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FOR THE YEAR
Aspect of Public Affuirs at the beginning of the year-State of the Foreign Relations of England - Position of the “Alabama" Controversy --Continued Depression of Trade
- The Revenue, after a long period of buoyancy, begins to decline-Improved tranquillity in Ireland, and prospects of restoration of the Habeas Corpus--Great interest felt in the political situation, The New Parliament and New Administration Circumstances attending Mr. Gladstone's accession to power-His resolution to disestablish the Irish Protestant Church — Arduous nature of that undertakingStatement of the views with which he undertook the Government made by the Prime Minister at Fishmongers' Hall-Reassembling of Parliament on Feb. 16Her Majesty's Speech-Debates on the Address in the two Houses-- It is carried in both without opposition-Intention of Her Majesty to receive the Address of the Commons in person from the whole House prevented by illness of Prince Leopold-First Proceedings of the New Parliament—Plan for facilitating Public Legislation proposed by the Marquis of Salisbury—The scheme is referred to a joint Committee of the two Houses, but produces no result Appointment of a Select Committee of the House of Commons to inquire into the mode of conducting Parliamentary and Municipal Elections— Proceedings of the Committee, and their Report-Catile Disease-Two Bills brought in for the Prevention of Contagious Diseases of Animals—The Bill of Lord Robert Montagu is rejected after debateThat of the Government, proposed by Mr. W. E. Forster, is approved and passed Poor Law Rating and Assessment—Two Bills for the Amendment of the Law as to Rating are brought in by Mr. Goschen, President of the Poor Law Board-Proceedings thereupon in the House of Commons-Repression of Crime-A Bill for dealing more effectually with the Criminal Classes is brought in by Lord KimberleyDebates on the measure in its passage through the House of Lords.
The condition of public affairs in the United Kingdom at the commencement of the year 1869 was not otherwise than prosperous. The successful termination of the Abyssinian Expedition had raised the credit of our military administration, and had reflected honour upon the country in the eyes of Europe. The relations of England with Foreign States were amicable and satisfactory, and there seemed at the period in question to be fair ground for expecting that
the only controversy with a Foreign power then pending, namely, the difference with the United States on the subject of the "Alabama,' might be brought to a friendly conclusion by arbitration. As regarded the internal condition of the country, it was still matter of complaint that the depressing effect so long exercised upon trade by the commercial crisis of 1865 continued to be felt, although the harvest of the preceding year had been very good, and symptoms of partial recovery in certain quarters were thought to be discernible. At the same time it was matter of observation, that the tardiness with which confidence revived was without parallel in the history of commercial revulsions. The public revenue, which had exhibited for several years remarkable buoyancy, had now begun to show signs of an opposite character,--the expenditure at the close of the year 1868 showing a balance, the extra cost of the Abyssinian expedition being included, of nearly two and a half millions over income. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, describing the condition of the revenue a few months after the beginning of the year, spoke of it as “showing not the slightest symptom of elasticity." The condition of Ireland had of late become rather
” more tranquil: the apprehensions of Fenian insurrection had for a time subsided, and it was hoped that the improved spirit of the population would be found to justify the Government in refraining from a further renewal of the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act.
Political affairs occupied at this time an unusual share of public attention, and the prospects of the approaching Session of Parliament were discussed with great interest in all quarters. A new House of Commons had just been returned under the Acts lately passed for amending the representation of the people, and as an immediate consequence of the appeal to the constituencies, a new Administration had succeeded to the Conservative Cabinet, which, in deference to the voice of the nation, had retired of its own accord from office. Mr. Gladstone, at the head of a Ministry which comprised some elements new to official life, and contained a strong infusion of Liberal principles of decided type, was regarded with hope by one party, with fear and distrust by another, as about to inaugurate a new era of democratic legislation. But all other interests connected with the approaching Session were overshadowed by that one absorbing question with which the new Premier had solemnly pledged his Cabinet to deal, and on which he had staked his political reputation, the disestablishment of the Protestant Church of Ireland. No legislative undertaking in modern times could be compared in difficulty and complexity to the measure thus projected, and although the opinion of the country at the recent election had in general terms been pronounced in favour of the principle, the task of putting the scheme into a statutory form, and carrying it with all its intricate details through the Legislature against the determined opposition of the interests affected, and of all who sympathized with those interests, was an enterprise that might well appal the most resolute statesman. So arduous did the enterprise appear that many politicians, though not doubting the ultimate destination of the Establishment, confidently predicted that its overthrow could not be effected until after a long and obstinate struggle, involving probably the lapse of several years, and possibly the fate of more than one Administration.
