Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol II (1901).djvu/322

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Gladstone
Gladstone
310

to any general alteration of the law, the government were not indisposed to deal with the specific question of arrears which had been omitted from the act by the vote of the lords. A grave crisis occurred soon afterwards in Irish politics. On 28 April Lord Cowper, the lord-lieutenant, resigned on the ostensible ground of weak health. He was succeeded by Lord Spencer, who, unlike his predecessor, had a seat in the cabinet.

While the public were still speculating on the true reasons of this change, Gladstone announced on 3 May that Parnell and his colleagues had been released from custody, that an inquiry would be made into the cases of all persons detained on suspicion, and that, as a substitute for Forster's act, another bill would be introduced to strengthen the ordinary law. Forster resigned, and Lord Frederick Cavendish, Gladstone's intimate friend and nephew by marriage, was appointed to succeed him. On 5 May Forster explained the grounds of his resignation. He had been unable, he said, to concur in the opinion that the release of the suspected persons was justified, either by any satisfactory assurances from them or by the condition of Ireland. Gladstone, in reply, intimated that, in the opinion of the government, the peace of Ireland would be greatly furthered by an arrears bill, in which they might hope for the support of the Irish homerulers. If that reconciliation could be effected, it would be unreasonable to detain in prison men who might help in carrying it out.

These sanguine expectations were doomed to a terrible disappointment. On 6 May Lord Frederick Cavendish [q.v.] and Thomas Henry Burke [q. v.], the under-secretary, were murdered in the Phoenix Park. Forster made a chivalrous offer to return to Ireland and carry on the business of the castle, but this was not accepted, and (Sir) George Trevelyan became chief secretary. On 8 May the House of Commons at once adjourned after a few brief speeches, in which the representatives of all parties expressed their horror of the crime. Gladstone, speaking with an emotion which he hardly ever showed in public, deplored the loss of a man devoted to the best interests of Ireland.

On 11 May Gladstone attended the funeral of Lord Frederick Cavendish, near Chatsworth, and the same evening Sir William Harcourt introduced a very stringent bill for the prevention of crime in Ireland. As a set-off against this severe measure, which the home-rulers almost unanimously condemned, Gladstone, on 15 May, introduced his arrears bill. The object of this bill, confined to tenancies below the annual value of 30l., was to wipe out arrears of rent in Ireland altogether where the tenants were unable to pay them. The sum required for this purpose was estimated at 2,000,000l., of which Gladstone calculated that three-fourths could be obtained from the surplus of the Irish church, while the rest would have to come from the consolidated fund. But before this bill or the crimes bill could be seriously discussed, the opposition raised a debate upon what they called the treaty of Kilmainham. The opposition had insisted that Parnell's release was the result of a bargain by which he undertook henceforth to support the liberal party in parliament and to control outrages in Ireland. Correspondence, which it was insisted could bear this interpretation, had been produced. Mr. Balfour brought the whole subject before parliament by moving the adjournment of the house, and declared that the government had incurred indelible infamy. Gladstone gave a positive assurance that the prisoners had been released because, in the opinion of her majesty's ministers, there was no sufficient ground for detaining them further. He protested that there had been no bargain. An angry debate followed; but no division was taken, and the discussion was not renewed. The house then proceeded with the crimes bill, and sat, for the first time in thirty-six years, on Derby day. Mr. Dillon took this opportunity to make an elaborate defence of boycotting, in what Gladstone called 'a heartbreaking speech.' Gladstone described boycotting as combined intimidation by means of starvation and ruin. The sanction of it, he said, was 'the murder which was not to be denounced.' After the drastic application of 'urgency' rules, and the suspension of Irish members in a batch, on the ground that, according to (Sir) Lyon (afterwards Lord) Playfair [q. v. Suppl.], the chairman of committees, they had been guilty of combined obstruction, the crimes bill was forced through committee early in July.

On the 7th of that month, at the stage of report, the government suffered defeat. Gladstone had promised Parnell in committee that he would not insist upon the clause which authorised the police to search dwelling-houses for arms at night. He accordingly proposed to omit it. Several liberals, including Mr. George Russell and Mr. F. W. Lambton, joined the conservatives in protesting against this concession, and the government were put in a minority of thirteen—the Parnellites, for whom the concession was made, refusing to vote. Gladstone