurances."[273] This was the policy of the Government, composed partly of Whigs and [ 217 ] partly of Peelites, which replaced the short-lived Government of Lord Derby in 1852.

The new Premier was Lord Aberdeen. He had been Foreign Secretary in Peel's administration, and had exhibited a wise temper in a dispute with America, which Palmerston had left in a state of great difficulty. By an ironic twist of fortune, this Liberal Ministry was soon involved in the Crimean War, a blunder for which Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, the British Ambassador at Constantinople, Napoleon III of France, and the Palmerston School in England, must share the moral responsibility. Stratford was eager for war, and stimulated the Sultan, Napoleon wanted to dazzle his people by military glory, and Palmerston, once more in office as Home Secretary, hating Russia as the champion of autocracy, inspired by jealousy of her power, or fearful of anything which might endanger our communications with India, wished to bolster up the Turkish Government at all costs. The details of the negotiations need not be stated here. There was not originally the least prospect of any danger to British interests, economic or political. The question at issue was whether Russia should have the right to protect the Christians of the Balkan Peninsular against the abominable tyranny of the Sultan of Turkey. Great Britain, through Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, from the first did everything possible to impede Russia and to stimulate the Sultan. Eventually, the terms which the chief Powers presented to the two parties were accepted by Russia. Turkey, acting under the direct instigation of Lord Stratford, rejected them, and war began.

Liberal protests were in vain. They were drowned by the clamour of a people, which is not more conspicuous than any other for wisdom in time of war. The Ministry collapsed under the odium of their bad management of the campaign in the Crimea, and Palmerston, in whose temper the negotiations had been conducted, came back to office, this time as Prime Minister. His triumph over Liberalism was complete. Every one of the leading principles of Granville's memorandum was violated. England interfered in a quarrel on behalf of the vilest [ 218 ] Government in Europe. She interfered on behalf of a State which had rejected her terms against a State which had accepted them. She marched into the field at the side of a despot who had gained his throne by a monstrous crime. The enemy against whom she fought was so vast that not even such ends as she had could be gained except for a brief space, and real success was as impossible as the cause was bad.

In two years the war was at an end. Hundreds of thousands of lives had been lost. Hundreds of millions of pounds had been blown away. The Emperor of the French had strengthened his seat upon his throne. The Sultan of Turkey was enabled, for twenty years more, to murder, flay, beat, and ravish his Christian subjects. Russia, rebuffed for the time being in the Balkans, began to move eastwards, and threatened us more directly in Persia. The gains of England were of the vaguest kind. If she had succeeded, after a war which was chiefly due to the folly of her representative at Constantinople, in preventing Russia from appropriating part of the Sultan's dominions, she had succeeded at the cost of committing herself to the support of an ally who was as untrustworthy as he was vicious. The most solid and permanent acquisition of the war was probably not understood at the time by one Englishman in a thousand. It was accidental, and had nothing to do with the objects of British policy. It consisted in the work of Florence Nightingale. This had finally proved two things: the value of trained nursing in the regulation of health, and the capacity of women to construct and control complicated organizations of human beings. Miss Nightingale's work in the Crimea gave her an authority which made her subsequent organization of trained nursing a comparatively easy task. Few statesmen of the nineteenth century can claim to have done more than she to make life worth living for their fellow-creatures, and if the war had produced no result but this it might almost have been worth its cost. The importance of Miss Nightingale's success in its bearings on the general condition of women will appear greater fifty years hence than now. It was certainly very great. Mary Somerville had [ 219 ] already acquired a reputation as an astronomer. Harriet Martineau had been an acknowledged champion of Free Trade. But Florence Nightingale was the first woman who obtained for her public work that degree of publicity which catches the imagination of a people. Contemporary opinion, after assailing her with that abuse and ridicule to which all pioneers are accustomed, consecrated her as "The Angel with the Lamp." A wiser generation declines to identify her merely with those gentle qualities in which she is rivalled by many thousands of her sex, and sees in her strong and imperious temper, her capacity for reducing order out of chaos, and her power of enforcing her wishes upon her subordinates, qualities in which she has seldom been surpassed even by the greatest men. No English statesmen engaged in the conduct of the war displayed in a higher degree than she the attributes of a great administrator, and the impression of her statesmanlike qualities can never be effaced. It has not been possible, since her day, for any reasonable man to argue that women, as such, are constitutionally incapable of managing large affairs.

