« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
was facetious on the subject of the remarks I had made about Good Friday and Easter Sunday. He said that people eat on Good Fridays and Sundays as well as on other days, but the honourable gentlemen entirely misunderstood my statement. It was that the last three days of the financial year had been days on which business was suspended, and that the consequence had been, not that there was nothing ready for consumption upon those days, but that what was brought into the country upon those days could not be cleared, and the revenue arising from it fell upon the first days of the present year." This statement may pass on its own merits, but it cannot for an instant be accepted as an explanation of the previous statement to which it stands in irreconcilable contrariety. In this latter statement the Chancellor says that the three days from which the revenue suffered were Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and the Saturday intervening the last three days of the financial year, the Customs revenue accruing from which could not be collected till the first days of the current year. But in that case, what has leap-year to do with the calculation? Or what was the use of referring to two Good Fridays and two Easter Sundays? One Good Friday and one Easter Sunday are enough, if only they fall with the intervening Saturday on the last three days of the year. The fact is, that it was not Mr Baring who misunderstood Mr Gladstone, but Mr Gladstone who had misunderstood the heads of his departments; and the contradiction between his first statement and his second is chiefly interesting as an illustration of his extreme slipperiness in argument. It is impossible to fix his own words upon him. He denies them. He eats them. He has always a little bottle of some mucilaginous compound on the table before him, which he tosses off in the midst of his speaking, sometimes in the middle of a sentence, as a coachman tosses off his dram.
It lubricates not only the speaker's throat, but also his words, which are the oiliest and slipperiest ever heard in the House of Commons.
If it be far from satisfactory to know that so wild a financier and so reckless an orator has succeeded by his arts in carrying through the House of Commons an unsafe Budget, and has thus acquired a prestige to which he is not entitled, there was one discovery made in the Budget debates which may serve as an antidote to this bane. If Mr Gladstone was gathering his laurels, there was another financier, trained in the same school of statesmanship, who proved for the first time his ability to give him a fall. The position. taken by Sir Stafford Northcote, on the one side of the House, is as remarkable as the position permitted to Mr Gladstone on the other. Sir Stafford has little of the Chancellor's passion; and, though he speaks well, is not to be compared with Mr Gladstone as an orator. But as a financier his superiority is indubitable. His financial expositions are as clear, though not so flowery, as Mr Gladstone's; his mastery of details is complete; he is extremely ready in reply; and it is enough to say that the Opposition correctly estimated his powers when they pitted him against Gladstone himself. On him fell the chief burden of dealing with the arithmetic of the Budget, while Mr Disraeli confined himself chiefly to the political questions involved in it. What was perhaps most conspicuous in Sir Stafford Northcote's speeches were the accuracy of his statement, the candour of his sentiment, and the solidity of his views. All this showed in most favourable contrast to Mr Gladstone, and took with the House of Commons. We really cannot remember the name of any statesman who has made in a single session so great an advance as the late Secretary of the Treasury. Previously he was allowed but a secondary position in debate, and in that position he was known as an able but dull speaker, whose speeches it would be more profit
able to read than pleasant to hear. Assigned the post of honour in the financial debates, he shone; the House of Commons never thinned when he rose, but rather filled; and he never once spoke without giving the Budget and the Chancellor fatal thrusts. The authority thus acquired by a sound financier is, we say, some recompense for the temporary triumph of Mr Gladstone. Sir Stafford Northcote will prove to be a most valuable auxiliary; and in spite of Mr Gladstone's declaration that there can be no more ambitious or comprehensive budgets, from which we might infer that finance will henceforth move on smoothly, it is likely that his assistance will be much needed. When Mr Gladstone made the sweeping assertion that there can be no more ambitious budgets, we can only remember that he has hundreds of times made equally sweeping assertions which have proved to be false, and which he has seen fit to repudiate. For the future, when he makes a sweeping assertion, we shall begin to think that the opposite must be true. In the present case, however, he gave a reason for his statement. He said, in that apology for himself, delivered on the occasion of the last debate on the Budget, that the repeal of the paper-duties was the last sacrifice to the freedom of trade. It was the closing of the chapter. There were no more restrictions to be removed. Protection was all gone. Finance, therefore, was perfected, and there could be no more grand and comprehensive budgets. The reason refutes itself. It is not the case that all restrictions are removed. There are duties on tea, on sugar, on malt, on spirits, on tobacco, even on corn, which the ambitious Chancellor may choose to remove. There are not many articles on which he can remove the duties, but he can raise the broad question as to the incidence of taxation, how far it should fall on the rich, and how far on the poor, how far it should be direct, how far indirect. We cannot help thinking
that if Mr Bright, who propounded some peculiar doctrines as to the imposition of a tax to the extent of 8s. per cent on all realised property, were Chancellor of the Exchequer, he would project a very comprehensive Budget. So would any of the financial reformers of Liverpool, at the head of whom stands a namesake of our Chancellor, Mr Robertson Gladstone. While such men exist, while they have a chance of coming into office, and while we see that Mr Gladstone is gradually approximating to their views, it is nonsense to tell us that ambitious budgets are impossible, for protection is no more. Ambitious budgets we expect, as long as there are ambitious Chancellors; and we rejoice to know that there are men rising in the House of Commons able to deal with these budgets as they deserve.
