1902 Encyclopedia > Sir Robert Peel

Sir Robert Peel
English politician
(1788-1850)




HENRY JOHN TEMPLE PALMERSTON, VISCOUNT, (1784-1865), statesman, minister of foreign affairs, and twice prime minister of England, was born at Broadlands, near Romsey, Hants, on the 20th October 1784. The Irish branch of the Temple family, from which Lord Palmerston descended, was very distantly related to the great English house of the same name, which played so conspicuous a part in the politics of the 18th century; but these Irish Temples were not without distinction. In the reign of Elizabeth they had furnished a secretary to Sir Philip Sidney and to Essex. In the reign of William and Mary Sir William Temple figured as one of the ablest diplomatists of the age. From his younger brother, who was speaker of the Irish House of Commons, Lord Palmerston descended; the son of the speaker was created a peer of Ireland. March 12, 1722, and was succeeded by his grandson, the second viscount, who married a Miss Mee, a lady celebrated for her beauty, who became the mother of the subject of this notice. Lord and Lady Palmerston were persons of great taste and fashion, who travelled several times in Italy with their children. Their eldest son, Henry John, is mentioned by Lady Elliot in her correspondence as a boy of singular vivacity and energy. These qualities adhered to him through life, and he had scarcely left Harrow, at the age of eighteen, when the death of his father (April 17, 1802) raised him to the Irish peerage, and placed him at the head of his family. It was no doubt owing to his birth and connexions, but still more to his own talents and character, that Lord Palmerston was thrown at a very early age into the full stream of political and official life. Before he was four-and-twenty he had stood two contested elections for the university of Cambridge, at which he was defeated, and he entered parliament for a pocket-borough, Newtown, Isle of Wight, in June 1807. Through the interest of his guardians Lord Malmesbury and Lord Chichester, the duke of Portland made him one of the junior lords of the Admiralty on the formation of his administration in 1807. A few months later he delivered his maiden speech in the House of Commons in defence of the expedition against

Copenhagen, which he conceived to be justified by the known designs of Napoleon on the Danish court. This speech was so successful that it marked him out as one of the rising statesmen of the day, in so much that, when Perceval formed his Government in 1809, he proposed to this young man of five and-twenty to take the chancellorship of the exchequer, following apparently the examples of Pitt and Lord Henry Petty, who had filled that offica at about the same age. Lord Palmerston, however, though extremely surprised and flattered by the proposal, had the wisdom to refuse it, on the ground that he was totally ignorant of finance, and had only once addressed the House of Commons. Nor did he allow the offer of a seat in the cabinet to break his modest resolution. He contented himself with the far less important office of secretary at war, charged exclusively with the financial business of the army, without a seat in the cabinet, and in this position he remained, singularly enough, without any signs of an ambitious temperament or of great political abilities, for twenty years (1809-1828). His administrative talents were confined within the limits of the War Office, which he kept in perfect order, and his parliamentary speeches to the annual statements in which he moved the army estimates of those eventful years. During the whole of that period Lord Palmerston was chiefly known as a man of fashion, and a subordinate minister without influence on the general policy of the cabinets he served. Some of the most humorous poetical pieces in the New Whig Guide were from his pen, and he was entirely devoted, like his friends Peel and Croker, to the Tory party of that day.

The political opinions of Lord Palmerston at that time, and perhaps through life, were those of the school of Pitt —not the effete Toryism of the Pitt clubs, which he always treated with disdain, but the enlarged Conservative views of the great minister himself, as represented after Pitt's death by Canning. Lord Palmerston never was a WThig, still less a Radical; he was a statesman of the old English aristocratic type, liberal in his sentiments, favourable to the cause of justice and the march of progress, but entirely opposed to the claims of democratic government. Thus he supported from the first the cause of Catholic emancipation, and he sympathized warmly with the constitutional party throughout the world, but he was opposed to the extension of the franchise in England, and he regarded the impulse of popular power as a force to be directed and controlled rather than obeyed. So successfully did he practise the art of governing a free people that he lived to be regarded as a popular minister, though he had been for twenty years a member of a Tory Government, and never materially altered his own opinions.