The deeper significance of the Crimean War was not perceived for another generation, and in domestic affairs at least a decade elapsed before any Government displayed activity. The whole nation seemed resigned into the hands of Palmerston. Ireland continued in its sullen course. The artisans, whose political agitation had collapsed in 1848, were consolidating their Trade Unions and making successful experiments in co-operation. John Bright occasionally spoke on Parliamentary Reform, and denounced government by aristocracy with a contempt as hearty as that of Paine. But he admitted that he was "flogging a dead horse." Apathy in domestic politics pervaded all classes. Except in foreign affairs, where Palmerston kept alive his peculiar conceptions of Liberalism, Parliament showed little activity. The Cabinet, partly Whig and partly Peelite, was animated by no general principle. Gladstone, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, already on his way from the Peelite camp to the Liberal, confessed that in domestic matters his colleagues of 1860 were far [ 220 ] less Liberal than those of 1841,[274] and when the Lords rejected his Bill for the repeal of the Paper Duty in that year, it was with the utmost difficulty that he dragged his chief into a fight for the privileges of the Commons.

One or two measures, which excited little public interest, and required little effort from the easy-going Premier, marked the slow advance of Liberalism. The Settlement Duty Act of 1853 reduced the privileges of the landed interest by imposing the same duties on land passing under a settlement as had previously been paid by personal property. The Oxford University Act of 1854 and the Cambridge University Act of 1856 opened the two ancient Universities to Nonconformists, though the highest degrees and all the important offices were still retained by the Establishment. The Jewish Relief Bill, which had passed the Commons and been rejected by the Lords seven times since 1832, became law in 1859, and the Christian monopoly of Parliament came to an end. In 1857 the Divorce Act was carried in the face of clerical opposition, and enabled any person to obtain the dissolution of an unhappy marriage in a civil court. This was an essentially Liberal measure, in that it freed the individual from an ecclesiastical institution, but it emphasized on the other hand that sexual Toryism which is worse than the Toryism of creed or class. One of the most barbarous rules of a male society was preserved by the Act, and while a man was permitted to divorce his wife for a single act of infidelity, a woman could only divorce her husband if he were also guilty of cruelty or desertion. Implicitly the Act permitted a man to indulge freely in vice so long as he chose to live with his wife and not to beat her, at the same time that it sentenced her to social extinction for a single fault. Moral standards have risen since that time, and the use of women is no longer recommended by medical men to their patients as a means of maintaining health. But the legal privilege preserved by the Divorce Act is enjoyed by the dominant sex to this day. The Act had other faults, the chief of which was that the procedure under it was so expensive that it was almost useless for the [ 221 ] poor. But it was at least an advance towards liberty.[275] One other measure of a Liberal sort has already been mentioned. In 1860 the Lords rejected the Bill for the repeal of the duty on paper. In 1861 it was forced through, the price of paper was reduced, and the cheap newspaper and the cheap book, with their enormous influence upon the habits of the mass of the people, were made possible. This was the work of Gladstone alone, and he and Cobden together contrived the great French Commercial Treaty which completed the reform of the tariff, and left the country with no import duties except those which were imposed on goods not produced in England, and those which a countervailing excise robbed of all protective character.

