Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol II (1901).djvu/310

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Gladstone
Gladstone
298

The session of 1870 was partially, as the session of 1869 had been wholly, an Irish one. On 15 Feb. Gladstone introduced his first Irish land bill, a mild and moderate measure, founded on the report of the Devon commission, which had been issued five-and-twenty years before. The bill gave legal effect to the Ulster custom, i.e. tenant right in the northern counties of Ireland, and, under conditions, to other similar customs elsewhere. It gave the tenant compensation for disturbance, if he had been evicted for any other reason than not paying his rent. It also gave him compensation for improvements, and reversed in his favour the old presumption that they had been made by the landlord. It authorised the issue of loans from the treasury for enabling the tenants to purchase their holdings, thus carrying a step further the policy of the Bright clauses. Only eleven members voted against the second reading. The lords altered it a good deal in committee; but they abandoned most of their amendments on report, and the bill passed substantially as it was brought in. Gladstone had little to do with the great education bill of this year, which established school boards and compulsory attendance throughout the country. He left it almost entirely to William Edward Forster [q. v.], though he occasionally made concessions to the church which seriously offended dissenters. He was, in truth, a denominationalist, and had no sympathy with the unsectarian teaching of religion given in board schools.

The great event of 1870 was the war between Prussia and France. The British government preserved a strict neutrality. But when the draft treaty between Count Bismarck and Monsieur Benedetti was published in the 'Times' on 25 July, ten days after the outbreak of the war, Gladstone and Lord Granville, who had just succeeded Lord Clarendon as foreign secretary, entered into negotiations with both the belligerent powers for maintaining the independence of Belgium. The draft treaty, a scandalous document, communicated to 'The Times' by Bismarck himself, purported to assure France of Prussia's aid in the conquest of Belgium, whose neutrality had been under a joint European guarantee since 1839. On 9 and 11 Aug. respectively, Prussia and France both pledged themselves to England that this neutrality should be respected, as, in the result, it was. But the only step which the government asked the House of Commons to take was an increase of the army estimate by two millions sterling and 20,000 men. In October of this year Gladstone took what was for a prime minister the singular course of contributing to the 'Edinburgh Review' an article on England, France, and Germany. In it he freely criticised the conduct of both foreign powers, defended his own government, and congratulated the country on being divided from the complication of continental politics by 'the streak of silver sea which travellers so often and so justly execrate.' We know, on Gladstone's own authority, that this was the only article written by him which he intended to be, in fact as well as in form, anonymous. But anonymity is difficult for prime mini- sters. The authorship was disclosed by the 'Daily News' on 5 Nov.

The administrative history of 1870 is important. On 31 Aug. all the public departments, except the foreign office and the education office, were opened to competition. At the same time the dual control of the army by the war office and the horse guards was abolished, the commander-in-chief being for the first time placed under the secretary of state. Just before the end of the year Gladstone announced the release of all the Fenian prisoners in English gaols on the condition that they remained for the rest of their lives outside the United Kingdom. The condition was severely criticised, and it may be doubted whether the discharged convicts would not have been less dangerous to England in Ireland than they became in the United States.

The year 1871 opened with the Black Sea conference, which met in London on 17 Jan. It was called to consider the clause in the treaty of Paris which provided for the neutralisation of the Black Sea. This the Czar announced his intention of repudiating. Gladstone was accused of allowing Russia to tear up the treaty, but, as a matter of fact, Lord Granville refused to recognise the right claimed by Russia, and it was the conference which put an end to a restriction which could not have been permanently enforced against a great power.

The first and chief business of the session was the army regulation bill, which, among other things, abolished the purchase of commissions in the army. The bill was strenuously resisted by the military members of the house, and 'the Colonels,' as they were called, initiated the system of obstruction, which was afterwards more artistically developed by the Irish members. In the House of Lords the bill was met by a dilatory motion demanding a more complete scheme of army reform. This, after a strong speech from Lord Salisbury, was carried by a ma-