A Short History of English Liberalism/VIII

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



The Palmerston era was now at an end, and that of Gladstone was beginning. The first had been a period of domestic indifference and external agitation. Energy at home and restraint abroad were the marks of the first Liberal Ministry. The dominating force in practical politics was a man who derived his principles from a mixture of sound stocks. A temperate foreign policy, a rigorous economy in expenditure, and a dislike of commercial interference and restriction he had inherited from Sir Robert Peel. Beginning his career as a strong Churchman, he had gradually acquired the old Whig liberality in religious matters. "I think it," he wrote in 1865, "a most formidable responsibility in these times to doubt any man's character on account of his opinions. The limit of possible variation between character and opinion, ay, between character and belief, is widening, and will widen."[1] To belief in popular government he seems to have approached of his own nature, and he shared with Bright the honours of leadership in the new agitation for Reform. His party was compounded in much the same way of the different schools, old Whig doctrines of freedom of opinion, Palmerston's enthusiasm for nationalities, and the Manchester School's dislike of foreign affairs and preference for domestic interests combining in a general theory of individual and national liberty, which for the first time approached complete Liberalism. In two directions the policy of the new school of thought showed a distinct advance upon any of its predecessors. Its conception of freedom was less pedantic than that of Benthamites or Manchester men, and it was not afraid to imitate the methods of State interference which Tory philanthropy alone had previously ventured to employ. This new spirit combined with the regard for nationalities to produce an entirely novel policy in Ireland, where peculiar diseases were at last met with peculiar remedies.

The policy of economic reconstruction, which was first seriously undertaken by the Liberal Ministry of 1868, was undertaken largely in response to pressure from a new section of society. The Reform Act of 1832 had enfranchised the £10 householder. The Representation of the People Act of 1867 enfranchised every town-dweller who paid rates. The first gave power to the middle class. The second gave power to the working class. The artisans, whose political agitation had died out in the Chartist movement of 1848, had devoted their energies since that date to the development of their industrial organizations. In 1863 Holyoake started an "Association for the Promotion of Co-operation," and in 1869 the Co-operative Societies had a total capital of £2,000,000, and an annual trade of £8,000,000. A similar growth had taken place in the case of Trade Unions. Between 1855 and 1865 the numbers of Trade Unionists seem to have been more than doubled, and Unions which in 1870 contained 142,000 members, had 266,000 in 1875.[2] This form of organization was even more directly political than co-operation in the manufacture or supply of goods. It was frequently brought into conflict with legal theories about conspiracy, restraint of trade, intimidation, and breach of contract; and the necessity of amending the existing law was apparent.

This growth of organizations had produced a great increase of intelligence and influence among the better sort of working men. In thus managing affairs on a large scale, they had developed a capacity for political control which was very different from the vaguer discontent of an earlier generation. They were now organized and disciplined, and their demand for enfranchisement could no longer be ignored or despised. The American Civil War had aroused their interest in politics, and the fortitude with which some of them had borne the sufferings of the time had done much to disarm opposition. Bright's agitation at last found a response, and in 1866 the Whig Government introduced a Reform Bill. The Ministry, deprived of Palmerston, collapsed before the Bill could be carried, and by a cynical sacrifice of the very Tory principles which had defeated the Whig Bill, the Tory Ministry of Lord Derby and Disraeli passed the Bill of 1867 into law. With the Tory leader himself supporting the Bill, the voice of Toryism was not loudly raised against it. Lord Robert Cecil, who soon afterwards became Lord Salisbury, was the most bitter of the independent men behind Disraeli, and he was rivalled, if not surpassed, by the Radical Robert Lowe. Party discipline kept most of the Tories quiet, and there was no general opposition on the other side. Disraeli cared little for his own Bill, except as a means of "dishing the Whigs," and Gladstone and Bright were the real champions of the measure, in and out of Parliament. "The working men," said the latter, "in thinking over this question, feel they are distrusted, that they are marked as inferiors, that they are a sort of pariahs."[3] The former roused the contempt of Lord Cranborne by describing the workmen as "our own flesh and blood." The issue, in short, was simply that of all disputes about the franchise. Was the governing class for the time being to admit that the other was capable of managing its own affairs, or was it to declare that there was some essential difference between them which made its own ascendancy necessary? Disraeli was not, in these matters, a Tory, and with Liberal support he carried his Bill. It was a job, without any genuine enthusiasm to inspire it, but it had its Liberal effect. The artisans obtained fuller control over their own lives, and the Liberal Government which they set up in 1868 expressed for the first time the wishes of their class in legislation.

It is necessary at this point to refer to two forces which were acting upon the political machine. The first, Socialism, was a diffused influence, operating among the working classes. The other, the teaching of John Stuart Mill, was a definite intellectual impulse, which worked directly upon the minds of men of education. Socialism has never been accepted as a creed by the majority of British working men, and its hard, logical reasoning will probably always prove as alien to them as Philosophic Radicalism was to the middle class. It had been expressed for a short time in the co-operative experiment of Robert Owen, and it came into prominence at the time of the French Revolution of 1830. But its direct proclamation that the system of private capital meant the abuse of wage-earners, and that it was only where the whole people owned and controlled the means of production, distribution, and exchange that the poorer section could get economic security, was never popular. The Chartist movement had a purely political programme of annual Parliaments, payment of members, the ballot, and other constitutional reforms. Practical Socialism, the direct interference of the State in order to improve economic conditions, was concentrated after the Reform Act of 1832 in the Tory philanthropists. Lord Shaftesbury hated Socialism as a creed. But in opposing a Secular Education Bill of 1850 he used the very arguments by which Socialists justified their demand for the nationalization of capital: "The honourable and learned member seemed to think that crime was to be traced in almost all instances to want of education; no doubt that was in many cases a source of crime, but it was not the only, nor the chief source. Want of employment was the source of a vast proportion of crime. The condition in which the people lived, the influences to which they were subjected, the sunken and immoral state of a vast number of parents, rendered it next to impossible to produce any permanent improvement in many brought into our schools; and so long as you should leave the condition of your great towns, in all their sanitary, social, and domestic arrangements, such as at present, a large proportion of your efforts would be vain, and the education you could give nearly fruitless."[4] This was not Socialism. But it was the recognition of the fact that the individual would have no chance of honest growth unless society co-operated to improve the conditions in which he lived.

The general attitude of legislators towards the spirit of Socialism was very different. The Tories were largely moved to oppose it by its alliance with free thought. In 1833 the Bishop of Exeter formally moved that the Government should take steps to suppress it. The Bishop of London said that "The Government, as a Christian Government, were called upon in the exercise of their parental functions to interpose a shield between these pernicious doctrines and the minds of those who were more than the rest of society liable to the dominion of passion."[5] Wellington gravely referred to the "atrocious character" of the Socialist Associations, which decoyed the people away from church by inviting them to Sunday dances. The Whig Ministry then declined to interfere with the propagation of any opinions, however obnoxious. But their intellectual hostility was as marked as that of Wellington himself. In 1852, after the French Revolution of 1848, with its disastrous attempt to provide work for all at the expense of the State, had brought the new doctrines again into prominence, Macaulay declined with great vigour to have anything to do with "Fourierism, or St. Simonianism, or Socialism, or any of those other 'isms,' for which the plain English word is 'robbery.'"[6] Whigs and Tories, whatever their opinions about free thought, were at least united in their determination to brook no interference with private property.