On one strong point in these discussions we have not yet said a word. We refer to the settlement of the feud between the two Houses of Parliament as to their respective rights and privileges in financial legislation. The sting of Mr Gladstone's Budget speech was in the tail of it, and was exhibited in one small sentence. He had for three hours amused the House of Commons with a florid exposition of our financial necessities, and when everybody fancied that he had little more to say and was about to sit down amid the shower of roses with which he usually strews his perorations, he announced in the quietest manner the order in which he intended to lay his plans before the House. He would first propose a series of resolutions, and then he would work all these resolutions into a single bill. He made no reference to the House of Lords, and there were few persons who at the moment saw that, by the instrument of a single bill, the wily Chancellor intended to flout the Upper House. His proposition was indeed strictly legitimate, and whether the conduct of the House of Lords last year were 66 a gigantic innovation," or were, as we believe,
according to rule, Mr Gladstone's bill could not affect the precedent, but only steered clear of it. The precedent is there established for ever; the gigantic innovation is unredressed; and the House of Commons has done no more to assert its rights than the little boy who, on being told that he must not say naughty words, silently moves his lips as if the naughty words were there. The triumph which the supporters of Mr Gladstone have thus secured, is one of the smallest that can be conceived. If it satisfies the wounded vanity of the House of Commons, we are glad to hear it, and have some cause to congratulate ourselves on the moderation of our public men. It would have been but graceful if the Government, since they chose to reap the benefit of the wise legislation of the House of Lords in last session, had refrained from asking the Peers to repeal the paperduties in a manner which exhibited irritation rather than gratitude for the benefit conferred. But it is the misfortune of a weak Government that it cannot afford to be magnanimous. It is a sign of weakness that it should be irritable.
Nothing is more true than the Scripture" To him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken that which he seemeth to have." It is the fate of a weak Government to grow in weakness, and of a strong Opposition to grow in strength. We do not know whether in the records of any session of Parliament a Government was known to have sustained so many and so humiliating defeats as the present one. Their support of any measure has almost always been disastrous. And it was not
merely on questions which perhaps never came before the Government collectively, and upon which some individual minister may on the spur of the moment have indicated the opinion of himself and his colleagues, that they suffered defeat; they were defeated on Cabinet questions. The decision on the Galway Contract was not that of a particular minister, it was a decision reviewed and confirmed by the Cabinet. They adopted it in all its force. Yet a few nights after the repeal of the paper-duties had been decreed by the House of Commons, the Government were forced to eat their leek, and to accede to the motion of Mr Gregory that a select committee should be appointed to inquire into the wisdom of the decision at which Ministers had arrived. Mr Disraeli did not miss the opportunity, but distinctly pointed out that here was a question of confidence, and yet the Government meekly consented to let a select committee question its decision and override its policy. It was a just retribution and a symptom of inevitable decay. It was the former, for it amounted to a confession that, after all their calumnies,* there was a case for inquiry ; that the Tories might not have been so very far wrong, nor the Whigs so rigidly correct, as had been imagined. Indeed, after the statement of Lord Eglinton in the House of Lords, when the question of the Galway Contract came on for discussion there, it would be impossible for any but interested placehunters to cast a reflection upon the conduct of the Tory Government, which is responsible for the subsidy. The best and most popular viceroy that Ireland has ever
* Mr Disraeli showed with great force that slander has been one of the chief weapons used by the Whigs against the Tory party for the last ten years. The Liberal newspapers were silly enough to reply that Mr Disraeli was the last man who ought to have brought that accusation against the Whigs, for he himself owed his first success in politics to his satirical genius displayed in the celebrated attacks against Peel. But that reply only proves the truth of Mr Disraeli's accusation, for it proves that the Liberals do not understand the difference between invective and slander, sarcasm and defamation. The Whigs have a right to calumniate because a Tory excels in satire !
