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Law League, and the occasional, the growing, and the inevitable famine, they would not have arrived at the article of corn even to this day.' (Cheers.)
The vastness of his audience seemed almost to overcome Mr. Bright at the commencement of his speech, but as he proceeded his voice regained all its old power, and penetrated to every corner of the great hall. Remarkably incisive were his attacks upon the Government and its leading members. Lord Beaconsfield he described as the man who, of all others, with the most bitter invective, with the most audacious insinuations, with the most violent slanders, did his very utmost to injure and to destroy the character of Sir Robert Peel.' Lord Salisbury he described as the man who has prostrated his intellect to the Premier in the hope of purchasing a succession that may never come.' Speaking of the attempt to force England into a war with Russia, Mr. Bright, in a comprehensive indictment, declared that there were criminals at head-quarters, fools and imbeciles among the people, and baseness enough amongst the proprietors and the writers of some newspapers, to give for a time a semblance of popularity to the madness and the guilt of such a war.'
On the question of Free Trade and Reciprocity, Mr. Bright observed, with regard to the opponents of Free Trade : "They say that “Free Trade is not so good as we thought, and Protection is not so bad as we thought; and if the Protectionists of foreign countries will not follow our course, we will go back from our course and adopt the course they have pursued.” That is what Protectionists and Reciprocitymongers say. (Laughter and cheers.) And there is another thing they say—that we promised that all other nations would immediately become Free-traders, which is not true—(hear, hear); and they argue falsely and foolishly that because other nations to a large extent still maintain the principles of Protection, therefore our course is to a large extent proved to have been wrong. May I just explain for one moment what is the difference? They say, “Foreign nations have taken up your penny postage; the great measure recommended by Sir Rowland Hill is one which Europe and all the civilized world have adopted.” And they say, “All Europe and the civilized world have adopted your system of railways.” What is the difference? Just this—that nobody had any interest in paying one shilling for a letter when he could have it carried for a penny. Nobody had any interest in going in an old slow coach at a high price when he could go in the railway train five times as fast for one-fifth of the cost.'
The right hon. gentleman next contrasted the work achieved by Mr. Disraeli’s Government and the great Administration of Mr. Gladstone, with its Irish reforms, its abolition of purchase, etc. He also asked—If the Zulu war had been brought before the House of Commons; if the Afghan war, with its fraud and its slaughter, and its chaos over that region, had been brought before the House of Commons; if it had been submitted to the House of Commons that we should go to war with Russia upon this single question —for that was the whole question at last—whether Bulgaria should all be free, or whether a part of it should be free and a portion less free-does any man here, whatever he may think of the Tory party and the mechanical majority in the House-does any man here believe that the Tory party would have, by distinct vote in the House of Commons, plunged the country into any one of these wars ?' ('No,' and cheers.)
In conclusion, Mr. Bright called for worthier men to be placed at the head of affairs; and this was his peroration :
“We have heard lately a great deal of “ Imperial policy” and of a "great empire." These are phrases which catch the ignorant and unwary. Since this Government came into office, your great empireupon the map-has grown much greater. They have annexed the islands of Fiji—(laughter); they have annexed also the country of the Transvaal in South Africa, which is said to be as large as France. They have practically annexed the land of the Zulus, also in South Africa ; and they have practically annexed-for it is now utterly disorganized, and they seem to be left alone to repair, if it is possible, the mischief they have made--they have practically annexed Afghanistan. They have added also to your dominions the island of Cyprus, in the Mediterranean-(laughter); and they have incurred enormous, incalculable responsibilities in Egypt and Asia Minor. All these add to the burdens, not of the empire-just listen to this—they add to the burdens, not of the empire in Canada or Australia -all these colonies have nothing to do as a rule with these things—they add to the burdens, not of the empire, but of the 34,000,000 people who inhabit Great Britain and Ireland. We take the burden and we pay the charge. This policy may lend a seeming glory to the Crown, and may give scope for patronage, and promotion, and pay, and pensions to a limited and favoured class ; but to you, the people, it brings expenditure of blood and treasure, increased debt and taxes, and added risks of war in every quarter of the globe.
'Look on our position for one moment. You have to meet the competition of other countries ; your own race on the American continent are your foremost rivals. Nobody denies that, I believe. They are fifty millions now, and happily for them they have not yet bred a Beaconsfield or a Salisbury-(laughter and cheers)—to misdirect their policy and to waste their resources. (Loud cheers.) If at some distant period, it may be centuries remote, an Englishman-one of that great English nation which is now so rapidly peopling the American continent–if such an Englishman should visit and explore the sources of his race, and the decayed and ruined home of his fathers, he may exclaim, “ How are the mighty fallen ! whence comes this great ruin ?" And the answer will be that in the councils of the England of the past-I pray that it may not be said in the days of a virtuous Queen-wisdom and justice were scorned, and ignorance, and passion, and vain-glory directed her policy and wielded her power.' (Loud and prolonged cheers.)
We turn from this speech, which had a great effect upon the public mind at the time, to one of a totally different character.
About a week later—that is, on the 31st of October, Mr. Bright spoke at a conversazione given by the Mayor of Birmingham to the school teachers of that town. He referred to the work of the religious and secular teacher, and contended that the influence of the latter was infinitely greater than that of the former. It was not, however, mere book-learning that made a man a wise citizen, and he appealed to the teachers of Birmingham to set an example to the country of what could be done by developing the nobler traits of human nature, such as gentleness, uprightness, and unselfishness. Referring to the complaints of extravagant expenditure on education, Mr. Bright said he would have nothing done for ostentation or for show; but whatever could be done to make education real, to raise the character of our population, and exalt the sentiment of the people,whatever could be done by the expenditure of money and the devotion and the earnest efforts of good men and good women, like the five hundred or six hundred he saw before him, that he would do and have done.'
One other address, and that an important one, delivered by Mr. Bright in 1879, remains to be dealt with. On the 18th of December he attended a banquet given to Mr. T. B. Potter, M.P., on his return to Rochdale after a visit to the United States. After dwelling at some length on the vastness of the territory and resources of the United States, Mr. Bright said it might be asked, 'What has this great nation done?' Well, they had done a good many things. They had built within the last fifty years not less than 80,000 miles of railway. They had during the last twenty years overthrown the gigantic and intolerable evil of slavery, at an enormous cost of blood and of treasure ; and in the doing of it they had built up a very large public debt. But the moment the war was over they disbanded their armies; they set themselves steadily to raise their taxes and their revenues; they began to pay off their debt, and in thirteen or fourteen years they had paid off more than a hundred and fifty millions of debt, and by improving their credit by these payments, so that they could borrow more cheaply, they had reduced the amount of interest payable by the Government to those who had lent them money by an amount not less than eighteen millions a year. Mr. Bright continued as follows :