The real English Socialism was of a more practical kind than the doctrinaire Socialism of Continental thinkers like Lassalle and Marx. The chief spokesman was Thomas Carlyle, who was a philosopher rather than a politician, and rather created a new spirit in men than contrived for them any practical expedients. He never concealed his contempt for the ordinary politician, and had more in common with a Tory like Shaftesbury than with Whigs, Radicals, or political workmen.

The Whigs were "the grand dilettanti" or "lukewarm, withered mongrels." The Radicals were "ballot-boxing on the graves of heroic ancestors." The mass of the people were "the rotten multitudinous canaille," and manhood suffrage was as reasonable as "horsehood and doghood suffrage." The world could only be saved by the hero, and the best thing mankind could do was to entrust itself to the unfettered genius of its great men. All this, and much more wild abuse sprang from Carlyle's violent indignation against individualism. He had no respect either for the aristocratic neglect of the Whigs or for the philosophical basis of the school of laissez faire. For the conception of society as a collection of competing individuals, protected in their competition by the State, he endeavoured to substitute a conception of society as a mass of mutually dependent individuals, united by "organic filaments," the weaker aided and protected by the State against the competition of the stronger, and the whole rising and falling, advancing and retreating together. "Call that yet a society," he exclaimed, "where there is no longer any social idea extant; not so much as the idea of a Common Home, but only of a common overcrowded Lodging House? Where each isolated, regardless of his neighbour, turned against his neighbour, clutches what he can get, and cries 'Mine,' and calls it Peace, because in the cut-purse and cut-throat scramble no steel knives but only a far cunninger sort can be employed."[7] This is not scientific Socialism, with its logical formulæ, the evolution of economic structures, the ultimate nationalization of all the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the rest. But it is a passionate appeal, in the very spirit of Socialism, to the sense of brotherhood, to the feeling that every man has as much right as every other not to be left behind in the race of industrial competition, and that the State, the organization of Society for common purposes, should not be confined merely to negative functions, but should be made the active and positive instrument of the improvement of human life.

Carlyle presented a curious contrast of the aristocrat and the democrat. His feeling was all for the people. But it was to be carried into practical effect by despotic or oligarchic methods. No man ever saw more clearly the miseries of poverty, or felt more acutely the degradation of worth by external circumstances. "Through every living soul the glory of a present God still beams." But he was convinced that misery could not be entrusted with the instruments of its own relief. The two habits of mind, the sympathetic and the disposing, were in him united. His contempt for political democracy was bound up with his zeal for social democracy, his recognition of the equal worth of all with his determination not to give them equal power. The generation in which he wrote based all its hopes upon politics. Political reform was everything. Once enfranchised, the population would be able to protect itself against aggression, and its distress would come automatically to an end. Carlyle saw, what the Whigs, the Radicals, and the Manchester men could not or would not see, that this negative operation of the vote, this power of defence against interference by others, was of little use for his immediate purpose, the economic reconstruction of society, and he declared in his haste that it was of no use. Political reform did not go deep enough, and Carlyle drove violently into the camp of opposition. There was no hope except in the hero, the man of extraordinary understanding and strength, who could both detect the causes of human suffering and compel society to abate them.

It was this emotional appeal of Carlyle which made him such a powerful force among thoughtful men and women, and especially among those whom experience had made acquainted with the worst effects of the industrial revolution. His hero-worship gave no little encouragement to the more brutal sort of Toryism, and there are still many English people who believe that the history of a nation is only the biography of its great men. But his insistence upon the direct responsibility of the social organization for the happiness of every one within it was in the line of a reaction against crude individualism, which by 1850 was strongly marked outside Tory philanthropy. Mrs. Gaskell's Mary Barton, a novel which dealt sympathetically with industrial unrest, was published in 1848. Harriet Martineau, identified with Whiggery and the Manchester School, wrote in 1849 of the state of the wage-earners: "A social idea or system which compels such a state of things as this must be, in so far, worn out. In ours, it is clear that some renovation is wanted, and must be found."[8] In 1850 the Christian Socialist movement in the Church of England produced the Tracts on Christian Socialism and Charles Kingsley's novel Alton Locke. Dickens published his Hard Times in 1854, and constantly attacked the system of laissez faire in the columns of Household Words. Ruskin, with less political instinct, pleaded as passionately for beauty in common life as for ethical principles in art, and, like his master Carlyle, clothed his economic sermons in a style which put the cold reasoning of individualism to shame. Even Disraeli, who combined unusual moral levity with an unusual capacity for discovering the set of social currents, gave utterance to similar opinions in Sybil and other novels. By the time that the working men were enfranchised in 1867, the Parliamentary work of Lord Shaftesbury was being accompanied by a general movement in society. Negative Liberalism, the removal of restrictions upon the individual, had obviously produced little direct good among the poorer people. It was time that humane and generous impulses in the direction of positive assistance had their way. The difference between the new Liberalism and the old was the difference between emancipation and toleration, between leaving alone and setting free.


The influence of John Stuart Mill was not so much in the direction of definite changes in society as in the direction of an alteration of mental processes by which such changes became possible. Liberal thinkers like Paine and Bentham had assailed the human mind from without, clamouring about its gates with completely fashioned ideas, which they endeavoured to thrust into it by a sort of intellectual assault. They had no doubts of their own rightness or of the duty of others to agree with them. Mill, chiefly through his acquaintance with the evolutionary ideas of Comte, was of a more tolerant disposition, and preferred to adopt the method of getting to understand how his adversary's error had arisen, and of persuading him, as it were, to retrace his steps, and by choosing another road, arrive at a sounder conclusion. His book on Logic was an attempt to alter the prevailing system of intuitional philosophy, by which he believed that prejudices and the dictates of interest were assumed to be absolute truths, and to substitute for it a system in which every idea might be thoroughly examined and tested before it was adopted. In other words, he proposed to do with the conceptions of philosophy what Bentham proposed to do with institutions, to accept none, except on their merits. He thus hoped to produce, not definitely new ideas, but a condition of mind to which new ideas would not be repugnant. This method of undermining his adversary's position was his method in politics as in general philosophy.

Mill was the son of a Utilitarian, and was himself a disciple of Bentham. But he never accepted the Benthamite theory without qualification. He knew that men were actuated by other motives, good and bad, than self-interest. He did not believe that by setting all men free to pursue their own interest the majority would achieve happiness. He did not believe that it was enough in politics to enfranchise every person of twenty-one years of age, or that a democracy might not be guilty of as abominable tyranny as a despot or an oligarchy. He held most of the Benthamite principles, as forming the best working philosophy, but he never supposed that they would not require safeguards against abuse, or would inevitably produce the desired result. Bentham said, "This individual is actuated by this motive; apply this remedy to his condition, and he will develop himself to this point." Mill said, "This individual seems to be actuated by various motives, of which this seems to be the most important, his history and the experience of other individuals suggests that if this remedy is applied to his condition he will tend to develop himself to this point. I will therefore make the experiment." Bentham was always confident and dogmatic. Mill was never more than patient and hopeful.