In the later years of Lord Liverpool's administration, after the death of Lord Londonderry in 1822, strong dissensions existed in the cabinet. The Liberal section of the Government was gaining ground. Canning became foreign minister and leader of the House of Commons. Huskisson began to advocate and apply the doctrines of free trade. Catholic emancipation was made an open question. Although Lord Palmerston was not in the cabinet, he cordially supported the measures of Canning and his friends. Upon the death of Lord Liverpool, Canning was called to the head of affairs ; the Tories, including Peel, withdrew their support, and an alliance was formed between the Liberal members of the late ministry and the Whigs. In this combination the chancellorship of the exchequer was first offered to Lord Palmerston, who accepted it, but this appointment was frustrated by the king's intrigue with Herries, and Palmerston was content to remain secretary at war with a seat in the cabinet, which ho now entered for the first time. The Canning administration ended in four months by the death of its printer, who, appreciating the discovery of his townsman Hargreaves,took to cotton-spinning with the spinning-jenny and grew a wealthy man. His father, Kobert Peel, third son of the last-named, carried on the same business at Bury with still greater success, in partnership with Mr Yates, whose daughter Ellen he married. He made a princely fortune, became the owner of Drayton Manor and member of parliament for the neighbouring borough of Tamworth, was a trusted and honoured, as well as ardent, supporter of Pitt, contributed magnificently towards the support of that leader's war policy, was rewarded with a baronetcy, and founded a rich and powerful house, on whose arms he emblazoned, and in whose motto he commemorated, the prosperous industry from which it sprang. The example and precepts of the father took early effect upon his eldest son, whom from the first he destined and prepared to serve his country in public life. At Harrow, according to the accounts of his contemporaries, Peel was a steady industrious boy, the best scholar in the school, fonder of solitary walks than of the games of his companions, but ready to help those who were duller than himself, and not unpopular among his fellows. At Christ Church, where he entered as a gentleman commoner, he studied hard, and was the first who, under the new examination statutes, took a first class both in classics and in mathematics. His examination for his B.A. degree in 1808 was an academical ovation in presence of a numerous audience, who came to hear the first man of the day; and a relation who was at Oxford at the time has recorded that the triumph, like both the triumphs and reverses of after life, was calmly borne. From his classical studies Bobert Peel derived not only the classical, though somewhat pompous, character of his speeches and the Latin quotations with which they were often happily interspersed, but something of his lofty ideal of political ambition. Nor did he ever cease to love these pursuits of his youth; and in 1837, when elected lord rector of Glasgow university, in his inaugural speech he passed a glowing eulogy on classical education. To his mathematical training, which was then not common among public men, he no doubt owed in part his method, his clearness, his great power of grasping steadily and working out difficult and complicated questions. His speeches show that, in addition to his academical knowledge, he was well versed in English literature, in history, and in the principles of law. While reading hard he did not neglect to develop his tall and vigorous frame, and fortify his strong constitution, by manly exercises ; and, though he lost his life partly through his bad riding, he was always a good shot and an untiring walker after game. Sprung from the most religious class of English society, he grew up and remained through life a religious man, and from that source drew deep conscientiousness and tranquillity under all difficulties and in all fortunes. His Oxford education confirmed his attachment to the Protestant Church of England. His practical mind remained satisfied with the doctrines of his youth ; and he never showed that he had studied the great religious controversies, or that he understood the great religious movements of his day.





