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exceptions, in the terms of compromise—The Bill is again altered to give effect to the understanding between the two parties, and returned to the Commons—Mr. Gladstone moves the adoption of the Amendments as now settled — Unanimity of the leading Members of the House on both sides in favour of the arrangement-Dissatis. faction expressed by some of the Irish Members - The Bill is passed, and receives the Royal Assent on 26th July--Remarks on the character and history of the measure.
AFTER the Whitsuntide recess the interest of the political situation, which was centred on the issue of the Irish Church question, was transferred from the House of Commons to the House of Lords. Speculation was busied with conjectures as to the course which that august body would take with reference to the Bill. After the division of the previous year, by which their Lordships had rejected, by so overwhelming a majority, Mr. Gladstone's Suspensory Bill, there could be no doubt on which side the balance of opinion lay, and it was well understood that by no other process
than a deliberate concession of their own judgment on the part of the Peers to the clearly expressed opinion of the House of Commons and of the nation, could the harmonious action of the two Assemblies be preserved. On the occasion before referred to, the Marquis of Salisbury, in his speech in opposition to the Suspensory Bill, had clearly and emphatically stated the constitutional limits within which the legislative powers of the Upper House should be exercised. “I am not blind,” said the noble lord, “to the peculiar obligations which lie on the members of this House in consequence of the fixed and unalterable constitution of this House. I quite admit-every one must admit—that when the opinion of your countrymen has declared itself, and you see that their convictions—their firm, deliberate, sustained convictions—are in favour of any course, I do not for a moment deny that it is your duty to yield. It may not be a pleasant process——it may even make some of you wish that some other arrangement were possible ; but it is quite clear that, whereas a Minister or a Government, when asked to do that which is contrary to their convictions, may resign, and a member of the Commons, when asked to support any measure contrary to his convictions, may abandon his seat, no such course as this is open to your lordships; and therefore, on those rare and great occasions on which the national will has fully declared itself, I do not doubt that your lordships would yield to the opinion of the country; otherwise the machinery of government could not be carried on.'
It was asserted by those who desired to see the Irish Church Bill passed into a law, that the conditions described in the foregoing extract were at the present juncture literally fulfilled and existed in full force. The recent general election, they alleged, had clearly proclaimed the opinion of the constituencies of the three kingdoms in favour of Disestablishment, and the House of Commons, reflecting with perfect transparency that distinct and recent judgment of the people, had expressed by a large majority, and with unvarying consistency, the mind and voice of the nation. They therefore demanded that to the opinion of the country so unequivocally pronounced, the Lords, notwithstanding their own individual convictions, should yield. The opponents of the Bill, on the other hand, declined to acknowledge the force of this reasoning. They did not admit that the verdict of the constituencies, though in favour of liberal politics in general, had been based solely or mainly on the question of the Irish Church. Other questions, they said, had been prominent in the minds of the electors ;—some much more prominent than this. At all events, the specific mode of dealing with Church property proposed by the present Bill was not before them. Furthermore, it was alleged that since the elections, and subsequently to the announcement of Mr. Gladstone's plan, a marked reaction of opinion had taken place. A tide of conservative feeling, aroused and alarmed at the subversive measures of the Government, had set in; and could the pulse of the nation now be felt, it would indicate a different state of feeling from that which the election was supposed to imply. But however this might be, the more ardent and resolute of the party did not hesitate to declare their conviction that the measure now proposed was so violent and perilous a step, so unwarranted by constitutional principle, and likely to prove so disastrous a precedent, that it behoved the Lords by every regard to the rights of their own order and to the highest interests of the nation, to-make a firm stand upon this question, and boldly to do their duty, with whatever consequences they might be threatened, by rejecting a revolutionary Bill. Such were the conflicting sentiments with which the country was agitated as soon as the Ministerial measure was sent up from the House of Commons. As the time drew near which had been fixed for the second reading, rumours began to be circulated that the policy of resistance was the more likely one to be adopted by the majority, and even that the absolute rejection of the Bill had been actually resolved upon at a large meeting held by the supporters of Lord Derby. While the public mind was in this fluctuating state as to the course likely to be adopted by the Peers, it was somewhat startled by the appearance in the public press of a letter from Mr. Bright, which was read by the chairman of a meeting of his constituents just then held at Birmingham, in the following terms:
