Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol II (1901).djvu/24

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Churchill
Churchill
12

the Gladstonian view with regard to the admission of this gentleman. Lord Randolph, prompted by his two colleagues, gave vigorous expression to the angry conservative sentiment on this subject, and provoked so violent an outcry against the alleged profanation of the parliamentary oath that Sir Stafford Northcote was compelled to abandon his attitude of compromise. Whatever may be said on the merits of the embittered controversy which arose over Bradlaugh's seat, it showed at least that the fourth party had correctly gauged the temper of the House of Commons, since the line they adopted was that which was supported by the majority of the chamber, even against the influence of the government. In other matters Lord Randolph Churchill displayed great activity during this session. He threw himself into the discussion of the ministerial policy for Ireland, and assailed the Irish compensation for disturbance bill with much vehemence. He described the measure as 'the first step in a social war ; an attempt to raise the masses against the propertied classes.' He also took part in the debates on the budget, and indeed on most of the matters brought before the house. The oratorical activity of the fourth party was prodigious, and it was stated by the Marquis of Hartington that their 'leader' had delivered no less than seventy-four speeches between the opening of the session in April and 20 Aug. Their efforts had done much to develop the rising art of party obstruction, and had partially wrecked the ministerial programme of legislation. By the autumn of 1880 Lord Randolph had decisively established his position, though he was not as yet taken quite seriously by the party chiefs or the newspapers. ' The rise of a small body of conservative free-lances below the gangway,' said the 'Times' in its review of the session on 7 Sept. 1880, 'of whom Lord Randolph Churchill and Mr. Gorst are the chiefs, is a curious incident, and has originated the half-serious nickname of the "Fourth Party." ' But in the ensuing recess the young orator deepened the impression which he had already made, and showed that he was a politician who had to be reckoned with. At Preston on 21 Dec. 1880 he delivered an address on the Irish question. It was 'the first of Lord Randolph's speeches which had the great advantage of being reported verbatim in any metropolitan newspaper' (Jennings, Speeches of Lord Randolph Churchill, i. 11), and it 'at once attracted great and general attention, for the dangers inherent in the increasing growth of the Parnellite party had never before been so irresistibly brought home to the public mind.' Lord Randolph, from his association with the government of Ireland during his father's viceroyalty, was able to elucidate the position of affairs with much knowledge and, as events proved, with foresight and sagacity. He declared that the refusal of Gladstone's government to renew Lord Beaconsfield's Peace Preservation Act would inevitably lead to a new era of coercion. He prophesied that this coercion would be a failure, and that in the result the union would be in jeopardy. In this speech, as in his Woodstock election address, he struck the note which, through some occasional variations due to the temporary exigencies of party tactics, may be said to have dominated his opinions on Irish politics. He cannot fairly be charged with any wavering on the central question of the union. But, while asserting that no compromise with home rule could be admitted, he also contended that in the administration of Ireland conciliation should be pushed to its furthest limits, that coercion by itself could never remedy the evils of the country, and that a large measure of local self-government should be accorded to the Irish people. In a great speech at Manchester on 1 Dec. 1881, when an audience of over twelve thousand persons assembled to hear him, he insisted that 'the first and highest duty of a government is to prevent revolution rather than to suppress it, to sustain law rather than to revive it, to preserve order rather than to restore it.'

It was as a determined opponent of repeal that Lord Randolph fiercely attacked the so-called 'Kilmainham Treaty' and the alliance between Gladstonians and Parnellites in 1883 and 1884. Speaking at Blackpool on 24 Jan. 1884, he said : 'Mr. Gladstone has a weakness for effecting his objects by acts of parliament ; the Irish a slight preference for more rapid and violent action. A little difference as to method, you see, but a precisely similar result. These two parties are now at this moment preparing to meet parliament with a demand for a repeal of the union.' It was often urged as a reproach against the speaker that, in spite of these declarations, he cultivated the closest relations with the Parnellite members during 1884 and 1885, and used the utmost efforts to detach them from the liberals, and to secure their support for the opposition. Liberal critics, and some of the nationalists themselves, asserted that in his frequent private conversations with the Parnellite members he had given them to understand that he would be prepared, in certain circumstances, to support a scheme