Gladstone and the Irish Nation

By J. L. Hammond | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXVIII
THE PLAN OF CAMPAIGN, 1887

"Mr. Gladstone has reserved for his closing days a conspiracy against the honour of Britain and the welfare of Ireland more startingly base and nefarious than any of those other numerous designs and plots which, during the last quarter of a century, have occupied his imagination."

From Churchill's Election Address, June, 1886.

The Home Rule Bill was introduced on April 8, 1886. The second reading debate began on May 10, and ended on June 11, when the Bill was condemned by 341 votes to 311. Parliament was dissolved and the General Election was held in July. The Government were severely defeated for in Great Britain only 193 Home Rulers were returned. Thus in five months Gladstone's plan for solving the Irish question by Home Rule was formed, discussed, and rejected, first by the House of Commons, and then by the country.

The chief impression made at the time was the impression of crushing defeat. Most people thought of the collapse of the Liberal party and the disaster in which Gladstone's long career seemed to have reached its end. The Spectator, rejoicing in the general verdict, could not refrain from a lament over its personal aspect, drawing a sad picture of the "great consul deserted by his legions." To-day it is more natural to be surprised, not that so many Liberals deserted Gladstone, but that so many more stood by him. For this was no ordinary occasion. The electorate had to pronounce on a question which to the great majority was novel and disturbing. What it had known of the earlier history of the Irish question had not attracted its sympathies to the Irish people, and Liberals had a grudge of their own. The view taken by some of the party managers of the electioneering value of the Irish vote was exaggerated, as the Annual Register

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