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WILLIAM EWART GLADSTONE
great and powerful island absolutely united, you tried and failed to do that which you are now trying to do, with Ireland fully represented in your Parliament, with Ireland herself raised to a position which is erect and strong, and with the mind of the people so devoted, that, if you look to the elections of the last twelve months, you find that the majority of the people have voted in favor of the concession of Home Rule.
If this is to continue, I would venture to ask gentlemen, opposite, under such circumstances as these, and with the experience you have, is your persistence in this system of administration, I will not say just, but is it wise, is it politic, is it hopeful, is it conservative ? Now, at length, bethink yourselves of a change, and consent to administer, and consent finally to legislate for Ireland and for Scotland in conformity with the constitutionally expressed wishes and the profound and permanent convictions of the people; and ask yourselves whether you will at last consent to present to the world the spectacle of a truly and not a nominally United Empire.
JOHN BRIGHT (1811-1889)
THE FAMOUS LIBERAL ORATOR
E might justly call John Bright the great Quaker orator and
statesman. A member of the Society of Friends in religion,
and a cotton manufacturer in business, he found time to take a most active part in all the liberal movements of his day. A man of the warmest sympathies for the poor and oppressed, and unflinching devotion to the right as above all questions of political expediency, he was the right hand of Gladstone in all movements for reform, and was by many given the credit of being his superior in eloquence. is endowed,” says the Saturday Review, “ with a voice that can discourse most eloquent music, and with a speech that can equally sound the depths of pathos or scale the heights of indignation.”
THE CRUSHING WEIGHT OF MILITARISM [We cannot offer a more interesting example of John Bright's eloquence than his earnest arraignment of the military establishment of Great Britain, in his address on the Duties of Government, at Birmingham, in 1858. Under its satire and irony there is the pathetic note of deep feeling for the people, crushed to carth by the weight laid on them by the advocates of military conquest and glory.]
We all know and deplore that at the present moment a larger number of the grown men of Europe are employed, and a larger portion of the industry of Europe is absorbed, to provide for and maintain the enormous armaments which are now on foot in every considerable continental State. Assuming, then, that Europe is not much better in consequence of the sacrifices we have made, let us inquire what has been the result in England, because, after all, that is the question which it becomes us most to consider. I believe that I understate the sum when I say that, in pursuit of this will-'o'-the-wisp (the liberties of Europe and the balance of power), there has been extracted from the industry of the people of this small
island no less an amount than £2,000,000,000. I cannot imagine how much £2,000,000,000 is, and therefore I shall not attempt to make you comprehend it.
I presume it is something like those vast and incomprehensible astronomical distances with which we have been lately made familiar; but however familiar we feel that we do not know one bit more about them than we did before. When I try to think of that sum of £2,000,000,000 there is a sort of vision passes before my mind's eye. I see your peasant labor delve and plough, sow and reap, sweat beneath the summer's sun, or grow prematurely old before the winter's blast. I see your noble mechanic with his manly countenance and his matchless skill, toiling at his bench or his forge. I see one of the workers in our factories in the North, a woman,-a girl it may be, gentle and good, as many of them are, as your sisters and daughters are,-I see her intent upon the spindle, whose revolutions are so rapid that the eye fails altogether to detect them, or to watch the alternating flight of the unresting shuttle. I turn again to another portion of your population, which "plunged in mines, forgets a sun was made,” and I see the man who brings up from the secret chambers of the earth the elements of the riches and greatness of his country. When I see all this I have before me a mass of produce and of wealth which I am no more able to comprehend than I am that £2,000,000,000 of which I have spoken, but I behold in its full proportions the hideous error of your government, whose fatal policy consumes in some cases a half, never less than a third, of all the results of that industry which God intended should fertilize and bless every home in England, but the fruits of which are squandered in every part of the surface of the globe, without producing the smallest good to the people of England.
We have, it is true, some visible results that are of a more positive character. We have that which some people call a great advantage, the national debt,-a debt which is now so large that the most prudent, the most economical, and the most honest have given up all hope, not of its being paid off, but of its being diminished in amount.