Mill in effect combined the qualities of the historical and the critical schools of thought. His was not the vigorous hammering method of previous Liberals, but a cold, illuminating, and suggestive examination, which gave full credit to the existing institution, even while it displayed its defects. He asked, "How has it grown?" as earnestly as "How does it work?" and he lamented the indifference of his predecessors to history. "No one can calculate what struggles, which the cause of improvement has yet to undergo, might have been spared if the philosophers of the eighteenth century had done anything like justice to the past."[9] Every institution is to be studied historically, though it must be justified empirically. If it is bad in use, it must be reformed or abolished, but the change must be made along the line of past growth. What he said of the position of women he applied to every other problem. "The least that can be demanded is, that the question should not be considered as prejudged by existing fact and existing opinion, but open to discussion on its merits, as a question of justice and expediency; the decision on this, as on any of the other social arrangements of mankind, depending on what an enlightened estimate of tendencies and consequences may show to be most advantageous to humanity in general.... Through all the progressive period of human history, the condition of women has been approaching nearer to equality with men. This does not of itself prove that the assimilation must go on to complete equality, but it assuredly affords some presumption that such is the case."[10] This double view, combining the Radical view of Bentham with the historical view of Burke, enabled Mill to see his subject, as it were, stereoscopically and in true relation with its surroundings. He was not influenced by Darwin's theory of evolution. But his own work produced a very similar effect. It made men accustomed to the idea of continuous alteration, of future as well as past growth.

Mill was thus the most prominent thinker of a time in which old systems of thought were being undermined. Natural science and the higher criticism were breaking up the foundations of authority in religion, and Mill's general method of dealing with habits of thought, no less than the direct plea for free thinking and free speaking contained in his treatise on Liberty, gave a wider scope to honest scepticism. He expressed approval of some of the new Socialistic projects. He was in favour of compulsory education, of the regulation of hours of labour, of Trade Unionism and co-operation, and he looked forward to a time "when the division of the produce of labour, instead of depending, as in so great a degree it now does, on the accident of birth, will be made in concert on an acknowledged principle of justice." The social problem of the future, he said, would be "how to unite the greatest individual liberty of action with a common ownership of the new material of the globe, and an equal participation of all in the benefits of combined labour."[11] His most original contribution to politics was his appeal for absolute equality of freedom for men and women, which was the first effective attempt to remove the class brand from women, and to abolish the aristocracy of sex. But his most valuable work, as has already been suggested, was not so much to sow new political ideas in the minds of his followers as to plough them for the reception of such ideas. He did not so much start them along new paths as set them to inquire whether they were right in remaining in the old, and whether there was any real danger in leaving them. As solvents of prejudice, Mill's works have not been surpassed by any. He promoted, not change, but the readiness to change; not Liberal measures, but Liberal-mindedness. Thus persuaded to refrain from hasty judgments upon opinions, and to accept every new idea upon its merits, the rising generation applied itself to the working of the improved political machine.


The Liberalism of the Government which was in power from 1868 to 1874 was displayed in the further application of old principles, no less than in the adoption of principles which were new. Religious equality was expressed in their Irish policy and in their treatment of education. Reforms in the Civil Service and the Army abolished more class distinctions in the public service. The new School Boards were another example of popular control of Government. Acts dealing with Trade Unions and the ownership of Irish land expressed the new theory of State interference with individual liberty, and Acts referring to women marked a great appreciation of them in comparison with men.

One old principle was the basis of the Ballot Act of 1872. This gave to dependent persons the power of voting freely in the choice of their representatives, without fear of landlords, employers, or customers. The project was as old as the agitation for manhood suffrage, and was first suggested in the days of Wilkes and the Society of the Friends of the Bill of Rights. Other impediments to individual freedom were removed in 1870, when all posts in the Civil Service, outside the Foreign Office, were opened to competitive examination; and in 1871, when the system of purchasing commissions in the Army was abolished. Two preserves of aristocracy and wealth were thus thrown open to the people at large. Direct aid was given to the poorer classes by the establishment of a national system of education in 1870. This had been first suggested by Whitbread, and gained the support of Bentham, the Whigs, and the Manchester School. Tories like Lord Shaftesbury had been in favour of it so long as nothing was done to limit the privileges of the Church, and there had been no reason, other than indifference, why the parsimonious grants out of the Exchequer should not have been increased long before. By this time the neglect of the poorer children and the complete failure of private enterprise had become conspicuous. Two million children received no education at all, one million received an education which was inadequate, and only one million three hundred thousand were educated in schools aided and inspected by the State.[12] The system was now made general, and the local control was placed in the hands of School Boards, elected by the ratepayers, and empowered to provide for the expenses of their districts by levying a rate.


The old Liberal principle of equality between sects, implied in the Irish Church Act, was expressed more simply in an Act of 1871, which abolished all theological tests for professors, fellows, tutors, and scholars of Oxford and Cambridge, except in the Theological Faculties. The exception was a characteristic revelation of Mr. Gladstone's influence. If absolute freedom of religious thinking is required more in one place than in another, it is in a school of divinity. But the Churchman was still involved in the Liberal Prime Minister, and the theological honours and offices were left to the dominant creed. The exception was not of much general importance, and the Act removed the principal disabilities which had fettered the mind of the Universities no less than they had hindered the education of Nonconformists. This Act was passed with little opposition, even from the Lords. The great conflict of religious principle took place over the Education Act, which, like most of its predecessors and successors, might have been more aptly styled the "Religious Difficulty in Schools Act." The problem was not educational at all. A substantial majority of all parties would have agreed upon a scheme of national secular education in a few hours. But the course of events had determined that the children's minds should appear less important to Parliament than their souls.

A logical Liberal, faced with the task of establishing a national system of education, could take only the course which was advocated by the Birmingham League. That was to make education free, compulsory, and secular. No one should pay for education except as a taxpayer, all should be compelled to send their children to school, and no form of religious opinion should be taught. This would have secured all the benefits of secular learning and discipline, without compelling the member of one sect to contribute to the propagation of the opinions of another, and without compelling a child to be instructed in opinions which were obnoxious to its parents. But it was impossible for logic to have its way. Schools had been established in some districts for many years. The majority taught the doctrines of the Establishment. Others were Wesleyan, others Unitarian, others Catholic, others Jewish. Most of these had already enjoyed State aid, though they had been built by voluntary subscription. It was impossible to ignore their existence. It was impossible also to ignore the fact that the majority of the English people, in a rough and ready way, desired that some sort of religion should be taught in the schools. There was no way out except in a compromise, and the difficulty thus acknowledged has never yet been removed. State aid was given to sectarian schools as well as Board Schools, and by the since famous Cowper Temple clause it was provided that no distinctive religious formulary should be taught in a Board School. This was not pure Liberalism. Nonconformists might object, as they had always objected, to paying for the propagation of obnoxious dogmas. Churchmen and Catholics might object, with equal reason, to paying for the propagation of opinions which were obnoxious because they contained no dogmas at all. Between the devil of dogma and the deep sea of Nonconformity no English Government has yet found a way. But the sects have had to live together in the country, and the compromise of 1870, though it settled nothing, was as good an arrangement as could have been made at the time.


