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Mr. Bright went on to observe that it was a difficult matter for the Conservatives to get over forty such
progress as we had had in this country; and the Liberals were entitled to the merit and glory of the administration and legislation of that remarkable period. He then came to his peroration, as follows:
'I have been reading lately a great number of letters which were addressed to me by my dear friend Mr. Cobden during our long friendship, and I have read also a journal consisting of memoranda narrating what took place in Paris when he was there negotiating the Commercial Treaty with France. He had to try to persuade the Emperor Napoleon to follow the example of this country with regard to the reduction of import duties, and the establishment of something like freedom of trade. He told the Emperor how great the benefits had been of the policy of Sir Robert Peel, and how great was the regard and reverence felt for Sir Robert. The Emperor said that he should be charmed and flattered if he could think it possible that he could do things of a kind which would be so good for his country. (Hear, hear.) “But,” he added, “it is very difficult in France. In England you make reforms, in France we make revolutions.” (Hear, hear.) Now, observe, the Emperor was a man who had lived in this country for years ; he had watched the working of public opinion and of our institutions from the retirement of his exile ; and afterwards, for nearly twenty years, he watched them from the lofty stage of the Imperial throne. And that was his judgment; that was the statement which he made to one of the foremost Englishmen, representing much.of English opinion, sent by the English Government to negotiate with him the great Treaty of Commerce. But I believe that there is not a thoughtful statesman in any civilized country in the world who would not join with the Emperor in expressing his admiration of the manner in which the people of this country, for the last forty years, have worked out such substantial reforms in their legislation; and our own experience brings us to the same conclusion. (Cheers.)
'Those men are in error who tell you nothing has been done, and that all remains to be done. Those men are not less in error who tell you that what has been done is evil, and that it is evil to do anything more. What you should do is to act upon the principles and rules of past years, steadily advancing in favour of questions which the public has thoroughly discussed, which it thoroughly comprehends, and which Parliament can
honestly and conscientiously put into law. For my part, looking back over these forty years, I feel some little sense of comfort. But it does not in the least degree lessen-on the contrary, it rather adds to and strengthens-my hope for the future. (Cheers.) The history of the last forty years of this country, judged fairly-I speak of its legislation—is mainly a history of the conquests of freedom. (Hear, hear.) It will be a grand volume that tells the story; and your name and mine, if I mistake not, will be found in some of its pages. For me, the final chapter is now writing,- it may be already written—" No, no,"')—but for you, this great constituency, you have a perpetual youth and a perpetual future. I pray Heaven that in the years to come, when my voice is hushed, you may be granted strength, and moderation, and wisdom to influence the counsels of your country by righteous means, for none other than noble and righteous ends.' (Loud applause.)
This speech was characterized by all Mr. Bright's former eloquence and vigour. The earnestness and impressiveness of the speaker, with the breadth and loftiness of view which distinguished the oration itself, produced an irresistible and overwhelming effect upon the vast audience.
A correspondent having sought from Mr. Bright an explanation of the term 'free land,' on the 2nd of November, 1873, the right hon. gentleman wrote that 'it means the abolition of the law of primogeniture and the limitation of the system of entails and settlements, so that “life interests ” may for the most part be got rid of, and a real ownership substituted for them. It means also that it shall be as easy to buy or sell land as to buy or sell a ship, or at least as easy as it is in Australia and in many or in all of the States of the American Union. It means that no legal encouragement shall be given to great estates and great farins, and that the natural forces of accumulation and dispersion shall have fair play, as they have with regard to ships and shares, and machinery and stock-in-trade and money. It means, too, that while the lawyer shall be well paid for his work, unnecessary work shall not be made for him, involving the enormous tax on all transactions in connection with the purchase and sale of lands and houses. A thorough reform in this matter would complete, with regard to land, the great work accomplished by the Anti-Corn-Law League in 1846. It would give an endless renown to the Minister who made it, and would bless to an incalculable extent all classes connected with and dependent on honest industry.'
For some time before the dissolution of Parliament in January, 1874, the popularity of Mr. Gladstone's Government had been slowly waning. The causes which were responsible for this were very various in character. The Church interest, on account of the disestablishment of the Irish Church, was strongly arrayed against the Ministry; the licensed victuallers were deeply offended by the legislation initiated by the Home Secretary; the Nonconformists were in arms against the important twenty-fifth clause in the Education Act; and many other classes had what they regarded as their special grievances. Besides all this, a general lethargy had crept over the Liberal party, and it had lost that zeal which it previously exhibited when Mr. Gladstone was carrying his great Irish measures and other reforms. Since the general election in 1868 there had been a large number of bye-elections, and in these contests the Liberals had lost thirty-two seats, while the Conservatives had lost only nine. The Liberal majority had fallen from 116 to about 70.
Under these circumstances, and wearied with the aspect of public affairs, the Premier—who had rendered his name for ever illustrious by the Irish Church and Land Acts, the Education and Ballot Acts, the Abolition of Purchase in the Army, and other measures-decided upon appealing to the country. It had become necessary to see whether the authority confided by the nation to the Liberal party and its leaders in 1868 was still continued to them. Accordingly, on the 24th of January, 1874, Mr. Gladstone issued a manifesto to the electors of Greenwich, announcing the immediate dissolution of Parliament. After reviewing the work of his Government, and glancing at the condition of the country, the Prime Minister made some references to the revenue for the current year, announcing that he expected a surplus of £5,000,000. With this sum in hand he was able to point to the total repeal of the income tax, which he declared to be practicable. Mr. Disraeli replied to his rival's challenge by an address to the electors of Buckinghamshire, in which he complained of Mr. Gladstone's 'prolix narrative.' He asked the electors to return him to the House of Commons, to resist every proposal which should tend to impair the strength of England, and to support by every means her imperial sway.
Parliament was dissolved on the 26th of January, and the elections were held immediately.
Mr. Bright issued the following address to the electors of Birmingham: “The Parliament elected in the year 1868 is about to be dissolved, and it will be your duty to select your representatives for the Parliament which is to succeed it. I have had the great honour of being one of your members for the period of sixteen years, and, except during a time of ill-health, I have endeavoured to perform the duties of my office with industry and fidelity. Very recently I addressed you in a published letter, and also at great length in a public speech. It is not, therefore, now necessary that I should enter into detail as to the past, or as to what I hope for in the future. The circumstances which have caused the dissolution of Parliament have been explained in the address which the First Minister has issued to the electors of Greenwich. It will be a great gratification to me, if, through your favour, I am enabled to take part in the wise policy indicated in that address. If arrangements are made for the Liberal candidates to attend a meeting of electors before the day of nomination or of poll, I hope to be able to be present and to take part in the proceedings. The other Liberal candidates were Messrs. P. H. Muntz and George Dixon. Mr. Gilliver, a working-man's candidate, was brought forward in opposition to the sitting members, and his appearance was followed by that of Mr. S. Gedge, a Tory candidate, but both withdrew before the day of election.