In 1809, being then in his twenty-second year, he was brought into parliament for the close borough of Cashel, which he afterwards exchanged for Chippenham, and commenced his parliamentary career under the eye of his father, then member for Tamworth, who fondly saw in him the future leader of the Tory party. Pitt, Fox, and Burke were gone. Sheridan shone with an expiring ray. But in that House of Commons sat Wilberforce, Windham, Tierney, Grattan, Perceval, Castlereagh, Plunkett, Bomilly, Mackintosh, Burdett, Wbitbread, Horner, Brougham, Parnell, Huskisson, and, above all, George Canning. Lord
Palmerston entered the house at the same time, and Lord John Bussell a few years afterwards. Among these men young Peel had to rise. And he rose, not by splendid eloquence, by profound political philosophy, or by great originality of thought, but by the closest attention to all his parliamentary duties, by a study of all the business of parliament, which made him at length familiar with the whole range of public questions and public interests, and by a style of speaking which, owing its force not to high flights of oratory, but to knowledge of the subject in hand, clearness of exposition, close reasoning, and tact in dealing with a parliamentary audience, backed by the character and position of the speaker, improved with his information, practice, station, and experience till it gave him an unrivalled command over the House of Commons. The Tory party was then all-powerful at home; while abroad Europe was at the feet of Napoleon. But Napoleon's fortune was about to turn ; and, with the close of the struggle against revolutionary France, political progress in England was soon to resume the march which that struggle had arrested. Young Peel's lot, however, was cast, through his father, with the Tory party. In his maiden speech in 1810, seconding the address, he defended the Walcheren expedition, which he again vindicated soon afterwards against the report of Lord Porchester's committee. It is said that even then Lord Liverpool discerned in him a dangerous tendency to think for himself, and told his father that he must be put at once into the harness of office. At all events ho began official life as Lord Liverpool's private secretary, and shortly afterwards, in 1811, was made under-secretary for the colonies by Perceval. In 1812 he was transferred by Lord Liverpool to the more important but unhappy post of secretary for Ireland. There he was engaged till 1817 in maintaining, by insurrection Acts and other repressive measures, English and Protestant ascendency over a country heaving with discontent, teeming with conspiracy, and ever ready to burst into rebellion. A middle course between Irish parties was impossible. Peel became, by the necessity of his situation, " Orange Peel," and plied the established engines of coercion and patronage with a vigorous hand. At the same time, it was his frequent duty to combat Grattan, Plunkett, Canning, and the other movers and advocates of Catholic emancipation in the House of Commons. He, however, always spoke on this question with a command of temper wonderful in hot youth, with the utmost courtesy towards his opponents, and with warm expressions of sympathy and even of admiration for the Irish people. Nor was the ground he took against the Catholics that of religious principle never to be abandoned, but that of political expediency, which political necessity might overcome. He also, thus early, did his best to advocate and promote secular education in Ireland as a means of reconciling sects and raising the character of the people. He materially improved the conduct of ordinary business in his office, and gave great satisfaction to merchants and others with whom he had to deal. But his greatest service to Ireland as secretary was the institution of the regular Irish constabulary, nicknamed after him " Peelers," for the protection of life and property in a country where both were insecure. His moderation of tone did not save him from the violent abuse of O'Connell, whom he, young, hot-tempered (though his temper was generally under control), and sensitive on the point of honour, was ill advised enough to challenge,—an affair which covered them both with ridicule. In 1817 he obtained the highest parliamentary distinction of the Tory party by being elected member for the university of Oxford,—an honour for which he was chosen in preference to Canning on account of his hostility to Catholic emancipation, Lord Eldon lending him his best support. In the following year he resigned the Irish secretaryship, of the odious work of which he had long been very weary, and remained out of office till 1822. But he still supported the ministers with official zeal, even in the question of the "Peterloo massacre." In the affair of Queen Caroline, however, he stood somewhat aloof, disapproving some steps taken by the Government, and sensitive to popular opinion; and when Canning retired on account of this affair Peel declined Lord Liverpool's invitation to take the vacant place in the cabinet. During this break in his tenure of office he had some time for reflexion, which there was enough in the aspect of the political world to move. But early office had done its work. It had given him excellent habits of business, great knowledge, and a high position; but it had left him somewhat stiff, somewhat punctilious, somewhat too cold and reserved to win the hearts of those whose confidence he might command, and somewhat over anxious for formal justifications when he might well have left the essential patriotism and probity of his conduct to the judgment of men of honour and the heart of the people. At the same time he was no pedant in business; in corresponding on political subjects he loved to throw off official forms and communicate his views with the freedom of private correspondence ; and, where his confidence was given, it was given without reserve.

At this period he was made chairman of the bullion committee on the death of Horner. He was chosen for this important office by Huskisson, Bicardo, and their fellow-economists, who saw in him a mind open to conviction, though he owed hereditary allegiance to Pitt's financial policy, and had actually voted with his Pittite father for a resolution of Lord Liverpool's Government denying the existence of any depreciation in the paper currency. The choice proved judicious. Peel was converted to the currency doctrines of the economists, and proclaimed his conversion in a great speech on the 24th of May 1819, in which he moved and carried four resolutions embodying the recommendations of the bullion committee in favour of a return to cash payments. This laid the foundation of his financial reputation, and his co-operation with the economists tended to give a liberal turn to his commercial principles. In the course he took lie somewhat diverged from his party, and particularly from his father, who remained faithful to Pitt's depreciated paper, and between whom and his schismatic son a solemn and touching passage occurred in the debate. The author of the Cash Payments Act had often to defend his policy, and he did so with vigour. The Act is sometimes said to have been hard on debtors, including the nation as debtor, because it required debts to be paid in cash which had been contracted in depreciated paper; and Peel, as heir to a great fundholder, was even charged with being biassed by his personal interests. But it is answered that the Bank Bestriction Acts, under which the depreciated paper had circulated, themselves contained a provision for a return to cash payments six months after peace.