The Education Act was an obvious interference of Government with absolute liberty, and the argument that this measure of control was only undertaken in order to equip the individual for the better enjoyment of liberty was an argument which would have applied to Socialism itself. But this Act was only a continuation of previous policy. The Trades Union Act of 1871 was a contrivance of an entirely new sort, and the support given to it by the Liberal Ministry meant a great change. Previous legislation had marked an alteration in the attitude of the State towards combinations of workmen, and the Act of 1871 carried the change a degree farther. The Acts of 1799 and 1800 had prohibited Trade Unions. The Acts of 1824 and 1825 had permitted them. The Act of 1871 protected them and gave them special privileges. This was the direct consequence of pressure by organized workmen, assisted by members of the middle class like Thomas Hughes and Frederic Harrison. Decisions of the judges had tended to cripple labour organizations by declaring strikes to be intimidation, and peaceful picketing a nuisance, and by holding that workmen acting in combination might be guilty of the crime of conspiracy, even though they did nothing which would have been a crime in the case of a single person. One decision had declared that a Trade Union, being an association in restraint of trade, was illegal, and that an official who embezzled its funds could not be sued by the Society.

These judicial attacks were only part of a campaign which was now being waged against the whole system of Trade Unionism. The workmen were beginning to make their strength felt, and the old legal dislike of interference with liberty joined with the less disinterested objections of employers to anything which interfered with their power to do as they liked with their capital and their labourers. Some serious outrages, committed by the smaller organizations of a few towns like Sheffield and Manchester, gave colour to the general indictment of combinations of this sort. As a matter of fact nothing stood between the most moral and responsible workmen and exploitation by the worse sort of masters but his Trade Union. Absolute freedom to sell his labour as he pleased meant for the ordinary workman absolute freedom to be abused by an economic superior. The Trade Union was the workman's only means of obtaining security of life. "Any one who regards it as a simple instrument to raise wages," wrote Mr. Frederic Harrison, "is, as Adam Smith says, 'as ignorant of the subject as of human nature.' Unionism, above all, aims at making regular, even, and safe the workman's life. No one who had not specially studied it would conceive the vast array of grievances against which Unionism and strikes are directed. If we looked only to that side of the question, we should come to fancy that from the whole field of labour there went up one universal protest against injustice. There is a 'miserable monotony' of wrong and suffering in it. Excessive labour, irregular labour, spasmodic overwork, spasmodic locking-out, 'overtime,' 'short time,' double time, night work, Sunday work, truck in every form, overlookers' extortion, payment in kind, wages reduced by drawbacks, 'long pays,' or wages held back, fines, confiscations, rent and implements irregularly stopped out of wages, evictions from tenements, 'black lists' of men, short weights, false reckoning, forfeits, children's labour, women's labour, unhealthy labour, deadly factories and processes, unguarded machinery, defective machinery, preventable accidents, recklessness from desire to save,—in countless ways we find a waste of human life, health, well-being, and power, which are not represented in the ledgers or allowed for in bargains."[13] In other words, the law, by a pedantic application of rules of abstract liberty, was depriving workmen of real liberty. Liberty of contract did not mean liberty of life, and it was only by sacrificing individual freedom to the common good in organization that real freedom was to be secured.

The Act of 1871 partly remedied the evil. Trade Unions, if there were nothing criminal in their expressed objects, were allowed to be registered, and could then enjoy the rights over their funds which were possessed by Friendly Societies. But they were given absolute freedom in their internal organization, and no action at law could be brought against them. These changes in the law were unfortunately almost nullified by a Criminal Law Amendment Act which practically gave statutory force to many of the recent legal decisions. Strikes were made legal, but everything done in pursuance of a strike was illegal, and working men and women were frequently imprisoned after 1871 for the most trivial acts, even while the serious boycotting of workpeople by employers was freely permitted. It is a great blot on the reputation of the Government, still dominated by the middle class and its dislike of combination, that it refused to complete the work which it had begun, and to enable Trade Unions not only to exist, but to work. At the General Election of 1874 two workmen, Alexander Macdonald and Thomas Burt, were actually elected to the House of Commons, and the roused feeling of the Unionists gained its object. The Conservative Home Secretary repealed the disabling Act, peaceful picketing was legalized, and workmen in combination were no longer punishable except for acts which were criminal if committed by single individuals. The strength gained by the Unions in this brief campaign finally established them in the industrial and political life of the country. The political reforms did not directly improve the condition of the working classes. But many, if not all, the improvements which subsequently took place, were only possible in the state of real freedom which the Acts of 1871 and 1874 had established.

One attempt to interfere with the absolute liberty of the individual failed. This was the Licensing Bill of 1871, which proposed to reduce the number of public-houses in the country. The departure from the old line was very marked. There had never been absolute freedom of trade in strong drink. From the earliest years alehouses had been licensed and supervised by magistrates. But their numbers in all parts of the country were more than was required for any reasonable consumption by the population. In Liverpool a disastrous experiment had been tried. Licences had been granted to every person of good character who chose to apply, on the assumption that unrestricted competition would lead to good management and the extinction of the worst class of house by competition. A principle which was abundantly successful in the cotton industry proved a helpless failure in the drink trade. There was no unhealthy demand for cotton goods. It did not depend on a natural instinct which might be increased by supply beyond the needs of health. To multiply drink-shops was to multiply, for many of the people who dealt with them, the temptations to demoralizing excess of consumption. The Liverpool experiment showed the folly of laissez faire in a matter of this sort. The Licensing Bill of 1871 expressed the opposite policy. It proposed to reduce the number of houses in each district to that which the justices thought was enough for its legitimate needs. The licences, though generally renewed, were granted for one year only. For ten years they were to be continued, subject to a small annual payment by the licensees. After the expiration of that period the justices were to fix the number for the district, and, in virtue of the artificial monopoly which the licences conferred, were to distribute them among such respectable persons as offered the highest prices. These proposals were as vigorous an interference with individual liberty as was consistent with existing rights. The holders of licences had no legal right to more than a year's profits from their licences. Custom had given them an expectancy of indefinite length. The public interest required that their numbers should be reduced. Reduction was therefore proposed, but after a substantial delay. The scheme was just in principle and generous in practice. But the extreme advocates of temperance legislation objected to its generosity, and the brewers and licensed victuallers objected to its justice. The Home Secretary, Mr. Bruce, was not strong enough to carry it. It was abandoned soon after its introduction, and a priceless opportunity of at once improving the conditions of town life and of subduing a powerful trade interest to the public was lost for ever.


