Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol II (1901).djvu/300

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Gladstone
Gladstone
288

and almost unprecedented severity throughout Europe. The sufferings of the troops in the Crimea were terrible, and public feeling rose high against the government. Roebuck's motion for a committee of inquiry, although Gladstone attacked it with great energy, was carried by the enormous majority of 157 on 29 Jan. 1855, and Aberdeen's ministry resigned.

The queen sent for Lord Derby : Palmerston, Gladstone, and Sidney Herbert were invited, but refused to join him. Eventually the old government was reconstructed, with Lord Palmerston as premier in place of Lord Aberdeen. Gladstone remained for a few weeks in office. On 22 Feb., however, he resigned, together with Sir James Graham, Herbert, and Cardwell. Their reason was that Palmerston had agreed to accept Roebuck's committee, although he was himself opposed to it, and had given them an assurance that he would resist it. They also took the line that the committee, which included no member of the government, was unconstitutional, inasmuch as it tended to relieve the executive of a responsibility which belonged only to ministers of the crown.

Lord Palmerston, immediately after the formation of his government, sent Lord John Russell on a special mission to Vienna, to negotiate terms of peace. The effort failed; but from that time Gladstone ceased to defend the war, and contended that its ultimate objects had been secured. The unfair pretensions of Russia were abated, and the destruction of her preponderant power in the Black Sea was not a sufficient ground for continuing the struggle. On 30 March 1856 the treaty of Paris, which terminated the war, was signed, and on 5 May Gladstone joined in the general congratulations of the government upon the establishment of an honourable peace. But he pointed out that the neutralisation of the Black Sea involved a 'series of pitfalls,' and no one acquainted with this speech can have been surprised at his acquiescence in the removal of that article from the treaty when he was himself prime minister fifteen years afterwards.

In the autumn of 1856 Palmerston deemed it necessary to punish China for an alleged insult to the British flag, and he sanctioned the bombardment of Canton. Two days after the opening of parliament (on 24 Feb. 1857) Cobden moved a resolution condemning the bombardment [see Temple, Henry John, Viscount Palmerston]. He was supported by Gladstone, who, true to the principles he had laid down in 1840, severely denounced Palmerston's high-handed treatment of a weak nation. The government were defeated by a majority of sixteen (3 March). Palmerston at once dissolved, and his Chinese policy was emphatically endorsed by the nation. His principal opponents, including Cobden, Bright, Milner-Gibson, and W. J. Fox, lost their seats. Gladstone was more fortunate; the university of Oxford did not put him to the trouble of a contest.

In the first session of the new parliament of 1857 Gladstone's main effort was in resistance to the bill for establishing the divorce court. He opposed it with greater vigour and pertinacity than he displayed in resisting any other measure before or afterwards. In his speech upon the second reading he took the high line that marriage is absolutely indissoluble, and that no human authority could set aside a union of which the sanction was divine; divorce was inconsistent with the character of a Christian country. The bill, however, was carried by large majorities. While it was in committee Gladstone came into frequent collision with the attorney-general, Sir Richard Bethell [q. v.] (afterwards Lord Westbury), who had charge of it. Intellectually the combatants were well matched. Gladstone supported Drummond's amendment, which would have given to a woman the right to divorce on the same terms as a man. But this proposition was rejected by nearly two to one. The only concession which Gladstone extorted from the government was that no clergyman should be compelled to celebrate the marriage of a divorced person. Gladstone and the high church party always maintained that the measure was wrong in principle and pernicious in its consequences; but he felt that to repeal it was out of the question.

In February 1858 Gladstone supported a hostile amendment to Palmerston's bill introduced after the Orsini plot to make conspiracy to murder felony, punishable with penal servitude, instead of a misdemeanour, punishable only with a short term of imprisonment. He maintained that to pass such a measure, at such a time, involved moral complicity with the repressive acts of despotic monarchies. The amendment was carried by a majority of nineteen, and on 22 Feb. Palmerston announced his resignation. The queen sent for Lord Derby, who again applied to Gladstone. Gladstone, however, refused the invitation, and a purely conservative government was again formed. But when in May Lord Ellenborough, the president of the board of control, resigned, Lord Derby pressed the office upon Gladstone, and Disraeli entreated him to accept it. If he had complied with this invitation he would have been the last president of