In 1820 Peel married Julia, daughter of General Sir John Floyd, who bore him five sons and two daughters. Three of his sons, Robert, Frederick, and Arthur, have followed him in holding parliamentary office, the youngest being now (1884) speaker of the House of Commons; while another, William, the sailor, has run a bright course in another sphere, and found a glorious grave. The writers who have most severely censured Sir Robert Peel as a public man have suspended their censures to dwell on the virtues and happiness of his private and domestic life. He was not only a most loving husband and father but a true and warm-hearted friend. In Whitehall Gardens or at Drayton Manor he gladly opened his mind, wearied with the cares of state, to the enjoyments of a circle in which it was his pleasure and his pride to gather some of the most distinguished intellects of the day. He indulged in free and cheerful talk, in which he showed a keen sense of the ridiculous, and a dry sarcastic humour, which often broke out also in his speeches in the House of Commons. He sought the conversation of men of science ; he took delight in art, and was a great collector of pictures; he was fond of farming and agricultural improvements; he actively promoted useful works and the advancement of knowledge; he loved making his friends, dependants, tenants, and neighbours happy. And, cold as he was in public, even to those whom he desired to win, yet in his gay and social hour few men whose minds were so laden could be more bright and genial than Sir Robert Peel.

In 1822 Peel consented to strengthen the enfeebled ministry of Lord Liverpool by becoming home secretary ; and in that capacity he had again to undertake the office of coercing the growing discontent in Ireland, of which he remained the real administrator, and had again to lead in the House of Commons the opposition to the rising cause of Catholic emancipation. In 1825, being defeated on the Catholic question in the House of Commons, he wished to resign office, but Lord Liverpool pleaded that his resignation would break up the Government. He found a happier and more congenial task in reforming and humanizing the criminal law, especially those parts of it which relate to offences against property and offences punishable by death. The five Acts in which Peel accomplished this great work, the first step towards a complete and civilized code, as well as the great speech of 9th March 1826, in which he opened the subject to the House, will form one of the most solid and enduring monuments of his fame. Criminal law reform was the reform of Romilly and Mackintosh, from the hands of the latter of whom Peel received it. But the masterly bills in which it was embodied were the bills of Peel,—not himself a creative genius, but, like the founder of his house, a profound appreciator of other men's creations, and unrivalled in the power of giving them practical and complete effect. This great measure, beyond the sphere of party, was probably also another step in the emancipation of Peel's mind.

In 1827 the Liverpool ministry was broken up by the fatal illness of its chief, and under the new premier, George Canning, Peel, like the duke of Wellington and other high Tory members of Lord Liverpool's cabinet, refused to serve. Canning and Peel were rivals; but we need not interpret as mere personal rivalry that which was certainly, in part at least, a real difference of connexion and opinion. Canning took a Liberal line, and was supported by many of the Whigs; the seceders were Tories, and it is difficult to see how their position in Canning's cabinet could have been otherwise than a false one. Separation led to public coolness and occasional approaches to bitterness on both sides in debate. But there seems no ground for exaggerated complaints against Peel's conduct. Canning himself said to a friend that " Peel was the only man who had behaved decently towards him." Their private intercourse remained uninterrupted to the end; and Canning's son afterwards entered public life under the auspices of Peel. The charge of having urged Catholic emancipation on Lord Liverpool in 1825, and opposed Canning for being a friend to it in 1827, made against Sir Robert Peel in the fierce corn-law debates of 1846, has been withdrawn by those who made it.

