Meanwhile a new breath of reform had begun to animate the country. It was quite understood that so long as Lord Palmerston lived there was no real chance for any reform movement. Lord Palmerston had made himself thoroughly popular with the majority of the House of Commons. He had no interest whatever in domestic change - his sole concern was with foreign affairs; the bent of his inclination had always been that way; and no man could have more thoroughly understood the business of a Foreign Secretary, or known better how to make his skill in that direction a means of warding off inconvenient questions of reform at home. He had got the credit of holding England's head high among the nations of Europe, although the policy he pursued did not always commend itself to thoughtful and conscientious minds. No man better understood how to play the hazardous game of " bluff," and he always played his part with an eye to what may be called the gallery at home. Many a time he had contrived to avert inconvenient domestic questions by suddenly starting some subject in foreign affairs which appeared to claim immediate attention. He was immensely popular with the Tories; for they knew that he was just as little inclined towards democratic movements at home as they could be; and they knew that he could manage the House of Commons in a manner quite beyond the scope of any of their recognised leaders. He was popular, too, for just the same reason with those of the Liberals who were afraid of democratic movements, and afraid of leaders who were too fond of encouraging rational agitation for reform. So when Lord Palmerston died every one felt that the season of reaction, or even of contented apathetic quietude, was over and done with, and that a new epoch of reform was about to open. The Queen sent for Lord Russell and invited him to form a new administration. Lord Russell was then in the House of Lords as Earl Russell. He became Prime Minister; and Mr. Gladstone, retaining his Office as Chancellor of the Exchequer, found himself for the first time leader of the House of Commons. From that event until Mr. Gladstone's retirement from parliamentary life the political history of England's nineteenth century is the story of Gladstone's career.
William Ewart Gladstone 1809-1898.
We have now to retrace our steps for a little in order to survey the ground more closely. Lord Russell and Mr. Gladstone at once set about a new Reform Bill intended to supply some of the defects of the measure introduced into the House of Commons by Lord John Russell thirty-five years before. The new measure had for its main object the extension of the suffrage both in counties and in boroughs, bringing the franchise down in counties from fifty pounds to fourteen pounds and in boroughs from ten pounds a year to seven pounds a year, and making many other alterations to the same general effect. The fate of this Bill is a curious chapter in our modern political history. The measure was accepted by Mr. Bright, who had now a power in the House of Commons and with the country second only to that of Mr. Gladstone himself. The new Reform scheme did not go far enough for Bright; but he accepted it because he was anxious that some movement should be made in the direction of a real popular suffrage; and he did not think that under all the conditions there was anything better to be done at the time. But there remained a considerable number of Radicals in the House of Commons, and a large number of Radicals of all classes outside it, who thought the measure fell short of what might have been reasonably expected, and who, while following the course recommended by Bright, had little heart for the work, and put up with the Bill rather than welcomed it. On the other hand it is needless to say that Disraeli and all the Tories were heartily opposed to any extension of the suffrage. Then that happened which, as we have already shown, happens very often in the history of the Reform movement - a considerable number of Liberals seceded from the ranks of the Reformers, and gave their support to the Tory side. Among these was one man who particularly distinguished himself in the battle against the Reform Bill, Mr. Robert Lowe, afterwards Lord Sherbrooke.
Mr. Lowe was a man of great and genuine ability, much literary culture, and some scholarship. Although his voice and his manner were much against him as a debater, he had a brilliant and incisive style of speaking, was a master of sarcasm, of apt satirical quotation, and of epigrammatic phrase-making. Lowe became practically the leader of the Anti-reform battle; and for the time threw even Disraeli himself into the shade, and was the hero of the hour with the Tories and with the half-hearted Liberals. After some brilliant debates in which Gladstone, Disraeli, Bright, and Lowe showed at their very best, the measure was ultimately defeated in Committee of the House of Commons, and Lord Russell and Mr. Gladstone went out of office. Mr. Disraeli at once came back to power, and Great Britain and Ireland were agitated from end to end by the impassioned demand for a measure of popular suffrage. The whole of the recess was occupied by great meetings of Reformers all over the country, and by demonstrations which recall to memory the old troublous times of the great Reform Bill. Then once again the unexpected came to pass; what nobody could have looked for was the very thing that happened. Disraeli mentally surveying the whole situation came to the conclusion that it would be utterly impossible to delay for long the passing of a comprehensive measure of Reform; and he therefore made up his mind that as Reform was to come, he and his party might as well have the advantage of introducing it. So, to use his own phrase, he educated his party during the recess, and brought most of them to an agreement with him as to the course which he proposed to adopt. Some of his colleagues, indeed, among whom was the present Marquis of Salisbury, could not see their way to an acceptance of the Reform Bill and withdrew from the Tory Government. They had always spoken and voted against Reform - such was their line of argument - they had spoken and voted against it in the very last session of Parliament, and they could not in conscience now at a moment's notice suddenly become Reformers for the mere sake of gaining a political advantage. Let us do full credit to their consistency, and to their conscience. Disraeli could not win them over to his way of dealing with the question; and for the time they quitted his camp.