We have, too, taxes which have been during many years so onerous that there have been times when the patient beasts of burden threatened to revolt; so onerous that it has been utterly impossible to levy them with any kind of honest equality, according to the means of the people to pay them. We have that, moreover, which is a standing wonder to all foreigners who consider our condition,-an amount of apparently immovable pauperism which to strangers is wholly irreconcilable with the fact that we, as a nation, produce more of what would make us all comfortable than is produced by any other nation of similar numbers on the face of the
globe. Let us likewise remember that during the period of those great and so-called glorious contests on the continent of Europe, every description of home reform was not only delayed, but actually crushed out of the minds of the great bulk of the people. There can be no doubt whatever that in 1793 England was about to realize political changes and reforms, such as did not appear again until 1830, and during the period of that war, which now almost all men agree to have been wholly unnecessary, we were passing through a period which may be described as the dark age of English politics ; when there was no more freedom to write or speak, or politically to act, than there is now in the most despotic country of Europe.
The more you examine this matter, the more you will come to the conclusion which I have arrived at, that this foreign policy, this regard for the “liberties of Europe,” this care at one time for “the Protestant interests," this excessive love for “the balance of power,” is neither more nor less than a gigantic system of out-door relief for the aristocracy of Great Britain. (Loud laughter.) I observe that you receive that declaration as if it were some new and important discovery. In 1815, when the great war with France was ended, every Liberal in England whose politics, whose hopes, and whose faith had not been crushed out of him by the tyranny of the time of that war, was fully aware of this, and openly admitted it; and up to 1832, and for some years afterward, it was the fixed and undoubted creed of the great Liberal party. But somehow all is changed. We who stand upon the old landmarks, who walk in the old paths, who would conserve what is wise and prudent, are hustled and shoved about as if we were come to turn the world upside down. The change which has taken place seems to confirm the opinion of a lamented friend of mine, who, not having succeeded in all his hopes, thought that men made no progress whatever, but went round and round like a squirrel
in a cage.
I believe there is no permanent greatness to a nation except it be based upon morality. I do not care for military greatness or military renown. I care for the condition of the people among whom I live. There is no man in England who is less likely to speak irreverently of the Crown and Monarchy of England than I amı; but crowns, coronets, mitres, military display, the pomp of war, wide colonies, and a huge empire are, in my view, all trifles, light as air, and not worth considering, unless with them you can have a fair share of comfort, contentment, and happiness among the great body of the people. Palaces, baronial castles, great halls, stately mansions, do not make a nation. The nation in every country dwells in cottages; and unless the light of your constitution can
shine there, unless the beauty of your legislation and the excellence of your statesmanship are impressed there on the feelings and condition of the people, rely upon it, you have yet to learn the duties of government. ...
The most ancient of profane historians has told us that the Scythians of his time were a very warlike people, and that they elevated an old scimeter upon a platform as a symbol of Mars; for to Mars alone, I believe, they built altars and offered sacrifices. To this scimeter they offered sacrifices of horses and cattle, the main wealth of the country, and more costly sacrifices than to all the rest of their gods. I often ask myself whether we are at all advanced in one respect beyond those Scythians. What are our contributions to charity, to education, to morality, to religion, to justice, and to civil government, when compared with the wealth we expend in sacrifices to the old scimeter?
Two nights ago I addressed in this hall a vast assembly, composed to a great extent of your countrymen who have no political power, who are at work from the dawn of day to the evening, and who have, therefore, limited means of informing themselves on those great subjects. Now, I am privileged to speak to a somewhat different audience. You represent those of your great community who have a more complete education, who have on some points greater intelligence, and in whose hands reside the power and influence of the district. I am speaking, too, within the hearing of those whose gentle nature, whose fine instincts, whose purer minds, have not suffered as some of us have suffered in the turmoil and strife of life. You can mold opinion, you can create political power; -you cannot think a good thought on this subject and communicate it to good neighbors, you cannot make these points topics of discussion in your social circles and more general meetings, without affecting sensibly and speedily the course which the government of your country will pursue.
May I ask you then to believe, as I do most devoutly believe, that the moral law was not written for men alone in their individual character, but that it was written as well for nations, and for nations great as this of which we are citizens. If nations reject and deride that moral law, there is a penalty that will inevitably follow. It may not come at once; it may not come in our lifetime; but rely upon it, the great Italian is not a poet only, but a prophet, when he says :
" The sword of Heaven is not in haste to smite.
Nor yet doth linger."