In January 1828, after Canning's death, the duke of Wellington formed a Tory Government, in which Peel was home secretary and leader of the House of Commons. This cabinet, Tory as it was, did not include the impracticable Lord Eldon, and did include Huskisson and three more friends of Canning. Its policy was to endeavour to stave off the growing demand for organic change by administrative reform, and by lightening the burdens of the people. The civil list was retrenched with an unsparing hand, the public expenditure was reduced lower than it had been since the Revolutionary war, and the import of corn was permitted under a sliding scale of duties. Peel also introduced into London the improved system of police which he had previously established with so much success in Ireland. But the tide ran too strong to be thus headed. First the Government were compelled, after a defeat in the House of Commons, to acquiesce in the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, Peel bringing over their High Church supporters, as far as he could, through Dr Lloyd, bishop of Oxford, his tutor at Christ Church, and now his beloved friend and the partner of his counsels in political matters affecting the interests of the church. Immediately afterwards the question of Catholic emancipation was brought to a crisis by the menacing power of the Catholic Association and the election of O'Connell for the county of Clare. Peel expressed to the duke of Wellington his conviction that the Catholic question must be settled. The duke consented. The consent of the king, which could scarcely have been obtained except by the duke and Peel, was extorted, withdrawn (the ministers being out for a few hours), and again extorted ; and on the 5th of March 1829 Peel proposed Catholic emancipation in a speech of more than four hours, which was listened to with unflagging attention, and concluded amidst cheers which were heard in Westminster Hall. The apostate was overwhelmed with obloquy. Having been elected for the university of Oxford as a leading opponent of the Catholics, he had thought it right to resign his seat on being converted to emancipation. His friends put him again in nomination, but he was defeated by Sir R. H. Inglis, though the great majority of distinction and intellect was on his side. He took refuge in the close borough of Westbury, whence he afterwards removed to Tamworth, for which he sat till his death. Catholic emancipation was forced on Peel by circumstances; but it was mainly owing to him that the measure was complete, and based upon equality of civil rights. This great concession, however, did not save the Tory Government. The French Revolution of July 1830 gave fresh strength to the movement against them, though, schooled by the past, they promptly recognized King Louis Philippe. The parliamentary reform movement was joined by some of their offended Protestant supporters. The duke of Wellington committed them fatally against all reform, first by cashiering Huskisson for voting in favour of giving the forfeited franchise of East Retford to Birmingham, and then by a violent anti-reform declaration in the House of Lords. The elections went against them on the demise of the crown; they were compelled, by popular feeling, to put off the king's visit to the city; they were beaten on Sir H. ParnelPs motion for a committee on the civil list, and resigned.





While in office, Peel succeeded to the baronetcy, Drayton Manor, and a great estate by the death of his father 3d May 1830. The old man had lived to see his fondest hopes fulfilled in the greatness of his son ; but he had also lived to see that a father must not expect to fix his son's opinions,—above all, the opinions of such a son as Sir Robert Peel, and in such an age as that which followed the French Revolution.

The ability and obstinacy of Sir Robert Peel's resistance to the Reform Bill won back for him the allegiance of his party. His opposition was resolute, but it was temperate, and not such as to inflame the fierce passions of the time, delay the return of civil peace, or put an insurmountable barrier between his friends and the more moderate among their opponents. Once only he betrayed the suppressed fire of his temper, in the historical debate of the 22nd April 1831, when his speech was broken off by the arrival of the king to dissolve the parliament which had thrown out reform. He refused to join the duke of Wellington in the desperate enterprise of forming a Tory Government at the height of the storm, when the Grey ministry had gone out on the refusal of the king to promise them an unlimited creation of peers. By this conduct he secured for his party the full benefit of the reaction which he no doubt knew was sure to ensue. The general election of 1832, after the passing of the Reform Bill, left him with barely 150 followers in the House of Commons; but this handful rapidly swelled under his management into the great Conservative party. He frankly accepted the Reform Act, stamped it as final, taught his party to register instead of despairing, appealed to the intelligence of the middle classes, whose new-born power he appreciated, steadily supported the Whig ministers against the Radicals and O'Connell, and gained every moral advantage which the most dignified and constitutional tactics could afford. The changes which the Reform Act necessarily drew with it, such as municipal reform, he rather watched in the Conservative interest than strongly opposed. To this policy, and to the great parliamentary powers of its author, it was mainly due that, in the course of a few years, the Conservatives were as strong in the reformed parliament as the Tories had been in the unreformed. It is vain to deny the praise of genius to such a leader, though his genius may have been of a practical, not of a speculative or imaginative kind. The skill of a pilot who steered for many years over such waters may sometimes have resembled craft. But the duke of Wellington's emphatic eulogy on him was, " Of all the men I ever knew, he had the greatest regard for truth." The duke might have added that his own question, " How is the king's Government to be carried on in a reformed parliament?" was mainly solved by the temperate and constitutional policy of Sir Robert Peel, and by his personal influence on the debates and proceedings of the House of Commons during the years which followed the Reform Act.