With these exceptions, the important events of the Palmerston period took place abroad, where the Prime Minister's foreign policy pursued its pretentious course. It presented its usual alternation of generous but risky interference on behalf of oppressed nationalities with arrogant assertions of the British ego. A war with China in 1856 exhibited it at its very worst. A ship called the Arrow had obtained a licence from our representative to fly the British flag in the China seas. Like others which enjoyed the same privilege, the Arrow seems to have used it for very dubious purposes. After the period for which the licence was granted had expired the Chinese Governor Yeh of Canton boarded the ship and arrested some of its crew on a charge of piracy. Though his conduct at a later stage was more violent, it seems clear that at the beginning of the quarrel he acted with dignity, and strictly within the law. But Sir John Bowring, the British Minister on the spot, chose to treat his action as a wanton and unprovoked insult to the British flag. He demanded the surrender of the prisoners and an apology, and when Yeh did what Bowring himself would have done if their positions had been reversed, and refused to give way, he proceeded to employ all the ships and troops at his disposal in warlike operations. It was the [ 222 ] affair of Don Pacifico over again, with an even less specious excuse. In this case there was no legal justification even for diplomatic remonstrance.

The affair was atrocious enough in itself. But its atrocity was increased by the language and the methods of the English representatives. The Arrow had been entitled by licence to hoist the British flag. The period covered by the licence had expired. "But," argued Sir John Bowring, "the Chinese did not know that the time had expired, so that the insult to the flag is no less, and our pretext no worse." Macchiavelli himself could not have argued more shamelessly than this Utilitarian, and Cobden, who was a personal friend of Bowring, rightly denounced it as the most dishonest thing that had ever been written in a British official letter. The British agents were in fact dealing with people whom they thought to be barbarians, and they were not concerned to stand upon the points of honour which were commonly observed by civilized men. One of the incidents of the war expressed this unworthy discrimination between Europeans and Asiatics no less clearly than the methods of the diplomatists. During the Crimean War the Government had been very careful to avoid the bombardment of unfortified towns. However reckless they had been in going to war, they had had sufficient moral discipline to refrain from the wanton injury of defenceless persons. This rule, now universally adopted by all civilized peoples, was abandoned by the British Government in China, and half Canton was laid in ruins and some hundreds of its peaceful inhabitants were shot or burnt to death, in order to assert the superiority of the civilized Western nation over these insolent barbarians.

These outrageous proceedings were brought before the House of Lords by Lord Derby and before the House of Commons by Cobden, in speeches which in sheer force of argument have never been surpassed. Every man of eminence, except the few who were in office under Palmerston, spoke on the same side, and even Lord Lyndhurst, whose Toryism dated from the days of Eldon, took the Liberal view. Lord John Russell echoed the language of the Copenhagen debate of half a century before. [ 223 ] "We have heard much of late—a great deal too much, I think—of the prestige of England. We used to hear of the character, of the reputation, of the honour of England."[276] Even Roebuck, whose motion had once defended Palmerston's against the consequences of actions hardly more honourable than this, came back to the Liberal side. "The rule of morality extends over the globe, and what is just and unjust in the Mersey is equally just and unjust in the river before Canton."[277] On this occasion Palmerston's majority deserted him. He won by a small majority in the Lords, but was soundly beaten in the Commons. But the resources of the constitution were not exhausted. He dissolved Parliament and appealed to the country. The result of the election was not encouraging to those who valued honour in foreign policy. The Crimean fever had not abated, and this fresh appeal to national arrogance produced a great demonstration in favour of the Prime Minister. The most striking feature of the election was the extinction of the Manchester School. Cobden, Bright, Milner Gibson, and Fox of Oldham were all turned out of their seats. But though the Liberals were thus censured by their contemporaries, the judgment of posterity must be pronounced hardly less emphatically in their favour. Ten years later the new Liberal party, united on domestic and foreign policy, came into power, and it governed in both fields in a spirit which was the very opposite of that of Palmerston.

In the meantime the lively veteran proceeded with varying success and unchanging cheerfulness. In November, 1857, he saw fit to pass public censure on the French Emperor, which he had done nothing recently to deserve. But by the following February he had completely changed his tone. A man named Orsini had made bombs in London for the purpose of blowing up the Emperor in Paris, and Count Walewski, in a most impudent dispatch, requested Palmerston to alter the law of England so as to prevent the repetition of such practices. To the consternation of a House of Commons which had been [ 224 ] elected to express approval of his high-handed dealings with Russia and China, he meekly introduced a Conspiracy to Murder Bill. This was too much even for his own followers, and within twelve months of his triumph he was beaten, and resigned. But nothing could stop him, because nobody could replace him. In two years he returned to office, and he remained there until his death in 1865.

