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Irish Church, you carefully kept in view the several considerations which at the opening of the session were commended to your notice.
“ It is the hope of Her Majesty that this important measure may hereafter be remembered as a conclusive proof of the paramount anxiety of Parliament to pay reasonable regard, in legislating for each of the three kingdoms, to the special circumstances by which it may be distinguished, and to deal on principles of impartial justice with all interests and all portions of the nation.
“Her Majesty firmly trusts that the Act may promote the work of
peace in Ireland, and may help to unite all classes of its people in that fraternal concord with their English and Scottish fellowsubjects which must ever form the chief source of strength to her extended empire.
" Her Majesty has observed with pleasure your general and cordial readiness to unite in the removal, through the Assessed Rates Act, of a practical grievance which was widely felt.
“Her Majesty congratulates you on having brought your protracted labours on the subjects of bankruptcy and of imprisonment for debt to a legislative conclusion, which is regarded with just satisfaction by the trading classes and by the general public.
“The law which you have framed for the better government of endowed schools in England will render the large resources of these establishments more accessible to the community, and more efficient for their important purpose.
“It may reasonably be expected that the Act for the supervision of habitual criminals will contribute further to the security of life and property.
“The measure which has been passed with respect to the contagious diseases of animals will, as Her Majesty believes, add confidence and safety to the important trades of breeding and feeding cattle at home, without unnecessarily impeding the freedom of import from abroad.
By the repeal of the tax on fire insurance you have met a long-cherished wish of the community; and in the removal of the duty on corn Her Majesty sees new evidence of your desire to extend industry and commerce, and to enlarge to the uttermost those supplies of food which our insular position in a peculiar degree both encourages and requires.
“Her Majesty trusts that the measures for the purchase and management of the electric telegraphs by the State may be found to facilitate the great commercial and social object of rapid, easy, and certain communication, and may prove no unworthy sequel to that system of cheap postage which has passed with much advantage into so many countries of the civilized world.
“ GENTLEMEN OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS,
“We are commanded to state that Her Majesty thanks you for the liberal supplies which you have granted for the service of the year, and for the measures by which you have enabled her at once to liquidate the charge of the Abyssinian expedition.
“MY LORDS AND GENTLEMEN,
“Her Majesty reflects with pleasure that, in returning to your several homes, you may contemplate with thankfulness the fruit of your exertions in the passing of many important laws, a portion of wbich we have now had it in command to notice.
“During the recess you will continue to gather that practical knowledge and experience which form the solid basis of legislative aptitude; and Her Majesty invokes the blessing of the Almighty alike upon your recent and your future labours for the public weal.”
Parliament was then prorogued, in the usual form, to Thursday, October 28.
The Parliamentary Session of 1869, of which the leading incidents have now been briefly narrated, will be memorable for the important political transactions which marked its course. It was signalized by two important events—the meeting of the first House of Commons elected under household suffrage, and the first great step taken in reversing the long-standing policy of England towards Ireland. The two events indeed were closely connected together : it was the strongly-marked popular spirit of the new constituencies that placed Mr. Gladstone at the head of affairs, and sustained him in that position with a majority at his back more constant and unswerving than any minister in modern times has been able to command; and it was the intrepidity and success with which he carried through the House of Commons one of the largest and boldest measures ever proposed to a public assembly, that secured the confidence of his followers, and confirmed his ascendency in the country. That it should have been in the power of any Minister to effect within a few months so momentous a change; to rend asunder the long-subsisting connexion between the Church and the State in Ireland, and the ties which almost incorporated together the sister Churches of the two kingdoms; to defeat the powerful combination of Conservative feeling, Protestant zeal, aristocratic power, and clerical influence arrayed in defence of the menaced institution, and to unite together, almost as one man, the diversified and incongruous elements of English, Irish, and Scottish liberalism in the prosecution of a common purpose—was a feat so remarkable that the session which witnessed it can hardly fail to be looked back upon in years to come as one of the most remarkable on record. Even those who despaired of preventing the ultimate disestablishment of the Church had reckoned on being at least able to protract the defence of that institution for a considerable time, and had predicted that its downfall would not be achieved without entailing serious reverses, and perhaps, for awhile, confusion and defeat upon those who should be bold enough to strike the first blow. It was beyond their conception that the work of demolition should be thoroughly
and completely effected within the ordinary limits of a session, and, until the measure reached the Upper House, without a check.
Nor did the passing of the Irish Church Bill, although its magnitude and absorbing interest overshadowed the whole session, so engross the time and attention of the Legislature as to compel the abandonment of all other measures demanded by the public. Several other subjects of great importance, and requiring much consideration and discussion, were undertaken and brought to a successful completion. The Law of Bankruptcy, which had for several years been a standing grievance of the commercial world, and had been the subject of several unsuccessful essays at legislation, was now consolidated and reformed; the new code being based upon the principle of transferring the jurisdiction over the debtor's estate from official control to the hands of those most nearly interested in the equitable distribution of it, the body of the creditors. The cause of education received a not unimportant instalment of its claims in the enactment of a measure designed to revivify and remodel those numerous endowed schools in various parts of the kingdom which, from change of times or circumstances, or through default of their official guardians, had lapsed into a state of stagnation and decay; large funds which, for a long time past, had thus been wasted, or misapplied, being now directed into new and profitable channels. The treatment of the dangerous classes of the population, those who make a trade of crime and live by preying on the industry of others, was another subject to which Parliament in the intervals of its main employment found time to attend ; and the Habitual Criminals Bill inaugurated a more stringent and summary method of coping with professional depredators, and other scourges of society, than had hitherto been ventured upon. In addition to these three leading measures, from which important and wide-spread results may be looked for, several other Acts of a minor character, but useful in their degree—such as those which emanated from the President of the Poor-law Board, the Act for the purchase of the Telegraphs by the State, and the Contagious Diseases of Animals Act-deserve to be mentioned ; nor would it be just to pass by the remarkable and ingenious change in the machinery of our fiscal system devised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, especially in the mode of collecting the Assessed Taxes an experiment which encourages the expectation of further mitigations of the burdens of taxation originating with the same fertile mind.
