TWO LOST YEARS, 1883 AND 1884
The decision to postpone the next step in Gladstone's programme in the spring of 1883 involved, so far as Ireland was concerned, the loss of the rest of the lifetime of this Parliament. For in Gladstone's mind Land Purchase.was an unsafe and impracticable policy unless it was accompanied or preceded by the creation of Irish authorities strong enough and responsible enough to take the risk off British shoulders. He was very conscious of the grave political dangers that would follow if the British Government were confronted with a general repudiation of liabilities on the part of the Irish farmers. So long as the liabilities repudiated were liabilities from tenant to landowner, a British Government could manage the difficulty, partly by revising those liabilities and removing injustice, partly by upholding the administration of the law. But a repudiation of liabilities from peasant to Government, of liabilities accepted solemnly in the course of legislation, would be rebellion. If this happened the British Government would find itself involved in a new quarrel between England and Ireland; a quarrel of which the discomfort would affect Gladstone more than other politicians. For he had at the back of his mind a sense that Ireland's historical grievances were so serious as to excuse almost any extravagance of passion, and a conviction that no Government could fight successfully against the Irish people.
The Conservatives were much less anxious on this point. In their view the chief evil of what was happening in Ireland was the shock given to the sense and rights of property, and the ruin that threatened the landlord class. They were