Gladstone and the Irish Nation

By J. L. Hammond | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIII
COERCION AND REFORM, 1881

The more Gladstone's career is studied the more significance will the student attach to the disparity between his power in the country and his power in the House of Commons, and between his power in the House of Commons and his power in the Cabinet. In 1880, though he had neglected, because he had misunderstood, the new Irish problem, and though he was handicapped by his burdens as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he drew up and submitted to the Cabinet, as we have seen, a plan for meeting the Irish problem by constructive political reform. His plan for setting up Grand Committees urged with the authority of all his experience and wisdom, was rejected by colleagues of whom hardly any had given serious thought to the Irish problem. It is clear that this was an issue in which he ought not to have accepted defeat. Defeat involved him in the alternative plan of coercion tempered by agrarian reform, as it seemed to some, or of agrarian reform tempered by coercion, as it seemed to others. It may be that from that moment the task set to Gladstone was impossible; for the House of Lords would not let him satisfy the minimum demands of the Land League, and the Land League would not let him satisfy the minimum demands of the House of Lords. In that case, when he accepted defeat at the hands of his Cabinet, a defeat due to the natural conservatism of its members and their dread of being taken by Gladstone further than they were ready to go, he let all his hopes of a satisfactory Irish policy slip through his fingers.

Whether this is true or not, the history of 1881 must be understood, as the history of his attempt to push through Parliament a policy of Irish reform under conditions so

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