Foreign affairs gave him more than one more opportunity for the display of his peculiar qualities. The Indian Mutiny was provoked and suppressed in India, and except for the protest which some Liberals raised against the occasional ferocity of the conquerors, there were few revelations of differences of opinion. The appropriation of Schleswig and Holstein by Germany in 1863 attracted at once Palmerston's zeal for national independence and his desire to assert himself in Europe. He was always eager to protect the little man irrespective of his merits. He and Lord John Russell ventured to interfere with some outrageous oppression of the Poles by Russia and Prussia in the beginning of 1863. It was a clear case of interference with domestic concerns of another nation, and the Russian Government in effect told them to mind their own business. Their suggestions for reform here produced no good effect whatever. But in the same year they again interfered, with hardly more excuse and no better result, in the quarrel between Prussia and Denmark. The quarrel did little credit to anybody concerned. Prussia, under the direction of Bismarck, behaved with that dishonesty which was as marked a feature of that statesman's diplomacy as its apparent success. Denmark behaved with a rashness which she could not afford in defence of a position which she ought not to have taken up. By a Treaty of London which had been signed in 1852 by England, France, Austria, Prussia, Russia, Sweden, and Denmark, the two Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein had been united with Denmark. Their inhabitants were mostly German, so that this treaty was inconsistent with Liberal theory. But such as it was, Prussia could not honestly refuse to observe it. In 1864, after some fruitless [ 225 ] negotiations, she and Austria invaded the Danish territories. Probably no war has ever been begun with less justification since Frederick the Great marched into Silesia. Palmerston was carried away by his feelings, and declared that "those who made the attempt would find in the result that it would not be Denmark alone with which they would have to contend."[278] Relying on this rash declaration, Denmark maintained a bold front. A speedy surrender might have left her with part at least of the disputed provinces. In the end she was despoiled of both. France and Russia would not fight, England would not fight alone. After encouraging Denmark to her fatal resistance, and after summoning an ineffectual conference of the Powers she left her to her fate.

The error of the Government in this case lay not so much in their view of the facts or their refusal to go to war as in the rash declarations which had led the Danes to believe that they would have English support. Palmerston had once more applied Liberal principles in an awkward and disastrous way. Even Cobden supported him in Parliament, and approved of his refusal to go to war with a military Power like Prussia. But he pointed out that there were other principles in issue besides the interests of the reigning House of Denmark, and protested against "the dynastic, secret, irresponsible engagements of our Foreign Office," which had in the first place assigned these German men and women to a Danish Government. He emphasized the need that all diplomatists should attend to "the question of nationalities—the instinct, now so powerful, leading communities to seek to live together, because they are of the same race, language, and religion.... There will never again, in all probability, be a conference meeting together to dispose, for dynastic purposes, of a population whose wishes they do not take into account."[279] The Government contrived to remain in office until Palmerston died, and the maintenance of the rights of nations fell into the hands of people who were as ardent as himself, and much more wise.

[ 226 ]