The feeling with which the new Minister himself regarded the responsibilities of his position, and the spirit in which he approached the execution of his arduous work, will be best evinced by the language which he used at a political banquet given just before the meeting of Parliament by the Fishmongers' Company. In acknowledging the toast of Her Majesty's Ministers, proposed by the Prime Warden, Mr. Gladstone, after expressing his gratitude for the honour conferred upon them, proceeded to descant upon the public considerations arising out of their acceptance of office. “Never,” he said, “in our history-certainly not within the history of living man-has there been an occasion upon which the issue raised at a general election was more intelligibly and distinctly raised than when the late House of Commons, condemned by the Government of the day, was summoned to the bar of popular opinion, there to receive its final acquittal or condemnation. Every man who had to give his suffrage throughout the country knew for or against what that suffrage was to be given; and if the issue was distinct the verdict also has been distinct-for upon no occasion has the nation made its meaning more clearly known, or laid down alike for those who are the objects of its preference, and for those whose opinions it was disposed to put aside—with greater clearness the lines of public policy and of action. We may be, perhaps, tempted upon such an occasion--but we ought to resist the temptation, to use the language of exultation. The task to which we have to address ourselves is an arduous task. I am not about to anticipate that sketch or outline of the policy and measures of the Session which almost within a few days will be communicated to Parliament and the world. But without dealing in secrets, those who have taken part in the struggles of the last autumn, and especially those who watch the determining issues of the late Session of Parliament, may well judge that we, having taken upon ourselves the heavy responsibility of raising and submitting to the judg. ment of the Legislature such a question as the continuance of the religious establishment of one of the three countries—having been permitted thus far to make good our ground—to make it good, in the first instance, by repeated divisions in a House of Commons not unduly disposed to innovate--to make it good, above all, in that which our opponents were careful to tell us, and not unjustly, was the final appeal—I say there can be no doubt that we, having proceeded thus far, and having set our hand to the plough, are not now about to look back, but with faces steadily set onward to persevere with prudence and consideration, and without hesitation and without delay, to the great end we have in view. We are encouraged in this task in the first place by the constitutional knowledge and character of that Sovereign whom we have the honour to serve, and whose delight it is to associate herself both with the interests and the convictions of her people. I may presume to say that I am also encouraged by the character and abilities of the men who have not shrunk from sharing with myself the responsibility of a Government that has now been fairly presented to the country, and which, I think, has met the public eye without attracting the public disapproval. We are strong, also, in that emphatic testimony which the public judgment—tested by the ordeal of the elections—has pronounced in favour of the policy to which we are pledged; and, above all this, we are sustained and comforted by that upon which, in the last resort, every man, and especially every public man, ought to fall back, namely, the deep conviction that the cause to which he is devoted is the cause of justice and of the public weal. If there be curiosity as to the course which the Government will endeavour to pursue upon and shortly after the opening of the Session, I am afraid I must not attempt, at this moment, to gratify that most natural and intelligible sentiment. But I do venture to give a pledge that not a moment will be lost in the maturing of those measures which, when produced and explained, will, I believe, afford to all full gratification. As I have said, the great majority which has been returned to Parliament for the support of the principles of the Liberal party constitutes, indeed, a remarkable-almost unparalleled--success, and yet it is an event not without its dangers, for its dangers would outweigh its advantages, great as they may be, if they were to lead, on the part of any one among us, either to slackness of mind or to a disposition to undervalue the grave and serious nature of the obstacles we have to overcome. I believe that the provisions of our constitution, which secure a deliberate and impartial expression of the national conviction, are sufficient for the settlement of this or of any controversy; but as in the conduct of military campaigns there is no superiority of force that will counterbalance possible errors of generalship or lack of discipline, so we may throw away even these great advantages should we fail to turn them to the best account. Great is the responsibility that lies upon us in this respect, for if we fail we shall be exposed to the just reproaches of a disappointed, and even an indignant people. But if it shall be our happy lot to avoid the dangers besetting us on the right hand and on the left, then I will venture to say that never were public men more happy in the nature of the task they have been called upon to take in hand; for what can be an object dearer either to the understanding or the heart of man than to endeavour to bring about through the whole of this vast community that union of feeling and interest which, even in the degree in which we have hitherto possessed it, has been the source of our strength and glory, but which still presents to view here and there some points in which it is unhappily defective, and which we wish to bring up to that condition in which every man will almost forget whether he is a Scotchman, Englishman, or Irishman,