The enterprise, therefore, failed, and there was nothing for it but to send for Peel again, and urge him to form the best administration he could, and carry on his work. Peel consented, and formed an administration. One incidental fact of some historical interest deserves to be mentioned here. Mr. Gladstone accepted office under Peel; but he could not sit in Parliament without a re-election, and the borough of Newark which he represented was wholly under the influence of the Duke of Newcastle, who had declared against the policy of Sir Robert Peel. Gladstone, therefore, did not seek re-election, and remained without a seat in the House of Commons during the momentous months which were devoted to the carrying of the Free Trade policy. It is not necessary to go into all the details of the different stages by which Peel's policy was carried into law. The third reading of the Bill passed the House of Commons on the 15th of May, 1846, by a majority of ninety-eight votes. It was sent up to the House of Lords, and there, by the earnest advice of the Duke of Wellington, was carried through without serious or prolonged opposition. The Duke of Wellington probably knew little or nothing about the economic question involved, but he acted upon his old principle - he believed that Peel knew all about the matter; he had absolute confidence in Peel, and therefore he supported Peel with all his might. The Bill passed through the House of Lords on the 25th of June, 1846.
Benjamin Disraeli. 1804-1881.
During the debates in the House of Commons an entirely new power had come into English political life in the person of Mr. Disraeli. Disraeli had been ten years in Parliament; he had got into the House of Commons when still a very young man, and even then after repeated unsuccessful attempts. He was known as a literary man, as a novelist of what was considered a somewhat eccentric promise, for it took the public some time to understand the genuine originality and power that belonged to such books as "Vivian Grey" and "Coningsby." He came into the House of Commons as a sort of Radical under the support of Daniel O'Connell and Joseph Hume. He probably had no very strong political opinions of any kind; but it seemed perhaps to him the natural thing that a young man of genius should begin as a Radical. His first speech in the House of Commons was a complete and even a grotesque failure. He was in no wise appalled, however; he kept on making speech after speech every session, and for fully ten years he gave no promise of success. Meantime his political opinions had been undergoing gradual change. His unfriendly critics always maintained to the end of his life that he had been a good deal influenced by the conditions of the rival parties. There can be no doubt that through all his failures Disraeli remained convinced, and rightly convinced, of his own great parliamentary capacity. Nearly all the rising talent was on the Liberal side of the House.
On the Tory side, indeed, were men like Peel himself and such men as Sir James Graham, Gladstone, Sidney Herbert, and others; but after Peel the men then regarded as strongest were on the other side, and Peel had again and again been giving signs that his intellectual convictions were drawing him nearer and nearer on many great questions to the opinions of the most enlightened Liberals. Disraeli therefore, his hostile critics say, saw that there was a better chance for him on the Tory side than on the Liberal side. When Peel brought in his Free Trade measure there was a complete break-up of the Tory Party, and a third party, composed of men who called themselves the Peelites, including Graham, Gladstone, and Sidney Herbert, was speedily formed. Disraeli found his opportunity in the debates on Peel's Free Trade measure, and he distinguished himself in a manner which at once won for him a commanding place in the House of Commons. That place he maintained to the last, up to the day when, thirty years later, he left the House of Commons for ever, and passed into the House of Lords. So strange an instance of failure after failure, followed by the grasping of one sudden opportunity, and then converted into a success which lasted unbroken for the rest of a lifetime, is not to be recorded of any other man in the parliamentary history of England.
Peel had carried his great measure, but his own fall from power followed his triumph almost in a moment. He had believed himself compelled to introduce a Coercion measure for Ireland, because of some disturbances there; and he was supported in the peel's overthrow first instance of Lord George Bentinck, who afterwards became, at least in name, the leader of the Tory Party in the House of Commons. But in the interval the Free Trade Bill had passed, and the proposal for the second reading of the Coercion measure gave Bentinck, Disraeli, and the Tories generally a chance of revenge. They eagerly availed themselves of the chance. The followers of O'Connell would certainly vote against the Bill, most of the English Radical members might be expected to vote against it, and if the Tories joined with both the fate of the Bill would be sealed. The Tories were not likely to resist the temptation, which chance thus offered them, to revenge themselves on Peel for what they considered his betrayal of their cause. On Thursday, June 25, 1846, the House of Commons divided on the second reading of the Coercion Bill. Lord George Bentinck led some eighty of his Protectionists into the lobby against the motion for the second reading, and their votes decided the fate of the measure and of the Ministry. Two hundred and nineteen votes were given for the Bill, and two hundred and ninety-two against it, leaving the Ministry in a minority of seventy-three. In the very hour of his greatest success, Sir Robert Peel fell from power once for all. On the fourth day afterwards the great Minister announced his resignation of office. The speech in which he made the announcement was remarkable for its dignity, its magnanimity, and its manly, generous feeling. Its closing passage may well be quoted.