On the whole, the foreign policy of Palmerston had been more ostentatious than wise, and its failures were as conspicuous as its successes. But in one quarter he and Lord John Russell together by their boldness rendered invaluable service to a struggling nationality. The Treaty of Vienna had operated nowhere so vilely as in Italy. The whole country had been parcelled out between Governments, some of whom were alien and others barbarous. The kingdom of Sardinia and Piedmont was Italian. Lombardy and Venetia were Austrian. In the middle, the Pope misgoverned one-third of the people. The last third was oppressed in Naples and Sicily by a King of the House of Bourbon. The rising of 1848 had been suppressed by French troops at Rome and by Austrian troops in Lombardy. But in 1860 the zeal and devotion of Italian men and women of all classes won a final victory, and it was England's privilege to assist at this great awakening, the birth of that new Italy which died the other day in Tripoli. By a series of miraculous victories, Garibaldi drove the Bourbons out of Sicily and Naples, and Vittorio Emmanuele marched down through the Papal States to meet him. The Powers watched this uprising of a people with mixed feelings. Austria, France, Prussia, and Russia expressed their emphatic disapproval. Lord John behaved like a Whig whose fire the Manchester School had not quenched. In a dispatch written on the 27th October, 1860, he supported the new Italian system. He quoted Vattel with point: "When a people from good reasons take up arms against an oppressor, it is but an act of justice and generosity to assist brave men in the defence of their liberties." The question was whether the Italian rising had taken place for good reasons. "Upon this grave matter Her Majesty's Government hold that the people in question are themselves the best judges of their own affairs.... Such having been the causes and concomitant circumstances of the Revolution in Italy, Her Majesty's Government can see no sufficient grounds for the severe censure with which Austria, France, Prussia, and Russia have visited the acts of the King of Sardinia. Her Majesty's Government turn their eyes rather to the gratifying prospect of a people [ 227 ] building up the edifice of their liberties, and consolidating the work of their independence, amid the sympathies and good wishes of Europe." All the noble temper which had been wasted on Turkey, Poland, and Denmark was concentrated with triumphant success in this dispatch. The despotic Powers held their hands, and the Italian nation was enabled to work out its own destiny.

One more controversy arose during the Palmerston era, and it tested English Liberalism as severely as any other. This was the American Civil War, which broke out in 1861 and continued until 1864. It was easy for a Liberal to find a logical reason for taking either side. He might support the North, because it was fighting to suppress slavery. He might support the South, because it was fighting for local independence against a central tyranny. The States were all legally independent except for certain common purposes of defence. It was thus very plausibly argued that it was the duty of a Liberal to support the South in its claim to secede from the Union which interfered with its internal affairs. Though it was not the business of England to go to war with the North, it could easily be squared with the doctrines of men like Canning that she should formally recognize the independence of the South as soon as it appeared to be achieved. When the issues were thus confused, English statesmen were dangerously vague in their language and their conduct. Toryism and the governing class took the side of the South, which in its aristocratic temper differed from the North much as they themselves differed from the Manchester School. Russell and Gladstone took the false Liberal view, and inclined towards recognition. The Manchester men were severely injured by the blockade of the Southern ports and the consequent dearth of cotton, and many of them may have hoped, even against their convictions, that the Government would take such an easy way of ending the war. The situation was highly dangerous. The North were fighting for national unity. They were fighting to keep within the Union people who wanted to secede only to maintain the most infamous of all human institutions save one. The war was not a war between nations. The Southerners were [ 228 ] a class, not a people. The war was a war between two civilizations, one based on free labour, the other on slavery. The intervention of England would have meant war on behalf of the bad old system against that which was most in harmony with her own. So long as the issue in the States was doubtful the risk remained. Confederate privateers were fitted out in English ports, and the Government was scandalously remiss in taking steps to stop them. Mr. Gladstone in 1862 made an indiscreet speech which hinted at recognition, and the American Ambassador nearly sent in his papers. The one public man who kept his head cool and his vision clear was John Bright, who spoke unceasingly against the approval of slavery. But it was reserved for some nameless men and women to make the noblest display of wisdom which came from England during the war. The condition of the people of Lancashire would have been little worse than it was if every one of their cotton-mills had been swept from the face of the earth. Practically the whole of the cotton operatives and their families lived for months together upon charity. If any had cause to clamour for recognition and the defeat of the North, it was they. But in the midst of their distress this magnificent race stood by its principles. No saint or philosopher ever betrayed a greater fortitude than these poor and simple workfolk. While the merchant princes of Liverpool clamoured for war, and sent their clerks to howl at Henry Ward Beecher when he pleaded the cause of the North, the suffering populace of East Lancashire made no complaint. At one meeting at Manchester they even passed a resolution of sympathy with the North. This is probably the noblest thing that has ever been done in the world. It is not uncommon for men and women, in the excitement of war and in defence of their homes and children, to sacrifice themselves and all they have. But the act of the Lancashire workfolk was done in cold blood, and in defiance of every natural impulse. There is nothing more majestic in human records than the spectacle of these starving men and women, gathered in the very shadow of their dark and silent mills to encourage those whose success meant the continuing of their own miseries. The [ 229 ] use of such a people as this in support of the Southern States would have been a monstrous crime. The final triumph of the North saved the Government from such a fatal error and made the recognition of the independence of the South unnecessary by making it impossible.

