Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol II (1901).djvu/296

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Gladstone
Gladstone
284

main principles of this great financial reform were that there should be no prohibition of any foreign goods ; that the duties on raw materials of manufacture should be nominal, and that where the process of manufacture was not on importation complete, they should be as small as possible. No work of Gladstone's life, except perhaps the settlement of the succession duty in 1853, was more arduous than this, and for a time it impaired his eyesight. The budget also comprised a very considerable reduction of the duties on foreign corn, although the principle of protection, and even the method of the sliding scale, were retained. Lord John Russell moved an amendment in favour of a fixed duty, but was defeated by a majority of 123.

Throughout 1842 industrial distress was acute, and at the opening of the session in 1843 Lord Howick moved for a committee to inquire into the causes of it. He attacked Peel's new settlement of the corn laws as inadequate. Gladstone in reply stated that the government were not prepared to abandon the principle of the corn law while protection was applied to other articles of commerce. When Charles Pelham Villiers, on 16 May, moved that the corn laws should be repealed, Gladstone confined himself to the plea that it was too soon to alter the elaborate provisions of the year before. On 11 May Lord Fitzgerald, president of the board of control, died, and was succeeded by Lord Ripon. On 19 May 1843 Gladstone assumed Ripon's office of president of the board of trade, and took his seat in the cabinet for the first time. On 13 June Lord John Russell again moved to substitute a fixed duty for the sliding scale. This time Gladstone energetically protested against the unsettling effect of these constant proposals for change, and Lord John's motion was defeated by a majority of ninety-nine.

The government was steadily going in the direction of free trade. Before the end of the session Gladstone took another step towards it by carrying a bill to remove the restrictions which had hitherto impeded the export of machinery. In 1844, as president of the board of trade, he introduced and carried the first general railway bill, which was a measure of great importance. It provided what were known as parliamentary trains for the accommodation of the poorer classes. The fares charged for third-class passengers by these trains were not to exceed a penny a mile, the trains were to stop at every station, and the speed was not to be less than twelve miles an hour.

On 28 Jan. 1845, a few days before the meeting of parliament, Gladstone resigned office on the ground that the government proposed to increase from 9,000 to 39,000l. a year the grant to Maynooth College in Ireland for the education of Roman catholic priests ; to make the grant permanent instead of annual ; and to make the board of works in Ireland liable for the execution of repairs in the college. Gladstone felt that this policy was inconsistent with the principles of his book on 'Church and State,' because it recognised the right and duty of the government to support more religions than one. Most politicians regarded his reasons for resignation as inadequate, and Peel did all he could to keep him at the board of trade ; but Gladstone was not to be moved, believing that his public character was at stake. Having resigned, however, he felt himself at liberty to support Peel's proposal, arguing that, as grants were made by parliament for other religious purposes not connected with the church of England, it was unjust to exclude the church of the majority in Ireland. The grant to Maynooth was part of Peel's general scheme for improving university education in Ireland. He also proposed the foundation of unsectarian institutions, which Sir Robert Inglis called the 'godless colleges.' These also Gladstone defended, on the grounds of justice to Ireland and the interests of higher education. Before he resigned Gladstone had prepared another tariff, still further reducing the number of taxable articles imported from abroad. After his resignation e employed his leisure in writing a very important pamphlet, which he called 'Remarks upon recent Commercial Legislation' (London, 1845, 8vo ; 3rd edit, same year). This tract is in truth a free-trade manifesto and is historically connected with the great change of the succeeding year. Gladstone argues that it should be the first duty of a sound financier to encourage the growth of commerce by removing all burdens from the materials of industry. In the winter of this year (1845) Gladstone, while out shooting, injured the first finger of his left hand so seriously that it had to be amputated. In December 1845 Peel decided upon the total and immediate repeal of the corn laws. His colleague, Lord Stanley, withdrew from the government on learning this decision. Peel thereupon resigned ; but Lord John Russell, who was now wholly committed to free trade, was unable to form a government, and Peel resumed office on 20 Dec. At the same time Gladstone succeeded Lord Stanley as secretary of state for the colonies. His appointment vacated his seat for Newark, but he did not offer himself for reelection. The Duke of Newcastle was a