London, June 9. “Dear Sir,-I must ask my friends to excuse me if I am unable to accept their invitation for the meeting on Monday next. The Lords are not very wise, but there is sometimes profit to the people even in their innovations. If they should delay the passing of the Irish Church Bill for three months, they will stimulate discussion on important questions, which, but for their infatuation, might have slumbered for many years. It is possible that a good many people may ask what is the special value of a constitution which gives a majority of 100 in one House for a given policy, and a majority of 100 in another House against it. I may be asked also why the Crown, through its Ministers in the House of Commons, should be found in harmony with the nation, while the Lords are generally in direct opposition to it. Instead of doing a little childish tinker
. ing about life peerages, it would be well if the Peers could bring themselves on a line with the opinions and necessities of our day. In harmony with the nation, they may go on for a long time; but, throwing themselves athwart its course, they may meet with accidents not pleasant for them to think of But there are not a few good and wise men among the Peers, and we will hope their counsels may prevail. I am sure you will forgive me if I cannot come to your meeting “ Believe me always very truly yours,
« JOHN BRIGHT. “Mr. H. B. S. THOMPSON, Secretary to the
Birmingham Liberal Association.”
The effect of this letter, coming at so critical a moment from a Member of the Cabinet, was not a little startling both to friends and opponents of the Government. The latter denounced in indig. nant terms the impropriety of such comments by a man in Mr. Bright's position upon the character of one of the branches of the Legislature. The former were not a little embarrassed by the obligation which he had thrown upon his colleagues of defending the expression of sentiments which some of them doubtless regarded as offensive, and all of them probably as ill-timed. It will be seen in what manner this task was discharged by the Ministerial leaders when the letter of the President of the Board of Trade became the subject of comment in Parliament.
On the 14th June the House of Lords was the great centre of attraction. Its galleries were crowded with the wives and daughters of Peers; the steps of the throne were thronged with their eldest sons and with Privy Councillors ; at the bar was collected an overflowing body of Members of the House of Commons, and the corridors and approaches to the House were filled with strangers eager to obtain admission. Every thing testified to a general feeling that a a memorable passage of history was about to be transacted, and a great constitutional dilemma speedily to be solved.
The second reading of the Bill was moved by Earl Granville in a speech which fully sustained, if it did not further increase, the reputation of that nobleman for skill, judgment, and conciliatory temper in dealing with great political controversies. Few speakers in either House could have handled a most delicate subject with more ability, discrimination, and address than the noble Secretary for the Colonies displayed on this occasion. He began by observing that it was hardly necessary to argue that the Irish Church was a great anomaly, and an injustice to the Irish people, and that it had not fulfilled its ostensible purpose. That had always been his own conviction, and it had been, in fact, acknowledged by all parties, as Lord Mayo's scheme showed. With reference to the general principles of the Bill, he denied that the Act of Union, passed
seventy years ago, and which had been already infringed by the Church Temporalities Act, could be a bar to a change like this, sanctioned, as it would be, if at all, by a Parliament representing Ireland as well as England. Nor was the Bill, he argued, antagonistic to the doctrine of the Royal Supremacy, according to the basis on which Lord Kingsdown's judgment in Long v. the Bishop of Capetown had rested that doctrine. But whatever view might be adopted of the theory of the Royal Supremacy, at any rate Ireland would not be put by the Bill in a worse position than Scotland was now.