The most difficult of the Ministry's problems was the Irish problem, and the most novel of its proposals were its Irish proposals. Judged by the degree of their success, these measures were perhaps not very important. At least, they did not settle the affairs of Ireland. But their spirit was of the greatest possible significance. This Liberal Government was the first English Government which ever set itself to legislate for Ireland according to Irish ideas, to recognize the essential differences between the two countries, to establish in Ireland what it would not maintain in England, and to destroy in Ireland those English institutions which had been erected by the egoism of its predecessors. The existing system was recognized as hopeless. In February, 1868, the Tory Government suspended the Habeas Corpus Act for the fourth time in two years. Fenianism was checked, but the disease of which it was a symptom was not cured. The Liberals endeavoured to go to the root of the matter. The maintenance of order was only a condition of further action, and the only possible further action was the redress of grievances.

The case of Ireland had for a long time caused anxiety to Liberal thinkers. In 1835 Cobden had contrasted England's readiness to sympathize with Poland and Greece with her complete indifference to the claims of Ireland. "Whilst our diplomatists, fleets, and armies have been put in motion at enormous cost, to carry our counsel, or, if needful, our arms, to the assistance of the people of these remote regions, it is an unquestionable fact, that the population of a great portion of our own Empire has, at the same time, presented a grosser spectacle of moral and physical debasement than is to be met with in the whole civilized world."[14] Disraeli in 1844 declared that it was the duty of an English Minister "To effect by his policy all those changes which a revolution would accomplish by force."[15] In 1847 Bright pointed to the root cause: "There is an unanimous admission now that the misfortunes of Ireland are connected with the question of the management of the land."[16] The rejection of Peel's Bill of 1845 has already been noticed. The only measure passed for the relief of Irish tenants since that date was the Encumbered Estates Act of 1849. This had provided State assistance for the sale of hopelessly mortgaged estates. Its chief result had been to substitute for a thriftless but easy-going gentry a company of grasping absentees, who rack-rented their tenants without mercy, where their predecessors had at any rate let them alone. The state of the Irish peasantry, even though the pressure of population had been greatly reduced by famine and emigration, was substantially worse in 1868 than it had been in 1845. The violence of Fenianism, murder and armed rescue at Manchester, and gunpowder plot at Clerkenwell, at last drew attention to a state of affairs in which there was nothing new except the degree of its badness.

Before the Liberals dealt with the land question, they turned their attention to the other great Irish grievance, the establishment of an alien Church. This was one of those matters of sentiment which, between conquering and conquered peoples, produce the most deadly and incurable animosities. The Irish Church had been established for the express purpose of prosecuting the English cause. It embodied and symbolized the alien domination. It perpetuated the memories of a thousand massacres and confiscations. In the language of John Bright, it was "a garrison Church ... the effect has been to make Catholicism in Ireland not only a faith, but absolutely a patriotism." Every clergyman "is necessarily in his district a symbol of the supremacy of the few and of the subjection of the many."[17] In its presence every Catholic Irishman felt himself a member of a conquered race, and every economic grievance was exaggerated. To invest the alien Church with the privileges of Establishment was to rub salt into the wounds of Ireland.

The Tories resisted the Liberal Bill partly on proprietary grounds. They treated a corporation, created for the propagation of certain opinions, a task in which it had conspicuously failed, as if it were a private person, and denounced disendowment as robbery. The Liberals contended that the State had endowed the Church, and that on the failure of the Church to provide for the spiritual needs of the Irish people, it was fair that the State should resume part of the property and apply it for other purposes. But the details of disendowment are hardly material. The essence of the Bill was that it tended to destroy the ascendancy of Protestantism as against Catholicism, and of Englishmen as against Irishmen. Gathorne Hardy put the Tory case on this point in one sentence. He said that he looked upon the Church "as a part of the Imperial Government."[18] Sergeant Dowse stated the Liberal case in reply. "The Irish people regarded that Church as a great wrong and a standing memorial of conquest.... Nobody ever said the measure would lead to social equality. But in future a Bishop or Dean would no longer be preferred over a Bishop or Dean of the Catholic or minister of the Presbyterian Church, and in that way, at least, an important removal of social distinctions would be effected." He reminded his hearers that on the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne orange flags were hoisted on the spires of State churches, and described them as "the badge of degradation to the vast majority of the Irish people. Protestant ascendancy did exist, as long as one Church was patronized and preferred above another Church either of the whole or a portion of the people."[19] The Bill was carried into law after a hard fight with the House of Lords. It did not entirely destroy the insolence of Irish Protestants or allay all the discontents of the peasantry. But it was an earnest of the disposition of an English Government to legislate for the Irish people as they would have legislated for themselves.

The sentimental grievance having been removed, the Liberals turned to the practical grievance. The Irish Land Act of 1870 provided that the tenant should receive compensation for his improvements, and unless the contrary were proved, it was to be presumed that all improvements were his, and not the landlord's. If a tenant were evicted, he was to be compensated for disturbance, unless the eviction were for non-payment of rent, and even then the court might hold that the exorbitant amount demanded, or other circumstances, entitled him to special compensation. No tenant who paid less than £50 a year could contract out of the Act. Two great principles were expressed in this measure. The first was that of the Church Act, the Irish government of Ireland. The second was the new collectivism. The Act not only alleviated the great hardship of the Irish tenants, it was a direct interference by the State with the right of property and with freedom of contract. The absolute owner of land was no longer allowed to deal with it as he pleased without compensating those to whom he leased it, and a poor tenant was expressly prevented from agreeing to his own injury. Utilitarianism and laissez faire had ceased to dominate the Liberal mind, and liberty was deliberately restricted in one direction that it might expand more readily in another. Where one party was rich and the other poor, where one held land in his absolute disposition and the other could not live without it, freedom of bargaining meant the lessening of liberty. This principle, suggested in the Factory Acts, and first openly applied to the problem of Irish land, is now the distinctive character of Liberal domestic policy.


A phenomenon of this period as remarkable as the appearance of Socialistic ideas is the direction of the attention of Parliament to the affairs of women. One or two Acts had dealt with the condition of working women as with that of working children, and they had been excluded altogether from the brutalizing labour of mines. But the general status of the sex, as compared with that of men, had remained unaltered since the accession of George III. Beneath the surface of politics a substantial improvement had taken place. The first condition of emancipation was that women themselves should be enabled to demand it. The carefully fostered ignorance of the eighteenth century was now being gradually reduced by improvements in education. The vast majority of middle-class women still received a mental training which was infinitely inferior to that of men. But a few schools, of which those of Miss Buss in North London and Miss Dorothea Beale at Cheltenham were the most conspicuous, had begun to substitute a scientific training of the mind for the futile cultivation of graces and accomplishments. Bedford College and Queen's College in London provided similar training for girls who had passed the school age, and in 1870 the first women's college at Cambridge was established by Anne Jemima Clough. A few books had been published by women, who claimed the same freedom of development for the individual woman as all Liberals required for the individual man. The public distinctions of women like George Eliot, the Brontës, Mary Somerville, Harriet Martineau, and Florence Nightingale had accustomed society to the idea of vigorous female independence. Elizabeth Blackwell and Elizabeth Garrett had already contrived to squeeze themselves, in the face of every kind of opposition, into the medical profession, and soon after the Liberal victory of 1868 Sophia Jex-Blake began that extraordinary struggle at Edinburgh which at last ended in the defeat of male jealousy and the admission of women to medical schools and medical degrees. In all directions women of the middle class were beginning to assert their right to develop their own faculties and to employ their own powers according to their own ideas of what was right and fitting, and not according to those of the dominant sex.