234 ^  Cobden to Peel; Morley's Life of Cobden (Popular Edition), 395.

235 ^  Quoted in F. W. Hirst's Manchester School, 491.

236 ^  Hirst, 229.

237 ^  Speeches, ii. 397.

238 ^  Hirst's Manchester School, 251.

239 ^  Morley's Cobden, 396.

240 ^  Speeches, i. 470; ii. 397, 399.

241 ^  Cobden, England, Ireland, and America (1835).

242 ^  The Three Panics; Russia, c. iv.

243 ^  Speeches, i. 463.

244 ^  Cobden, Hansard, III. cxii. 671.

245 ^  England, Ireland, and America.

246 ^  Hansard, III. clxxvi. 832.

247 ^  Hirst, xii.

248 ^  See e.g., Hansard, I. xli. 456 (1819). A few Whig members like Lord Grenville (ibid., 456) and Ellice (ibid., 931) pressed the same point.

249 ^  The whole petition is set out in Hirst's Manchester School, 117 et seq.

250 ^  Hirst, 123 (1833).

251 ^  Cobden, Speeches, i. 256 (1845).

252 ^  Bright, in Hirst, 218.

253 ^  W. J. Fox, in Hirst, 175.

254 ^  Prentice's History of the League, i. 129, 140.

255 ^  A meeting of Birmingham women on the 2nd April, 1838, protested against the Corn Law and the new Poor Law. It was connected with the Chartist agitation.

256 ^  Prentice, i. 171.

257 ^  Hansard, III. cx. 1248.

258 ^  After 1867 Factory Bills were often opposed by women and their champions, in the same logical spirit, as an interference by men with women's "liberty."

259 ^  Hansard, III. cx. 566.

260 ^  It is perhaps worth noting here that there is no trace to-day in the character of Australian colonists of any unusual taint in origin. Many of the transported criminals were made criminal simply by their surroundings, and when they obtained a new chance became as energetic, as resourceful, and as valuable to the community at large as the most respectable people in the Colony. This experience should always give pause to those who argue that the inhabitants of our slums are naturally degenerate, and that the process of "selection" which has reduced them to the depths has anything accurate or scientific about it.

261 ^  Hansard, III. ciii. 383; cviii. 161, 777; cxvii. 543; cxxiv. 554. Convicts were until 1867 occasionally sent to Western Australia, but only at the request of the inhabitants, who needed cheap labour.

262 ^  Hansard, III. cx. 559, 566.

263 ^  Ibid., 1170. Compare Bright at p. 661, and Russell, ibid., cviii. 549.

264 ^  Lord Grey, Hansard, III. cx. 657.

265 ^  Archbishop of Canterbury, Hansard, III. liii. 959.

266 ^  Hansard, III. cxxiv. 1150.

267 ^  Hansard, III., ccxliv. 1313.

268 ^  Lytton Bulwer's Palmerston, i., 139.

269 ^  Ibid., 346.

270 ^  Hansard, III. cxii. 583, 584.

271 ^  Ibid., 508, 509.

272 ^  Hansard, III. cxii. 586.

273 ^  Fitzmaurice's Life of Granville, i. 49.

274 ^  Morley's Life of Gladstone, ii. 37.

275 ^  The two great blemishes, the inequality of the sexes, and the difficulty of giving redress to the poor, have now been unanimously condemned by a Royal Commission (1913).

276 ^  Hansard, III. cxliv. 1476.

277 ^  Ibid., 1784.

278 ^  Hansard, III. clxxvi. 709.

279 ^  Ibid., 829.