In 1834, on the dismissal of the Melbourne ministry, power came to Sir Robert Peel before he expected or desired it. He hurried from Rome at the call of the duke of Wellington, whose sagacious modesty knew his superior in politics and yielded him the first place, and became prime minister, holding the two offices of first lord of the treasury and chancellor of the exchequer. He vainly sought to include in his cabinet the two recent seceders from the Whigs, Lord Stanley and Sir James Graham. A dissolution gave him a great increase of strength in the House, but not enough. He was outvoted on the election of the speaker at the opening of the session of 1835, and, after struggling on for six weeks longer, was finally beaten, and resigned on the question of appropriating the surplus revenues of the church in Ireland to national education. His time had not yet come ; but the capacity, energy, and resource he displayed in this short tenure of office raised him immensely in the estimation of the House, his party, and the country. Of the great budget of practical reforms which he brought forward, the plan for the commutation of tithes, the ecclesiastical commission, and the plan for settling the question of dissenters' marriages bore fruit, then or afterwards. His scheme for settling the question of dissenters' marriages, framed in the amplest spirit of liberality, was a striking instance of his habit of doing thoroughly and without reserve that which he had once made up his mind to do.

From 1835 to 1840 he pursued the same course of patient and far-sighted opposition, the end of which, sure though distant, was not only office but power. In 1837 the Conservative members of the House of Commons, with victory now in sight, gave their leader a grand banquet at Merchant Taylors' Hall, where he proclaimed in a great speech the creed and objects of his party. In 1839, the Whigs having resigned on the Jamaica Bill, he was called on to form a Government, but failed, through the refusal of the queen, by advice of Lords John Bussell and Palmerston, to part with the ladies of her bedchamber, whom he deemed it necessary to replace by ladies not connected with his political opponents. His time was not even yet fully come. In 1840 he was hurried, it is believed by the ardour of his followers, into a premature motion of want of confidence, which was brought forward by Sir John Yarde Buller and failed. But in the following year a similar motion was carried by a majority of one, and the Whigs were compelled to appeal to the country. The result was a majority of ninety-one against them on a motion of want of confidence in the autumn of 1841, upon which they resigned, and Sir Robert Peel, becoming first lord of the treasury, with a commanding majority in both Houses of Parliament, the country in his favour, and many colleagues of the highest ability and distinction, grasped with no doubtful hold the reins of power.

