In other words, when an election had taken place and an election petition was presented claiming the seat on behalf of the defeated candidate, the custom was that the House of Commons should appoint a Select Committee of its own Members to consider the petition and to decide as to the validity of its claim. The choice of such a Select Committee obviously rested with the majority of the House of Commons; that is to say, with the Government and the Party in power. Now, the majority might be composed of men having the best intentions in the world where abstract principles were concerned; but at the same time it is only reasonable to suppose that as human nature is constituted, most of that majority would rather see their own supporter in Parliament than a representative of the opposite Party. No Party in power would, during later generations at least, go so far as to construct a Select Committee entirely of supporters of the Party in power; there would no doubt be some representatives of opposing opinion appointed to the Committee; but it is fairly to be assumed that the majority of the Committee on any important question would be found to represent the majority of the House. Therefore, the public began to lose faith in the whole system, and a not unreasonable impression was spreading abroad that the moment the names on a Select Committee were announced, one could foretell with something like accuracy the manner in which the claim of the petition would be decided. Besides it was quite certain that the practice of bribery and corruption had grown up so much in our electoral system, that public confidence and public feeling had, to a great extent, been demoralised; and a candidate thought no more of bribing a corrupt elector than the corrupt elector thought of receiving the bribe and giving his vote accordingly.
Therefore a strong force of public opinion had been growing up against the existing system, and before Lord Derby resigned office as Prime Minister it was decided that a Court should be created of three paid judges on the bench for the purpose of hearing and deciding all election petitions, and removing them absolutely and once for all out of the jurisdiction of the House of Commons. A strong objection was made by the judges themselves to the proposal for putting on their shoulders the responsibility of these entirely new duties. Sir Alexander Cockburn, then Chief Justice of England, became the exponent of the objections made by the body of judges; and contended that the effect of such a measure would be to lower the dignity of the judicial bench, and to weaken the confidence of the public in the impartiality of the judges who would, under such an arrangement, have to decide on essentially political questions. The Government, however, did not yield to the objections; and after much discussion a Bill was brought in to refer the trial and decision of election petitions not to a court of judges, but to a single judge selected from a list to be prepared by the Judicial Bench. This measure was carried as an experiment in the first instance, but it was afterwards renewed and may now be considered one of the permanent institutions of the country. The fears entertained by the judges have not thus far been realised; and in this country, at all events, no public doubt whatever has arisen as to the strict impartiality of the judge to whom is confided the hearing and the decision of election petitions. Mr. Disraeli's Government also had the satisfaction of announcing the successful conclusion of the Abyssinian Expedition - an expedition sent out under the command of Sir Robert Napier, afterwards Lord Napier of Magdala, for the rescue of some British subjects and others who were held in captivity by Theodore, the king of the country. The expedition had to encounter the most tremendous natural difficulties, but it accomplished all its objects and, with a loss so slight as to be hardly worth mentioning, succeeded in capturing King Theodore's capital. King Theodore was found dead, slain by his own hand inside the gate of the capital which he could no longer defend. The Government did not entertain the idea of annexing the capital or any part of Abyssinia; but, having accomplished the object of the expedition, made a quick and safe return to England.
Mr. Disraeli remained but a short time at the head of the Government. In Home politics difficulties were thickening and darkening around him. It has been already shown in the course of this history that he had succeeded before he became Prime Minister in outbidding Mr. Gladstone in the struggle for the extension of the Parliamentary suffrage. The Irish Question, however, proved fatal to his administration. The Fenian agitation had culminated in an insurrection which was but partial in its extent and was soon put down, but which left in the minds of all observant and thinking men the strong conviction that Ireland was suffering from a political malady which it was the business and the duty of statesmanship to cure. An Irish member of high character and great ability, the late Mr. John Francis Maguire, brought forward a motion for the appointment of a Committee of the House of Commons to take into consideration the state of Ireland, with a view to discovery of some effectual remedial measures. Mr. Gladstone threw his soul into the question; and declared that the first measure of remedy ought to be the disestablishment and disendowment of the State Church in Ireland. Our readers have already had explained to them the conditions of the monstrous anomaly which was called a State Church in Ireland - the Established and Endowed Church in which only a very small minority of the population of Ireland had any interest or any faith. Mr. Maguire, of course, promptly withdrew his resolution when the commanding voice of Mr. Gladstone had spoken, and Mr. Gladstone became the leader of the movement for the extinction of the Irish Church as a State supported establishment. The Ministers were defeated on the resolutions proposed by Mr. Gladstone; and Mr. Disraeli resigned, but returned to office pending an appeal to the country by a General Election. The appeal to the country had for its result the return of the Liberal party to office; and the Irish Church was Disestablished and Disendowed with a reserve, so far as the disendowment was concerned, for living interests - that is, for the interests of those already holding ecclesiastical office; and thus the Irish State Establishment was converted into a free Episcopalian Church.