How anomalous the state of things which the measure attempted to cure was, appeared from the fact that the Irish Church was, as compared with the number of its members, with possibly one exception, by far the richest religious establishment in the world. That the Bill was no attack on Protestantism was sufficiently proved by the Liberal majority at the last elections. But the great defence of the Bill was its necessity. He would not despair of the House of Lords, nor of the Episcopal Bench itself, perceiving its necessity and its justice. He combated earnestly the argument which it was supposed might weigh with the Bishops of the English Church—that if the
present measure were passed, their turn would come next. Disclaiming any wish or power of dictating to the House, he would not presume that the House would take one step without considering what the next step must be. It would be absurd, in truth, to doubt the independence of the House, composed, as at the present moment it showed itself to be, of men possessing enormous property, and of men who had rendered great public and private services, and attended as it was by representatives of the Privy Council, of great foreign realms and republics, and, as the galleries testified, by that portion of humanity, too, which exercised by no means the least influence over affairs. But, free and powerful as the House was, there was one thing than which it was less powerful, and that was the clear expression of the national will. Indeed, the whole tone of the debate on the Suspensory Bill, as he showed by extracts from the speeches of Lords Cairns and Derby, had implied that the Opposition then pledged itself to abide by the will of the country whenever disclosed. Now, however, it would appear as if certain peers had taken for the keynote of their policy the school-boy's principle, “ Heads I win, tails you lose.” The Government had been accused of an imperious determination to admit no amendments to the Bill. The numerous boná fide amendments which had been accepted proved this was not so. Those of Mr. Disraeli, which had been rejected, were not bonâ fide, since, as statistics showed, they could not have been adopted except at a cost far beyond the actual resources of the Irish Church, even as now endowed. The Government could not, it was true, surrender the principle of the Bill; but, short of this, they were prepared to admit amendments not merely of detail, but which might affect the whole of the Bill. After criticizing a remark by Lord Harrowby, that the matter was one not of politics, but of the Bible, on which he observed that, in regard to the Irish Church, religion had been always, unfortunately, too much mixed up
with politics,-he concluded with an earnest appeal to the House to look at the question as they would if Ireland were the stronger and England were the oppressed and the weaker country.
The Earl of Harrowby, who repudiated the character either of a leader or of a party man, moved an amendment that the Bill should be read a second time that day three months. He cast back on the Government and its friends the charge of themselves being originally of Lord Mayo’s much-abused opinion as to the propriety of “levelling up;” and he quoted from a letter of Mr. Dillon in the Tablet in proof of that assertion. His own objection to the Bill was that it was revolutionary, that it implied in a certain sense a violation of the Coronation Oath, and that it was opposed to the Act of Union. Circumstances might, he confessed, be imagined when such extreme measures would be justifiable; but his complaint was that none such had been shown to exist in the present instance. How little necessary in the cause of justice was the destruction of the Irish Church Establishment, he showed by citations from Grattan, Burke, Plunket, Castlereagh, and Peel. The present measure, which he traced to a negotiation between the Roman Catholics and the Liberation Society, had been curiously anticipated in a proposal of Mr. Miall's, even down to the application of the surplus funds to the endowment of lunatic asylums and the like. But that proposal had been opposed by members of the present Government, and in regard to them it was an entirely new project. He proceeded to dilate on the inconveniences of dealing in this abrupt and violent way with sixteen millions' worth of property, and the great probability that the effect would be to diminish the number of Irish Protestants, thus depriving the Irish peasantry of kindly friends and employers, and England of its truest friends. The Bill had been rested on the argument of justice to Ireland. But, at the highest, it was only half justice to the Irish Roman Catholics, who, on the same plea, might logically claim to have their confiscated property restored to them; and it was wholly injustice to the Irish Protestants. He urged, finally, on the House its obligation, considering its place in the State, to resist this revolutionary attempt, on the ground of the already extremely democratic character of the British Constitution--more democratic, he asserted, than that of any other country, not even excepting the United States.
The Earl of Clarendon compared the expressions of feeling on this Irish Church question with the old fanatical opposition to the of the Test and Corporation Acts, and the personal rancour against Mr. Gladstone with that against the late Sir Robert Peel in reference to the repeal of the Corn Laws. It was, he felt, impossible to awaken much interest in so thoroughly exhausted a discussion as this; but the one question to be considered was whether the measure was just and necessary. He referred to his own Irish experiences, sincere Protestant as he was, in proof that it