Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol II (1901).djvu/23

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Churchill
Churchill
11

constituencies of which Woodstock was a notable example. The speech was lively and vigorous, and held out hopes which were not immediately fulfilled. For the first four years of the parliament of 1874 Lord Randolph's attendance in the House of Commons was irregular. Much of his time was occupied in prolonged visits to Dublin, where his father, the Duke of Marlborough, for whom he always cherished a deep and sincere affection, was then residing as lord-lieutenant of Ireland. In these visits, and in conversations with the able and statesmanlike duke and the kindly and humane duchess, whose Irish distress fund he assisted to administer, Lord Randolph acquired the intimate knowledge of Ireland and the shrewd understanding of the Irish character which he subsequently exhibited in his transactions with the nationalist members in 1884 and 1885, and in the home-rule campaign of 1886. It was not till the session of 1878 that he became a conspicuous parliamentary figure, when he suddenly pushed himself to the front by adopting an audaciously independent attitude. On 7 March 1878 he attracted general attention by a furious onslaught upon some of his own leaders, the respectable, though not brilliant, subordinate members of the Disraeli government, whom he subsequently described as the 'old gang.' He selected for special attack George Sclater-Booth (afterwards Lord Basing) [q.v.], the president of the local government board, vituperating him, in a style that afterwards became characteristic, as the owner of one of those 'double-barrelled names' which, he said, were always a badge of intellectual mediocrity. In supporting the opposition amendments to Sclater-Booth's county government bill, Lord Randolph maintained that he was giving utterance to 'the last wail of the departing tory party' in protest against 'this most radical and democratic measure, this crowning dishonour of tory principles.' So far was he from the tory democracy of later days that he seemed disposed at this period to regard himself as the champion of the rigid and orthodox conservatism which, as he represented, was in danger of betrayal from the weakness of its ministerial chiefs. His antagonism, however, to the 'old gang' does not seem to have extended to the prime minister, and his difference with the front bench was at this time limited to domestic questions. He made no attack on Lord Beaconsfield's foreign and Indian policy, and steadily supported the ministry by his vote in the various divisions on external affairs during the last year of the administration. In his election address in 1880 he declared that he was strongly in favour of the foreign policy of the government. 'I believe,' he said, 'that the safety of this empire can only be secured by a firm adherence on the part of the country to the course pursued by the present advisers of the crown.' The address contained a note-worthy statement on Irish policy. 'The party led by Mr. Parnell, which has for its object the disintegration of the United Kingdom, must be resisted at all costs. At the same time I do not see how the internal peace of Ireland can be permanently secured without a judicious reconsideration of the laws affecting the tenure of land.'

Returned for Woodstock for the second time in April 1880 he speedily made his mark in the new parliament. The condition of the conservatives in the House of Commons supplied him with an opportunity of which he took advantage with a boldness and an ability that soon rendered him one of the most prominent actors on the political stage. The crushing defeat at the polls in the general election of 1880, following a long period of office, had disorganised the conservative opposition. The rank and file were discouraged, and the leaders did little to raise their spirits. Lord Beaconsfield, weighed down by ill-health, had practically retired. Lord Salisbury was still almost unknown to the masses, and Sir Stafford Northcote, the leader of the conservatives in the commons, was too much inclined to temporise and conciliate to satisfy the younger and more ardent spirits of the party. It was in these circumstances that Randolph Churchill came forward, as the self-appointed exponent of a toryism more resolute and aggressive than that which the official leaders mildly asserted against the serried ranks of the liberals, headed as the latter were by such formidable champions as Gladstone, Mr. Chamberlain, and Sir William Harcourt. In these attacks he was aided by a very small band of faithful henchmen, who acted together with so much constancy that they received, as early as the first session of this parliament, the nickname of the 'Fourth Party.' The regular members of the group were Lord Randolph Churchill, Sir Henry Drummond Wolff, and Mr. (afterwards Sir John) Gorst. Mr. Arthur Balfour sometimes joined them, and they obtained the occasional cohesion of Earl Percy and one or two other members. The fourth party made its power felt at the very beginning of the session, when they took up the case of Charles Bradlaugh [q. v. Suppl.], the agnostic member for Northampton. Sir Stafford Northcote was disposed to accept