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THE ELECTION OF 1868.—MR. BRIGHT ACCEPTS OFFICE.—SECOND
ILLNESS AND RESIGNATION, ETC.
The General Election of 1868.—Mr. Bright's Address to his Constituents. His
Speech in the Town Hall. -Contrast between Toryism and Liberalism.-Mr. Bright on the Minority Clause.-Address to the Gun-makers.The enormous Public Expenditure.-Policy and Opinions of the Tory Candidates.-National Education.-Scene at the Birmingham Nomination.-Result of the Poll.Great Liberal Triumph.—Liberal Victory throughout the Country.- Resignation of Mr. Disraeli.- Mr. Gladstone becomes Prime Minister.—He offers a Seat in the Cabinet to Mr. Bright. It is ultimately accepted.—The Gladstone Ministry.-Mr. Bright's Re-election.- Address to his Constituents.-Remarks on his Acceptance of Office.-President of the Board of Trade.—Mr. Bright on Nova Scotia and the Confederation Scheme.-On Marriage with a Deceased Wife's Sister. Sir T. Chambers's Bill of 1869.–Banquet at the Trinity House. -Speech by Mr. Bright. -Amnesty to the Fenian Prisoners in 1870.- Mr. Bright's Second Illness.-He resigns Office. The Press on the Resignation.Mr.Bright condemns Home Rule.-Congratulatory Address from the Workmen of London.-Mr. Bright on Republicanism.-Presentation from the Potteries.
-Review of Public Questions.—Reconstruction of Mr. Gladstone's Cabinet.Mr. Bright accepts office as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.-Great Meeting at Birmingham.-Stirring Scene.--Important Speech by Mr. Bright.
-Free Land.-The waning Popularity of the Government.--Mr. Gladstone's Manifesto to the Electors of Greenwich.- Dissolution of Parliament.--The Election for Birmingham.— The old Members returned.--Speech by Mr. Bright. Results of the General Election.-Mr. Disraeli accedes to office as Premier.
AFTER Mr. Disraeli's emphatic defeat on Mr.
Gladstone's Irish Church Resolutions in the session of 1868, the Premier resolved on appealing to the country. The elections, however, which were
the first held under the new Reform Act, did not take place until the following November.
But immediately after the prorogation of Parliament on the 31st of July, preparations were made in many of the constituencies in view of the approaching contest. The struggle had a double significance. Mr. Disraeli was naturally anxious that the constituencies, which had been enlarged by the Act of 1867, should pronounce in favour of his Government; while the Liberal party throughout the country was equally anxious for a striking and unmistakable endorsement of Mr. Gladstone's Irish Church policy.
Mr. Bright issued his address to his constituents at Birmingham on the 22nd of August. On the subject of the ballot he remarked: 'I regard the question of the ballot as of first importance. Whether I look to the excessive cost of elections, or to the tumult which so often attends them, or to the unjust and cruel pressure which is so frequently brought to bear upon the less independent class of voters, I am persuaded that the true interest of the public and of freedom will be served by the adoption of the system of secret and free voting. It is in practice, and is highly valued, in almost every other country having representative institutions; and I regard it as absolutely necessary to a real representation of the United Kingdom. Upon the great topic of the hour he observed : “The foremost question for the new Parliament will be our treatment of Ireland. You know my views on the Irish Church Establishment and on
the land question. In dealing with the Irish Establishment we are not promoting the spread of the Roman Catholic, or damaging the influence of the Protestant religion. We do not touch religion at all. We deal only with the political institution, which has wholly failed to secure any good object, and which has succeeded only in weakening the loyalty and offending the sense of justice of the great majority of the Irish people. Our opponents speak of their zeal for Protestantism and their loyalty to the constitution. I prefer a Protestantism which is in alliance with Christian kindness and with justice, and my loyalty to the constitution leads me to wish for the hearty union of the three kingdoms in allegiance to the Crown. I believe that Christianity and the constitution will be alike strengthened in these islands by the removal of the Irish Church Establishment.'
By the Reform Act, Birmingham was one of those towns to which a third member was given; and the Liberals, being resolved, if possible, upon defeating the minority clause, now brought forward three candidates, namely, Mr. Bright and Mr. George Dixon, the old members, and Mr. P. H. Muntz. They were opposed by two Conservatives, Mr. Sampson Lloyd and Dr. Sebastian Evans, who, knowing the extremely Liberal character of the Birmingham constituency, endeavoured to infuse into their Conservatism as popular a tone as possible.
On the 26th of October, Mr. Bright appeared before a crowded meeting of the electors, held in the Town
Hall, Mr. J. S. Wright presiding. The hon. gentleman spoke for more than an hour, but the Birmingham Post observed that 'the more than usual earnestness and rapidity of speech with which he commenced his discourse led to the inevitable discomfiture of his voice, which, under the strain it was thus subjected to, betrayed its inherent weakness long before the close of his address. Although to all appearances in good health, the change which the past few months had effected in his appearance was strikingly evident to all. Time had marked his long years of service with an unsparing hand; and his hair, which when he last stood in the Town Hall was of an iron-gray, had now turned to silver.
Mr. Bright's speech on this occasion consisted of a retrospect, a contrast, and an appeal. He reminded his listeners that exactly ten years had elapsed since he was entitled to address the electors of Birmingham as one of their representatives. Since that time, he said, referring to the subject of reform, they had done much to dethrone a class and to raise a nation to power. In 1858 there were seven thousand electors in all the vast population of Birmingham; but in the election impending no fewer than forty thousand might vote. At this moment,' he continued, there are two parties, and there are two systems of government, and of administration, and of legislation, who are appealing to you for your suffrage—one which in our younger days always called itself the Tory party, but latterly, with an ingenuity that would almost
baffle a detective—(laughter and cheers)—has taken several other names. Sometimes it calls itself Conservative; and I am told that in Birmingham even that is refined down to Liberal-Conservatism(laughter)—and in some other places, and perhaps here on some occasions, it calls itself Constitutionalism. (Great laughter.) The great constitutional measure which has just been passed was a measure of our recommendation—(cheers)—and the measure that we have carried; and the measure that was not only not carried, but was not originated, and was always opposed, by those who now triumphantly appeal to you under the character of friends of the constitution. The other party calls itself Liberal ; and with many shortcomings, and with many errors in its history, it has been, and may be now, truly called the Liberal party.' (Cheers.)
The hon. gentleman went on to say that in ancient times, when any great public emergency arose, it was common for the people to consult the oracles; and he should like his hearers to consult the past and recent history of this country to discover the true character of the two parties who were appealing to them. Suppose they were then engaged in the election going forward in the United States, would they support a man who had never stepped forward to uphold the hand of President Lincoln in his determination to maintain the unity of a great nation, and to abolish slavery? What was reasonable then in England ? He would ask them about the past, not