« ForrigeFortsett »
are the result of reflection and common sense. Nothing can be more unfounded than to suppose, because a Liberal Administration has come into power, containing, as it ought, some important representatives of advanced Liberal opinions, that we are living under what the Tories were pleased to call a * Radical dictatorship.' A dictatorship in this country, although it were a dictatorship of eloquence and patriotism, would not be of long duration. This sort of exaggeration on the Conservative side is quite as misplaced and unfounded as anything that was said by the sharpshooters of the Liberal party ; and if there is something to abate on the one hand, there is everything to be recanted on the other. Far from regretting that the tempest raised by the dissolution of Parliament has subsided, we rejoice that the winds have fallen into a more gentle breeze, which renders the voyage on which we are embarked infinitely more safe and pleasant.
But, although we feel great indulgence for that sort of inconsistency which leads men to prefer temperate courses to intemperance and violence, we are by no means inclined to claim that indulgence for ourselves. We confess that we are rather proud than ashamed of a dogged adherence to oldfashioned Whig principles. Not being addicted to the use of strong polemical language, and not having the excuse of the hustings, a writer on political subjects, who treats them with deliberation, ought to have nothing to unsay. And we hope that this is our own case. We would even venture to remind our readers that the programme of the policy of the Liberal party, published in this journal on the eve of the dissolution, under the title of · Plain Whig Principles,' has been fulfilled more nearly than might have been anticipated, and has, as far as we know, not been exceeded by any measures of a political character, although the new ministers may be accused of soine deviations from sound economical principles.
We quoted a dictum of Lord Russell's that whenever the Liberal party was reconstituted it would be on a Whig basis. The present Administration comprises the following members amongst others :
Earl Granville, Foreign Secretary of State.
Earl Cowper, Viceroy of Ireland.
Lord Frederic Cavendish, Secretary to the Treasury. We have sometimes been told that there is no such thing as a Whig left in England—that they are as extinct as the dodo. Here, at least, are some survivors of the species. He must be a very unconscionable and exacting Whig indeed who is not satisfied by this array of names. They are the names of the most considerable men in our party. They are, we firmly believe, the men best able, at the present time, to govern the country with prudence and success. The Whigs have been accused, we think unjustly accused, of being an exclusive party. They have, on the contrary, sought to rally to their standard recruits both from the side of Liberal Conservatism, and from that of more advanced democratic opinions. Thus most of Sir Robert Peel's immediate followers, after 1850, melted into Lord Palmerston's Government, and there has been a strong and sincere desire, to include in Liberal Administrations the men of advanced opinions who gave most promise of executive ability or of Parliamentary talent. In forming his Cabinet, on the present occasion, Mr. Gladstone, whom no accuses of exclusive Whig predilections, very wisely proposed office to Mr. Bright, Mr. Fawcett, Mr. Chamberlain, Sir Charles Dilke, and Mr. Mundella. They form a very important ingredient in the Government, and we attach great value to their advice and co-operation. It is desirable and proper that the opinions of the large section of the people of England which they represent should be worthily expressed and fully weighed. But they are not the dominant principle of the present Ministry. The Radical or advanced portion of the Liberal party in the present House of Commons is supposed to consist of about one-third of the Ministerial majority. It seems to us preposterous to suppose that the element in the Government and in Parliament which is numerically and personally the least strong should exercise a fatal ascendency or paramount authority over their colleagues. To the Whig statesmen we have named moderate Liberals throughout the country look to uphold the sound and time-honoured principles of their party ; to refuse all unwise compliances with measures at variance with the rules of political economy and of justice; and to resist the cry for rash and
reckless innovations. This is what the Whigs have done before and may do again, without ceasing to promote the cause of progress and reform. We believe them to be equally capable of performing those duties now; but should they unhappily fail, they will extinguish their party and ostracise themselves.
To two of the most eminent persons in the Government, Lord Selborne and Mr. Gladstone himself, the foregoing remarks do not apply. Lord Selborne, whose acknowledged eminence as a lawyer places him at the head of his profession, is a Liberal Churchman, who has shown on more than one occasion that with him political expediency and party connexion do not outweigh conscientious personal opinions.
Mr. Gladstone would probably disclaim the appellation of • Whig,' and it would be presumptuous in us to affect to circumscribe his vast and versatile genius within the stricter limits and traditions of the Whig party. The circumstance is a fortunate one, if it places him in a broader and loftier position than those who surround him. Mr. Gladstone undoubtedly possessed at the crisis of the election the confidence of the majority of the electoral bodies; he has perhaps a keener perception than any other statesman of their wants and wishes; he is an essential element of a popular Government; and, to speak plainly, neither the leaders of the Whig party nor Mr. Gladstone himself could carry on the Government without their mutual, cordial, and united support.