This movement among women was only part of the general movement towards individual freedom from external control which is described in these pages. The ruling sex was as little capable of understanding the part as the Tory of the French Revolution had been of understanding the whole. But the real Liberal had no difficulty in discovering and in comprehending the movement of women, and the most conspicuous Liberal thinker of the time attacked sexual Toryism as he attacked the Toryism of class or creed. Mill's Subjection of Women, published in 1869, applied to the condition of women precisely those arguments which, in other works, he applied to that of men. The question must be studied with an open mind, and not subject to a priori assumptions. Why should it be presumed that dependence and feebleness of mind were natural to women? Why should it be presumed that it was natural that men should regulate even the private lives of women? Why should it be presumed that a woman was naturally incapable of managing her own affairs? These propositions, which had perhaps been true in a barbarous society, could only be proved in a state of civilization by reason and argument. Until women had had some opportunity of exerting their natural powers in a state of independence, it was absurd to argue that those natural powers were not equal to independence. An arbitrary standard, convenient to the interest of the dominant sex, had been erected for women, and they had been carefully trained up to it. Delicacy of mind and body, diffidence and self-effacement, superficial and unscientific learning had been required of them, and it was not surprising that they had very rarely attained to anything stronger. It was absurd to argue that women were naturally incapable of intellectual exertion, of professional skill, or of taking part in public affairs, when the whole scheme of their education had been contrived to make them so incapable. The supposed weaknesses are at best exaggerated by education, and it was not improbable that they had been created by it. When everything possible had been done by artificial means to strengthen their minds and bodies, we might be able to form some accurate judgment of what their powers were. In any case, we had no right to enforce a general mode of life upon all women, irrespective of their individual variations. We no longer branded men with class marks, and reserved special occupations and dignities for special groups. Why should we persist in maintaining the same system for women? If there was only one woman in England who was capable of practising as a doctor, it was her right as an individual to be allowed to practise, and the incapacity of every other of her sex was no reason for depriving her of her opportunity of working out her own life. Every kind of school and college, every occupation and profession, should be thrown open, and women should be permitted, as men were permitted, each to find her own place, according to her own natural capacity.

This was the ordinary argument of Liberalism, a plea for the substitution of individual opportunity for class regulation. Mill went farther, as every Liberal is bound to go, and claimed for women the same right to control their own government as that which he claimed for men. During the debates on the Reform Bill of 1867 he actually moved an amendment providing for the enfranchisement of women on the same terms as men. The respect with which the House listened to his speech was accorded to the speaker rather than to his argument, and it is only in very recent years that the opposition to Woman Suffrage has ceased to be largely frivolous and even obscene. In Mill's day the force outside Parliament was very weak, and it was impossible that his proposals should succeed. Even among the middle and upper classes only one woman in ten received a scientific mental training, and many of the best educated were so far removed by circumstances from all personal hardships that their sense of the common grievance was slight. But the movement which Mill thus brought to the surface of politics was essentially part of the great tide of individual emancipation which had been flowing since the French Revolution, and pioneers like Lydia Becker were already struggling with prejudice and prudery with some success. Women were beginning to refuse, as Catholics, Dissenters, and workmen had refused, to be treated in the State as a branded class. If the domination of one class of men over another class of men had led to abuse, did not the domination of one sex over another also lead to abuse? The deliberate stunting of the female mind in education,[20] the exclusion of women from the Universities and the professions, the gross inequalities sanctioned by the new Divorce Act, the barbarity which stripped the wife on marriage of all her property and even of the earnings of her own labour, and reduced her to absolute physical and mental dependence upon her husband, all this was the direct or indirect consequence of the political domination of the male sex. Those who disposed of women in the State, disposed of them also in the schools, in industry, and in the family. With excess of logic, the early Woman Suffragists even opposed the restriction of women's labour by Factory Acts as if every such interference had been inspired by male jealousy.

Most barbarous of all the grievances of women were the legal and conventional rules which affected the moral relations of the sexes. In nothing had the egoism of men been so remarkably displayed as in the construction of these rules, and in the care with which they had concealed the consequences from women. The progress of the movement in favour of Woman Suffrage is precisely to be measured by the growth of women's knowledge of the facts of sex, and in particular of the meaning of prostitution. The general conspiracy of silence was at last being broken up, and the new women were turning their new eyes upon the old facts. It was at this time still common for medical men to recommend the practice of vice to their men patients, and the practice of vice was an easy thing. A child of thirteen might legally "consent" to her own dishonour, and the man who used her for his pleasure could not be punished as a criminal. It was a crime to abduct a young girl for the purpose of marrying her and so getting control of her property. But it was not a crime to abduct her for the purpose of keeping her in a brothel. It was a crime to keep a brothel. But it was a crime because it was a nuisance to the public, not because it meant the systematic degradation of women and girls. Their knowledge that the law sanctioned, and that so much of male opinion encouraged, the abuse of their sex for the indulgence of their political superiors was enough in itself to direct the attention of earnest women to politics. But these grievances were of ancient growth, and it might reasonably be pleaded that ignorance and want of imagination alone prevented their remedy. A new expression of the same disposing habit of mind showed that it had lost nothing of its old vigour.

The subject of the Contagious Diseases Acts of 1866 and 1869 is dreadful to contemplate and to describe. But its significance is so immense, and its neglect by all ordinary historians is so marked, that it must be treated in this book. The conflict between the disposing and the sympathetic minds, between the blind and largely unconscious egoism of a governing class and the interest of its depreciated subjects, has never been elsewhere so terribly illustrated. Prostitution has always been regarded by a male society either as a danger or as a convenience. By such women as have known of its existence it has been more justly considered as an example of heartless oppression and abuse. Only a minority of the women who engage in it are there out of their own choice. The great bulk of this trade, which is now not improperly described as the White Slave Traffic, is supplied by unwilling victims. They are entrapped in childhood, or in early youth, they are corrupted by bad housing and overcrowding, they are betrayed by seducers, or they are driven by starvation wages to earn their living on the streets. Their condition is the most wretched of any people in the world. No other trade is so dangerous to those who are employed in it, or so quickly uses up their lives. No other trade so swiftly devours in its workpeople those noble qualities of the mind which would enable them to support the heaviest physical burdens. In prostitution everything is sooner or later destroyed that most adorns body, mind, and soul.