The crisis called for a master-hand. The finances were in disorder. For some years there had been a growing deficit, which for 1841 was upwards of two millions, and attempts to supply this deficit by additions to assessed taxes and customs duties had failed. Distress and discontent reigned in the country, especially among the trading and manufacturing classes. The great financier took till the spring of 1842 to mature his plans. He then boldly supplied the deficit by imposing an income-tax on all incomes above a certain amount. He accompanied this tax with a reform of the tariff, by which prohibitory duties were removed and other duties abated on a vast number of articles of import, especially the raw materials of manufactures and prime articles of food. The increased consumption, as the reformer expected, countervailed the reduction of duty. The income-tax was renewed and the reform of the tariff carried still further on the same principle in 1845. The result was, in place of a deficit of upwards of two millions, a surplus of five millions in 1845, and the removal of seven millions and a half of taxes up to 1847, not only without loss, but with gain to the ordinary revenue of the country. The prosperous state of the .finances and of public affairs also permitted a reduction of the interest on a portion of the national debt, giving a yearly saving at once of £625,000, and ultimately of a million and a quarter to the public. In 1844 another great financial measure, the Bank Charter Act, was passed and, though severely controverted and thrice suspended at a desperate crisis, has ever since regulated the currency of the country. In Ireland O'Connell's agitation for the repeal of the Union had now assumed threatening proportions, and verged upon rebellion. The great agitator was prosecuted, with his chief adherents, for conspiracy and sedition; and, though the conviction was quashed for informality, repeal was quelled in its chief. At the same time a healing hand was extended to Ireland. The Charitable Bequests Act gave Roman Catholics a share in the administration of charities and legal power to endow their own religion. The allowance to Maynooth was largely increased, notwithstanding violent Protestant opposition. Three queen's colleges, for the higher education of all the youth of Ireland, without distinction of religion, were founded, notwithstanding violent opposition, both Protestant and Roman Catholic. The principle of toleration, once accepted, was thoroughly carried out. The last remnants of the penal laws were swept from the statute-book, and justice was extended to the Roman Catholic Church in Canada and Malta. In the same spirit Acts were passed for clearing from doubt Irish Presbyterian marriages, for settling the titles of a large number of dissenters' chapels in England, and removing the municipal disabilities of the Jews. The grant for national education was trebled, and an attempt was made, though in vain, to introduce effective education clauses into the factory bills. To the alienation of any part of the revenues of the Established Church Sir Robert Peel never would consent; but he had issued the ecclesiastical commission, and he now made better provision for a number of populous parishes by a redistribution of part of the revenues of the church. The weakest part of the conduct of this great Government, perhaps, was its failure to control the railway mania by promptly lajung down the lines on a Government plan. It passed an Act in 1844 which gave the Government a right of purchase, and it had prepared a palliative measure in 1846, but was compelled to sacrifice this, like all other secondary measures, to the repeal of the corn laws. It failed also, though not without an effort, to avert the great schism in the Church of Scotland. Abroad it was as prosperous as at home. It had found disaster and disgrace in Afghanistan. It speedily ended the war there with honour. By the hand of its governor-general of India the invading Sikhs were destroyed upon the Sutlej. Guizot has said that the objects—not only the ostensible but the real objects—of Sir Robert Peel's foreign policy were peace and justice among nations. The angry and dangerous questions with France, touching the right of search, the war in Morocco, and the Tahiti affair, and with the United States touching the Maine boundary and the Oregon territory, were happily settled by frank and patient negotiation. In this and in other parts of his administration Sir Robert Peel was well seconded by the ability of his colleagues, but the premier himself was the soul of all.

Yet there wras a canker in all this greatness. There were malcontents in Sir Robert Peel's party whose presence often caused embarrassment and twice collision and scandal. The Young Englanders disliked him because he had hoisted the flag of Conservatism instead of Toryism on the morrow of the Reform Bill. The strong philanthropists and Tory Chartists disliked him because he was a strict economist and an upholder of the new poor law. But the fatal question was protection. That question was being fast brought to a crisis by public opinion and the Anti-Corn-Law League. Sir Robert Peel had become in principle a free-trader. Since his accession to power a new responsibility had fallen on him, which compelled him to think less of a class and more of the people. He had expressed to Guizot a deep, nay, a passionate conviction that something must be done to relieve the suffering and precarious condition of the labouring classes. He had lowered the duties of the sliding scale, and thereby caused the secession from the cabinet of the duke of Buckingham. He had alarmed the farmers by admitting foreign cattle and meat under his new tariff, and by admitting Canadian corn. He had done his best in his speeches to put the maintenance of the corn laws on low ground, and to wean the landed interest from their reliance on protection. But to protection the landed interest fondly clung; and it is hard to say how far Sir Bobert Peel himself dreaded the consequences of repeal to the steadiness of prices and to mortgaged estates. The approach of the Irish famine in 1845 decisively turned the wavering balance. The ports must be opened, and, being opened, they could not again be closed upon the same conditions. The Clare election and Catholic emancipation were played over again. Sir Robert proposed to his cabinet the repeal of the corn laws. Lord Stanley and the duke of Buccleuch dissented, and Sir Robert resigned. But Lord John Russell failed to form a new Government. Sir Robert again came into office; and now, with the consent of all the cabinet but Lord Stanley, who retired, he, in a great speech on 27th January 1846, brought the repeal of the corn laws before the House of Commons. In the long and fierce debate that ensued he was overwhelmed, both by political and personal enemies, with the most virulent invective, which he bore with his wonted calmness, and to which he made no retorts. His measure was carried; but immediately afterwards the offended protectionists, goaded by Lord George Bentinck and Disraeli, coalesced with the Whigs, and threw him out on the Irish Coercion Bill. He went home from his defeat, escorted by a great crowd, who uncovered as he passed, and he immediately resigned. So fell a Conservative Government which would otherwise have probably ended only with the life of its chief. Those who overthrew Sir Robert Peel have dwelt on what they naturally believe to have been the bitterness of his fall. It is certain that he was deeply pained by the rupture with his . party, but it is doubtful whether otherwise his fall was so bitter. For evening had begun to steal over his long day of toil; he had the memory of immense labours gone through, and of great things achieved in the service of the state; he had a kingly position in the country, great wealth, fine tastes, and a happy home.