But we entirely deny that the Whig party suffers any diminution of strength or influence from this just and necessary alliance. A man may be a sound Liberal without being a Whig, but he cannot be a Whig without being a Liberal. What, then, is the distinction ? Briefly this: the Whigs are a section of the Liberal party who adhere to a creed ; they have articles of belief; they admit the authority of tradition; they form their judgment and regulate their conduct on principles which have been recognised and established amongst them for two centuries. Thus they believe in Constitutional Monarchy ; they uphold the authority of the law over the National Church in restraint of clerical pretensions; they adhere firmly to the doctrines of the great English economists; they approve the share in government of an aristocracy not founded only on rank and wealth, but open to merit and recruited by public services; they do not think that the introduction of pure democratic principles (as seen in some other countries) is so favourable to liberty, stability, and good government as the maintenance of the British Parliamentary Constitution. The political Freethinkers of the present day, of course, dissent from these oldfashioned and orthodox views of the Whig party. They are at liberty to proclaim their preference for republican government, for a voluntary ecclesiastical system, for secular schools, for the extinction or limitation of settlements of property and endowments, for arbitrary restraint on the trade in liquor, for the propagation of noxious diseases, or for universal suffrage, with all its consequences. We do not quarrel with them on that account, though we cannot agree with them. But they agree with us in our sympathy with freedom and free institutions throughout the world, in our desire to advance in the track of national progress, and in our love of economy and peace.
In a country subject to popular delusions and strange outbursts of fanaticism and ignorance—a country which produces believers in Arthur Orton, and constituents of a Kenealy and a Bradlaugh—large allowances must be made for extravagant opinions. But it is the first duty of enlightened statesmen to combat them. We can conceive nothing more contemptible than to temporize or waver, with regard to fixed principles of legislation and government, out of regard to the interests or passions of any ill-informed class of electors. They who claim to lead the nation, should lead it right. Thus we regret extremely that when the President of the Board of Trade received a deputation of foolish tradesmen who came to protest against the liberty of trading in Co-operative Stores, he did not manfully vindicate the principles which govern those useful institutions, which were first adopted for the protection of the class of artisans, but have now benefited all classes of society. Mr. Chamberlain seemed, on the contrary, chiefly anxious to defend himself from the charge of dealing with a co-operative society, as if it were a crime. He should have told the deputation that all forms of commercial association are in this country open to all classes, and that there is not a public servant in the country who, as land-owner, mine-owner, capitalist, merchant, or manufacturer, is not practically engaged in trade, and in competition with other traders. He might have added that the co-operative societies, by encouraging cash payments and reducing prices, have benefited the tradesmen themselves.
A measure, introduced, we are sorry to say, by another member of the Government, to relieve from repeated penalties the persons who refuse to vaccinate their children, is still more indefensible. It is a criminal surrender of a public duty to a most mischievous agitation. The law compels a man to have his child vaccinated, in the first place, because he has no right to expose the child to a malignant disease; and, secondly,
because he has no right to propagate a malignant disease among his neighbours. The penalty is merely the sanction of a legal and moral obligation. To remit the penalty is, in the eyes of the vulgar, to relax the obligation and to paralyse the law. Considering what the consequences of such a measure may be, it merits the strongest condemnation. But that condemnation is still further increased by the consideration that it is impossible to conceive that the Ministers who propose such a measure are themselves the dupes of it, or are blind to its evil effects. It is on their part simply a surrender of their own judgment and knowledge to a mischievous agitation. This is not the way a State can be governed. We have a right to expect that the eminent men who now hold office should act strictly upon their own principles and convictions, and should never stoop to waive them. We have a right to expect that there should be no legislation in violation of fixed principles, which have the certainty of science, and are accepted as truths by all the enlightened members of the community. The Liberal party claims, we think with reason, a more advanced position in knowledge and intelligence than that of its opponents : is that position to be sacrificed in obedience to the clamour of the most ignorant portion of society ?
The Employers' Liability Bill is another measure of a purely social and non-political character, though not the less important on that account. This Bill has encountered serious opposition from those who are best qualified to judge of its effect, and the opposition has been most strongly expressed on the Liberal side of the House. The questions it raises must be dealt with simply on sound economical principles, and there is reason to fear that the scheme proposed by the Government is crude, and might do more harm than good both to masters and to workmen.
Upon the whole, it is computed that about 230 members of the Liberal party in the new Parliament are men professing moderate opinions, and not favourable to the test questions of the extreme section. The party professing more advanced opinions is estimated at about 110, exclusive of the Irish Home Rulers
. As compared with the last Parliament, the two great parties in the House of Commons have as nearly as possible changed their respective positions. In 1874 the country returned 351 Conservatives and 250 Liberals ; in 1880 the numbers are 349 Liberals and 243 Conservatives, leaving the Irish members out of the account. Such, at least, is Mr. Saunders's computation in the volume now before us. We