For the victims of this traffic in flesh the Legislature had for long provided nothing but fine and imprisonment, methods which were as useless to deter the minority which was corrupt as they were powerless to save the majority which was unfortunate. The Liberal could adopt only one course, to attack the causes at their roots, to amend Statutes like the Divorce Act, which sanctioned vice in men, to protect young girls by raising the age of consent, and to impose penalties on those who exploited them, to improve the conditions of housing and labour, and to raise wages. The Government which was left in power by Palmerston, seeing prostitution only with male eyes, made a fatal error. They set themselves, not to make prostitution difficult for women, but to make it safe for men. The diseases produced by vice were seriously injuring the health of the Army and Navy. The Government did not attempt, as its successors have attempted, to reduce the practice of vice among their servants. They took the easier course of recognizing and regulating what they thought they could not check. By the Act of 1866, amended by the Act of 1869, they compelled the unfortunate women in garrison towns to submit themselves periodically to medical examination. The healthy were discharged. The diseased were compulsorily detained in hospitals until they were cured, when they also were released to continue the practice of their trade. The soldiers and sailors were implicitly told that if they were careful to select one of these Government women they could be vicious with impunity. The climax of the system was reached in 1885, when the Commander-in-Chief in India instructed his commanding officers to see that plenty of good-looking girls were provided for their men, and that they had all proper facilities for practising their trade.

Of the foul barbarity of this contrivance of the Legislature it is difficult to write with moderation, even at this distance of time. It is not suggested here that the majority of the men who were responsible were animated by vicious motives. It was only another example of unimaginative dullness legislating without responsibility. But the effect of deliberate wickedness could not have been worse. The wretched were confirmed in wretchedness. The degraded were thrust farther into the depths of degradation. Thousands of human beings of the subject class, originally guilty of nothing worse than poverty or a youthful lapse from principle, were placed by the State at the disposal of the governing class for the foulest purpose. It is a most vivid illustration of the rarity of complete Liberalism, that the Contagious Diseases Acts remained on the Statute Book for seventeen years, and that if they were in the first place smuggled through Parliament, they were afterwards defended by men of all parties alike.

A few politicians like James Stansfeld fought steadily in Parliament. But the Parliamentary machine is so constructed, that when parties are divided public causes fall to the ground. In this case, as in that of the repeal of the Corn Laws, reform came by way of a struggle outside the walls of the Legislature. Mrs. Josephine Butler was the leader of the agitation. Seventeen years of fighting against vested interests, against the medical profession and the Army, against indifference, against active and persecuting prudery, and against physical violence were required, and the victory was not completed till 1886. But this long agony was of enormous historical importance. It not only achieved its immediate object, the repeal of the Acts and the further result of the passing of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885; its indirect effects were infinite. It was the first organized effort on the part of women in their own political interest. It extended to other parts of the world. It taught women, irrespective of class and race, the value of solidarity. It stimulated the demand for education, for better moral standards, for the franchise, for everything which would enable women to control their own lives and to take themselves out of the disposition of men. It was in fact the greatest single stimulus to that vast social movement for the emancipation of women which is to-day visible in every part of the world. No one can understand the modern demand for Woman Suffrage who does not realize that the driving force behind it is the increasing knowledge of prostitution which has sprung from Mrs. Butler's agitation. Rightly or wrongly, the Suffragists believe that political domination involves moral domination, and that involuntary prostitution will exist so long as the regulation of women's political affairs rests in the hands of men.

The Contagious Diseases Acts represented the extreme abuse of the male ego. But the Liberal Government of 1868, which actually passed the second of the two Acts, did not a little in other ways to improve the condition of women. The Married Women's Property Act of 1870 protected the wife's earnings against her husband, and permitted her to enjoy, for her own use, property which she had acquired by inheritance. The Education Act of 1870 permitted women to be elected as members of the new School Boards, and an Act of 1875 admitted them also to Boards of Guardians. These three Acts marked a substantial rise in the social scale. They affected chiefly women of the richer classes. But the admissions which they implied were of indefinite extent. Society had begun to look at the individual within the family as it had begun to look at the individual within the class or sect. The wife was acknowledged to be a separate individual from her husband, and the presence of women on public bodies was a sufficient answer to the argument that women should be confined to those duties which they could only perform in association with men. Marriage had ceased to be the sole object of a decent woman's life. In spite of the monstrous injustice of the Contagious Diseases Acts, woman was being placed in Society, in some measure at least, in accordance with her own worth, and not with the assumptions of male egoism.

The foreign policy of the Government was conspicuously Liberal, and it was justified by its results. Liberty was maintained and moral rules were enforced without Palmerston's recklessness, and there were none of the acts of petty bullying with which he had varied his tilting at tyrants. The general outline of the new policy is contained in a memorandum addressed by Mr. Gladstone to the Queen in 1871. He stated its principles to be "That England should keep entire in her own hands the means of estimating her own obligations upon the various states of facts as they arise; that she should not foreclose and narrow her own liberty of choice, by declarations made to other powers, in their real or supported interests, of which they would claim to be joint interpreters; that it is dangerous for her to assume alone an advanced, and therefore an isolated, position, in regard to European controversies; that, come what may, it is better for her to promise too little than too much; that she should not encourage the weak by giving expectations of aid to resist the strong, but should rather seek to deter the strong, by firm but moderate language, from aggression on the weak; that she should seek to develop and mature the action of a common, or public, or European opinion, as the best standing bulwark against wrong, but should beware of seeming to lay down the law of that opinion by her own authority, and thus running the risk of setting against her, and against right and justice, that general sentiment which ought to be, and generally would be, arrayed in their favour. I am persuaded that opinions of this colour are the only opinions which the country is disposed to approve. But I do not believe that on that account it is one whit less disposed than it has been at any time, to cast in its lot upon any fitting occasion with the cause it believes to be right."[21]

This is a sort of middle between Palmerstonism and Cobdenism. It repudiates the balance of power. It condemns isolated, single-handed war on behalf of weak nations against strong, and emphasizes the necessity of international co-operation. But it lays down no general rule of non-interference, it justifies diplomatic protest against the immoral treatment of one nation by another, and it admits that war may sometimes be right and necessary, even when no specifically British interest is directly involved.[22] It is probably as nearly a precise definition of Liberal policy as could be made in connection with a matter where precision is extremely difficult.

Ministers were more than once severely tested during their term of office. Lord Clarendon, the Foreign Secretary, made some attempt to suggest a general reduction of armaments. The British forces had been considerably diminished by the withdrawal of troops from the self-governing Colonies, and expenditure on both the war services had been cut down. Lord Clarendon's tentative advances were at least disinterested. He approached the French Emperor and Bismarck. Each waited for the other to begin, and on the 15th July, 1870, six months after the proposals were made, the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War supplied a tragically ironic comment on their futility. The British Government suggested mediation, but without success, and in another six months France was at the feet of her enemies. Sir Henry Bulwer, an old subordinate of Palmerston, was the only responsible statesman who suggested intervention on her behalf.[23] The quarrel was her own. If Bismarck had been dishonest, Napoleon III had been little better, and the French people had been as eager for war as the German. Ministers had no difficulty in maintaining a strict neutrality.