Though out of office he was not out of power. He had " lost a party, but won a nation." The Whig ministry which succeeded him leant much on his support, with which he never taxed them. He joined them in carrying forward free-trade principles by the repeal of the navigation laws. He joined them in carrying forward the principle of religious liberty by the bill for the emancipation of the Jews. One important measure was his own. While in office he had probed, by the Devon commission of inquiry, the sores of Ireland connected with the ownership and occupation of land. In 1849, in a speech on the Irish Poor Laws, he first suggested, and in the next year he aided in establishing, a commission to facilitate the sale of estates in a hopeless state of encumbrance. The Encumbered Estates Act made no attempt, like later legislation, to secure by law the uncertain customary rights of Irish tenants, but it transferred the land from ruined landlords to solvent owners capable of performing the duties of property towards the people. On the 28th of June 1850 Sir Robert Peel made a great speech on the Greek question against Lord Palmerston's foreign policy of interference. This speech, being against the Government, was thought to show that he was ready to return to office. It was his last. On the following day he was thrown from his horse on Constitution Hill, and mortally injured by the fall. Three days he lingered in all the pain which the quick nerves of genius can endure. On the fourth (2d July 1850) he took the sacrament, bade a calm farewell to his family and friends, and died; and a great sorrow fell on the whole land. All the tributes which respect and gratitude could pay were paid to him by the sovereign, by parliament, by public men of all parties, by the country, by the press, and, above all, by the great towns and the masses of the people to whom he had given "bread unleavened with injustice." He would have been buried among the great men of England in Westminster Abbey, but his will desired that he might be laid in Drayton church. It also renounced a peerage for his family, as he had before declined the garter for himself when it was offered him by the queen through Lord Aberdeen.

Those who judge Sir Robert Peel will remember that he was bred a Tory in days when party was a religion; that he entered parliament a youth, was in office at twenty-four and secretary for Ireland at twenty-five; that his public life extended over a long period rife with change; and that his own changes were all forwards and with the advancing intellect of the time. They will enumerate the great practical improvements and the great acts of legislative justice of those days—Catholic emancipation, freedom for dissenters, free trade, the great reforms in police, criminal law, currency, finance, the Irish Encumbered Estates Act, even the encouragement of agricultural improvement by loans of public money—and note how large a share Sir Robert Peel had, if not in originating, in giving thorough practical effect to all. They will observe that of what he did nothing has been undone. They will reflect that as a parliamentary statesman he could not govern without a party, aud that it is difficult to govern at once for a party and for the whole people. They will compare his administration with those that preceded and those that followed, and the state and fortunes of his party when he was at its head with its state and fortunes after his fall. They will consider the peace and goodwill which his foreign policy diffused over Europe. They will think of his ardent love of his country, of his abstinence from intrigue, violence, and faction, of his boundless labour through a long life devoted to the public service. Whether he was a model of statesmanship may be doubted. Models of statesmanship are rare, if by a model of statesmanship is meant a great administrator and party leader, a great political philosopher, and a great independent orator, all in one. But if the question is, whether he was a ruler loved and trusted by the English people, there is no arguing against the tears of a nation.

Those who wish to know more of him will consult his own posthumous memoirs, edited by his literary executors Earl Stanhope and Viscount Cardwell; the four volumes of his speeches; a sketch of his life and character by Sir Lawrence Peel; an historical sketch by Lord Dalling ; Guizot's Sir Robert Peel (1857) ; Künzel's Leben mit Reden Sir Robert Peel's (1851); Disraeli's Life of Lord George Beniinelc (1858); Morlev's Life of Cobden; and the general histories of the time. (G. S. — C. S. P.)




The above article was written by: Goldwin Smith, LL.D. and Charles Stewart Parker, M.P.



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