Gladstone and the Irish Nation

By J. L. Hammond | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXIV
THE CHANGE OF GOVERNMENT

This being so I wish, under the very peculiar circumstances of the case to go a step further and say that I think it will be a public calamity if this great subject should fall into the lines of party conflict.

Gladstone to Balfour, December 20, 1885.

The prospect is very gloomy abroad; but England cannot brighten it. Torn in two by a controversy which almost threatens her existence, she cannot, in the present state of public opinion, interfere with any decisive action abroad.

Salisbury to the Queen, January 24, 1887.1

Continental observers have always been struck by the good fortune or the good temper that has enabled the British people to manage their most difficult problems without violence. Catholic Emancipation in 1829, the Reform Bill of 1832, the Repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, the Reform Bill of 1867 all illustrated in their history a law that seemed to govern and to distinguish British politics. There seemed to be in public life some steadying power in reserve which came to the rescue when civil war looked inevitable, with the consequence that Great Britain had much less bloodshed in the nineteenth century than her neighbours. How far this was due to the British temperament, how far to personal accidents, it is not easy to say. Certainly it was a piece of good fortune that the leading figure in politics when the first of these crises had to be met was a soldier who made up his mind that civil war was the greatest of all calamities. Wellington and Peel established a tradition that survived for half a century, the tradition that governed and limited the range and methods of party conflict. It was agreed that it

____________________
1
Letters of Queen Victoria, Third Series, Vol. I, p. 263.

-455-

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