On two controversies arising out of the war they showed themselves as prompt and as resolute as any one could have wished. In order to prejudice France in the eyes of Europe, Bismarck published some proposals which the French Emperor had made to the King of Prussia a few years before for the annexation of Belgium to France. The independence of Belgium had been guaranteed by England, France, Prussia, Austria, and Russia in 1839, and this plan was as immoral in itself as it was dangerous to the peace of Europe. It was suggested that England was not concerned single-handed to enforce a treaty to which other Powers were parties. Gladstone was determined at least to attempt it. An ingenious treaty was contrived between Great Britain and the two belligerents, by which either France or Germany was to go to war in alliance with Great Britain, if the independence of Belgium was violated by the other. The House of Commons voted two millions of money and approved of an increase of the forces by 20,000 men. The treaty and the Parliamentary votes were sufficient proofs of the determination of the Government to defend the Belgians, and no hostile army set foot upon their soil. This was an intervention in a good cause, made without bluster, and it was justified by success.

The second occasion for strong action was a similar violation of an international agreement. By the treaty of Paris, which ended the Crimean War, Russia and Turkey had agreed to place no ships of war upon the Black Sea. This was a futile interference with what might almost be called the domestic concerns of the two countries, in an inland sea which was entirely surrounded by their own territories. But such as it was, it was made binding in most solemn terms. Russia could have obtained a release by diplomatic means without any difficulty. She preferred, in the crisis of the Franco-Prussian War, to announce that she intended to be no longer bounded by this restriction. This was an impudent breach of her engagement, made possible only by the difficulties of her associates. The English Government acted again with vigour and directness. Lord Granville[24] wrote to the British Ambassador at Petersburg in language which was really that of Gladstone: "It is quite evident that the effect of such doctrine, and of any proceeding which, with or without avowal, is founded upon it, is to bring the entire authority and efficacy of treaties under the discretionary control of each one of the Powers who may have signed them, the result of which would be the entire destruction of treaties in their essence."[25] Mr. Odo Russell got the support of Prussia by saying that England would fight, even if she had no allies,[26] and a conference in London resolved formally that no single nation could arrogate to itself the power of dispensing with a treaty. The obnoxious clause in the Treaty of Paris was then repealed. Here again the readiness to use force in support of moral rules was successful.

A third occasion for intervention arose when Germany required France to cede the two provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. Gladstone wished to procure a European protest against this transfer of territory without the assent of the inhabitants. "My opinion certainly is that the transfer of territory and inhabitants by mere force calls for the reprobation of Europe, and that Europe is entitled to utter it with good effect."[27] He did not suggest that England should step in single-handed, in the manner of Palmerston. It was Europe's duty as it was Europe's interest. "A matter of this kind cannot be regarded as in principle a question between the two belligerents only, but involves considerations of legitimate interest to all the Powers of Europe. It appears to bear on the Belgian question in particular. It is also a principle likely to be of great consequence in the eventual settlement of the Eastern question."[28] He apprehended "that this violent laceration and transfer is to lead us from bad to worse, and to be the beginning of a new series of European complications."[29] He was perfectly right. His aim could only be secured with the assistance of the neutral Powers, and the greatest of these had just shown how little she regarded rules of morality and the public opinion of Europe. Bismarck had indeed begun a new era, and the theory of compensation was being substituted for the theory of obligation. It was no longer "I keep my word, therefore you must keep yours," but "I will acquiesce in your breaking your word, if you will allow me to break mine." Gladstone's attempt to maintain the better system was prevented by his Cabinet, and with Russia imitating German contempt for morality, it was probably the wisest course to do nothing.

After these two demonstrations of their readiness to enforce moral rules where the circumstances required it, the Government showed that they were equally ready to observe moral rules even against their own material interest. The American Civil War had left them the onerous legacy of the Alabama claims. The Alabama was a privateer, which Palmerston and Russell, in spite of the protests of the American Ambassador, had allowed to sail from Birkenhead. In the service of the Confederate Government, she had inflicted great damage upon the shipping of the North, and after the conclusion of the war the American Government had claimed that the British Government should pay compensation for the consequences of their negligence. Their case was spoilt by the impudent inclusion of claims for remote injuries, including the whole cost of the war after the last defeat of the Confederate army in the field.[30] Palmerston and Lord John Russell had steadily refused to admit liability. Gladstone and Lord Granville had more wisdom and more real courage. The whole case was submitted to a Court of Arbitration at Geneva composed of representatives of the two disputants, Italy, Switzerland, and Brazil. Great Britain was held to be responsible, and damages were awarded. The American claims for direct injury were nine and a half millions. The award was for three and a quarter. This was perhaps the greatest act of the Government. For the first time in history, a great State, instead of asserting its claims by force, had agreed to be bound by the decision of an impartial tribunal, and had paid damages for its wrong-doing as if it had been a private person in a court of law. The cause of international morality advances slowly, and reaction is frequent and universal. But the disposition to subdue egoism to the common interest and to subordinate national vanity to moral rules grows steadily on the whole. The first important step in advance was made by the Liberal Government which submitted to the arbitration at Geneva.

  1. Morley's Life of Gladstone, ii. 431.
  2. Webb's History of Trade Unionism (1902), 495.
  3. Speeches, ii. 100.
  4. Hansard, III. cx. 464. Compare Viscount Duncan's speech on the Window Tax, ibid., 68.
  5. Ibid., III. li. 537.
  6. Speeches, on re-election to Parliament, 2nd November, 1852.
  7. Sartor Resartus (1833) Bk. III. c. v. Compare his Past and Present (1843) and Latter Day Pamphlets (1850).
  8. Thirty Years' Peace, iv. 454.
  9. Essay on Coleridge.
  10. Subjection of Women, c. i.
  11. Autobiography; Political Economy, Bk. V. c. xi.
  12. Sir Henry Craik, The State in its Relation to Education, 84, 85.
  13. Fortnightly Review (1865); reprinted in National and Social Problems (1908).
  14. England, Ireland, and America.
  15. Hansard, III. lxxii. 1016.
  16. Speeches, on the Coercion Bill, i. 308.
  17. Speeches, i. 425, 369 (1866).
  18. Hansard, III. cxciv. 2071.
  19. Ibid., 1955, 1963.
  20. See the Report of the Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the condition of education in England (1869-70). So little importance was attached to the education of girls that the Commission at first proposed to confine its work entirely to boys' schools!
  21. Morley's Gladstone, ii. 318.
  22. For a statement of Gladstone's views on war and the Manchester doctrine, see his speech at Edinburgh on the 17th March, 1880, quoted in Morley's Gladstone, iii. 182.
  23. Times, 25th September, 1870.
  24. He succeeded Lord Clarendon at the Foreign Office just before the outbreak of the war.
  25. Morley's Gladstone, ii. 350.
  26. Ibid., 353.
  27. Ibid., ii. 346.
  28. Morley's Gladstone, ii. 347.
  29. Ibid., 348.
  30. The Prime Minister estimated these at more than the whole National Debt (Lord Selborne's Memorials, II. i. 231.)