had, Lord Eglinton, "had no hesitation in saying, that he approved the Galway Contract from the first, and that he was mainly answerable for it." He then described, in his own frank way, the various steps by which he, as Lord-Lieutenant, was led to recommend the Galway line of packets to the Treasury; and his speech is so able, that we could wish he contributed more frequently to the debates in Parliament-so conclusive, that it leaves little to be said on either side of the question. We would hope that by this time the calumnies of the Whigs, in reference to the Galway Contract, have been not only scotched, but killed, and have lost their interest. If it is not so, however, we are content to refer the disputant to Lord Eglinton's short speech, which will be found in the Times of June 4th.
friends into open rebellion. Last of all, the division on the bill for the abolition of church-rates shows triumphantly how the current. of principle has set. The triumph, indeed, of the Tory party, in that division, is much greater than appears at first sight from the numbers. It is doubtless a great thing that, after the successes attained in session after session by the enemies of the Church, they should now be driven back so effectually that they cannot get their bill passed through the House of Commons. But there is more to be said of the Tory victory, and the Speaker of the House of Commons said it. He stated that he gave his vote with the Noes, because he had observed that, though the numbers in the division list were equal, a majority of the members were in favour of a settlement of the question different from that of Sir John Trelawney's bill. Virtually, therefore, the opposition to the views of the Liberation Society was greater than appeared. It is an immense triumph, which shows most forcibly that the country is with the Opposition, and that the Tory reaction is becoming stronger and stronger. It has astounded the Whigs, who, perhaps, will now learn humility, and begin to believe that the success of the Tories has some little foundation in principle. It will incite our political friends to renewed efforts, and prelude the way to still more signal victories.
The consent of the Government to Mr Gregory's motion was not only a just retribution for their slanders; it was, we have said, a symptom of inevitable decay. The humiliation of conceding the committee was so great, that nothing but an overwhelming Opposition could have induced them to yield. The Opposition has indeed become overwhelming, partly through the gain of the Tories in recent elections, partly through the dissensions of the Whigs in the House of Commons, and the imbecility of their policy. Their financial policy has disgusted all prudent men; their party management has driven their Irish
THE DISRUPTION OF THE UNION.
WE are doubtful whether the indignation of the American Unionists at our imputed want of sympathy is simulated or real. It is possible that they expect to find a cry so popular as abuse of England is sure to be very convenient at the present juncture. But we are assured by journals and correspondents that the feeling of injury is universal, and that no subsequent policy which we may adopt, and which may be more in harmony with their sense of what is due to them from us, will avail to restore us to their favour. And prepared as we are to allow for the inevitable supremacy of passion over reason in a time of national agitation, and in a country where the impulses of the many swamp the logic of the few, we think the present outcry unreasonable beyond all precedent. For in what cause are our sympathy and co-operation demanded? Not in the cause of the happiness or welfare of the American people: for these our friendly feelings might have been reasonably invoked; but it has never been shown that these are threatened by secession. It is demanded of us that we should be as anxious as Americans themselves are for the stability of their political institutions. And, even in this case, we are not called on to sympathise with the American people, but with one section of the people against another section equally entitled to our regard, which declares that a continuance of the Union is contrary to its interests and happiness. Thus the only way in which we could meet the requirements of the North would be by aiding nineteen millions to maintain a confederacy from which nine millions are anxious to withdraw. Before such claims can be recognised, it must be shown that secession is contrary either to the interests of the American people, to our own interests,
to some great principle of
right; and, until this is done, they would, in any case, be unreasonable, but in the present case especially so. For the Union was framed on the ruins of British authority; and, to judge from the language used by Americans ever since, they consider the establishment of their independence as the issue from a gloomy and grinding tyranny into perfect freedom. If the jubilant outcries which, from that time to the present, have resounded, in and out of season, through the States, without any risk of producing satiety, at least at home, are to be accepted as evidence of the facts, it would appear that England's rule of her colonies was an oppressive and barbarous despotism, and that freedom existed there only in the breasts of a suffering people till the happy moment, when, flinging off the yoke, the new nation sprang forward on its unrivalled career, leaving its ancient oppressors immeasurably behind in all that constitutes the greatness and happiness of a people. This is what American oratory, parliamentary stump, or post-prandial-what American newspapers, American histories, and American demeanour generally— have meant in their incessant and innumerable references to their condition as a colony, and as an independent nation. In these sentiments England has good-naturedly acquiesced; at least, she has not set herself in any way to contradict them. Yet, while granting that the extent and importance of the transatlantic colonies were such as to entitle them to an independent existence, that they have grown great and prosperous in independence, and that the separation is to be lamented neither by them nor by us, yet it cannot be supposed that we have heard with particular pleasure the vaunts, the glorifications of themselves, and the depreciation of European in