There was no disturbance of public order in England or Scotland during the period now under review, but the condition of Ireland during the latter part of the year was such as to cause serious anxiety. The agragrian outrages, murders, and deeds of violence, which were reported with increased frequency during the autumn, and the spirit of seditious violence which was in many places exhibited—and too often stimulated by the efforts of lay and clerical demagogues-were sorely disappointing to those who had persuaded themselves that the policy adopted by Parliament towards the Roman Catholics of Ireland would quickly develope a new spirit of contentment and loyalty. The authors and leading supporters of the Disestablishment Bill had indeed often avowed their belief that the reconciliation of the disaffected classes in Ireland to British rule could only be a work of time, and that it was in order to make atonement for past wrongs, and to satisfy the conscience of England by an act of justice, that the great concession of the Protestant Church had been made, rather than from any hope that the surrender would purchase submission or produce an immediate return in tranquillity and content. Still it can hardly be doubted that many who cordially wished well to Ireland, and had made sacrifices of their own prepossessions in order to propitiate her good-will, must have felt provoked and disheartened when they observed that the aversion and bitterness of the Irish mind towards England seemed to be rather aggravated than softened by the attempts to conciliate and appease it. In the early part of the year the Government, besides allowing the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act to expire, had authorized the release of several of the Fenian convicts then under sentence for political crimes—an act which did not escape at the time the imputation of misplaced lenity and weakness. The first use which the liberated prisoners made of their freedom was to proclaim in the most insulting language their unabated hostility to the English Government; and so far as in them lay, before taking their departure for the United States, to stimulate the minds of their countrymen whom they left behind with incentives to rebellion. After their departure a formal agitation was set on foot for procuring the release of the remaining convicts, the agitators who conducted it not appearing to consider to what extent they might defeat their professed object by avowing the warmest sympathy with the crimes of which the prisoners had been convicted. Mr. Gladstone was now compelled to declare in distinct terms that the amnesty which was sought by this agitation could not be conceded; and from thenceforth uncompromising hostility to England, and the duty of resistance to her authority by physical force, were advocated in language of which those who used it took no pains to disguise the meaning. The course adopted by these preachers of rebellion, coupled with the fermentation which had been created in the minds of some of the tenants of land, whose hopes were raised to an extravagant pitch by the prospect of seeing their demand for “tenant right” conceded, obliged the Government to adopt extraordinary precautions for the maintenance of the peace and order of society. Additional regiments were despatched to Ireland, and means taken to repress any outbreak by the strong arm.
The commercial features of the year we are now reviewing cannot be regarded with much satisfaction. Although more than three years had elapsed since the great shock of 1866, there was as yet no healthy revival of trade. The cotton manufacture was cramped by an insufficient and dear supply of the raw material, and the high price of the fabric checked the demand of consumers. In such a
condition of trade controversies between employer and workman as to the rate of wages are naturally engendered. Trades' Unions employ the agencies at their command to sustain or increase the price of labour, and masters complain loudly of the impediments offered to production by the vexatious proceedings of these societies. General complaints of the stagnation of trade were heard with increased frequency as the winter approached ; the labouring classes suffered from a scarcity of employment, and the increase of pauperism which manifested itself, especially in the metropolis and its eastern suburbs, occasioned serious anxiety.
These untoward circumstances led to a partial revival, in some of the northern and midland towns, of the old cry for Protectiondisguised, however, under the specious aspect of a demand for Reciprocity. The approach of the period at which either of the parties to the French Commercial Treaty was entitled to give notice for its termination afforded some fresh pretext for this agitation, and the opponents of free trade on both sides of the Channel exerted themselves to arouse the public feeling in favour of an economic reaction in each country; indeed, the complainants in each country endeavoured alike to make out that their own producers had got the worst of the bargain and were suffering for the benefit of their rivals. In England the agitation in favour of a return to restrictive tariffs was chiefly confined to local politicians of small note, the wiser heads of the Conservative party giving no countenance to the movement; nor does it seem that the maintenance of the Treaty in France is likely to be endangered, except by the political opposition lately excited in that country against all measures which have been carried by the exercise of the Imperial prerogative. One cause of the continued commercial depression which prevailed on this side of the water is undoubtedly to be found in the discredit attached, since the ruinous frauds and failures of 1866, to joint-stock enterprise, and the remembrance of the terrible losses sustained from that cause.
The time which has since elapsed has by no means sufficed to cure that distrust, the suspicion attaching to Boards of Directors and the incredulity excited by prospectuses still continuing in full force. Nevertheless, at the termination of the year a more hopeful feeling as to the future began to be entertained. The overflowing state of the bullion in the money markets, both of France and England, the absence of disturbing political causes, the impulse given to international commerce by the working of the Pacific Railway and by the opening of the Suez Canal, the rapid extension of Submarine Telegraphy, and the improvement of railway property by the closing of capital accounts and the increase of traffic receipts, contributed, with other causes, to impart a more confident tone to the commercial community and to enlarge the field of profitable investment. The direction which surplus capital seemed most inclined to take was that of foreign loans, several of which had been recently brought forward in the money market under favourable auspices. T'he shares of companies formed for the prosecution of