Gladstone and the Irish Nation

By J. L. Hammond | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
AFTER 1874

The election of 1874 had so decisive an influence on Gladstone's later career that it is necessary to understand the mood in which it left him. He had been at the head of the first Government to be formed after the enfranchisement of the town workman. He had had as his colleagues the most capable set of men who had ever made up a Cabinet. His Government had carried reforms of the greatest importance, giving expression and effect to the temper and the energy of the democratic force that had come into public life. For the first time England had now a national system of public education, and a national system of local government. The Ballot Act had protected the workman voter; the Coal and Metalliferous Mines Acts laid the basis of all our modern mining legislation; Selborne's Supreme Court of Judicature Act had tidied up a great deal of costly confusion. The Government had struck a great blow for the principle of arbitration over the Alabama question.1 In Ireland the Church had been disestablished and, as Gladstone believed, the sting had been taken out of an unjust and provocative land system. Such a record of courage and success might well justify the confidence the new electorate had shown in 1868 in the Liberal party and in Gladstone.

Yet the Government had been condemned unmistakably at the polls. What made it worse, the condemnation had come not merely from its opponents but from its friends. The Education Bill had irritated the Nonconformists; the

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1
How much tenacity and courage were needed to overcome the national pride of the English may be judged from Lord Salisbury's jibe that the increase in the drink bill at this time meant that Englishmen had had to drown their sense of shame. Nobody could call Salisbury a Jingo.

-132-

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