Such were the most important measures passed by the reformed Parliament during the ten years’ administration of the Whigs, most of which were the logical results of the Reform Bill of 1832, which made the reign of William IV. the most memorable in the domestic history of England since the great Revolution which hurled the Stuarts from their throne. But the country was not satisfied with these beneficent reforms. A great agitation had already begun, under the leadership of Cobden and Bright, for a repeal of the Corn Laws. The half measures of the Liberal government displeased all parties, and the annual deficit had made it unpopular. After vainly struggling against the tide of discontent, the Melbourne ministry was compelled to resign, and in 1841 began the second ministry of Sir Robert Peel, which gave power to the Tories for five or six years. Lord Lyndhurst returned to his seat on the woolsack, Mr. Goulburn was appointed chancellor of the exchequer, Sir James Graham became home secretary, Lord Aberdeen took the foreign department, and Lord Stanley the colonial office. Into this cabinet Mr. Gladstone entered as president of the board of trade, on the retirement of Earl Ripon.
The Duke of Wellington also had a seat in the cabinet, but held no office, his age and infirmities preventing him from active duties. He was “the grand old man” of his generation, and had received unparalleled honors, chiefly for his military services,—the greatest general whom England has produced, if we except Marlborough. Although his fame rests on his victories in a great national crisis, he was also an able statesman,—sensible, practical, patriotic; a man of prejudices, yet not without tact; of inflexible will, yet yielding to overpowering necessities, and accepting political defeat as he did the loss of a battle, gracefully and magnanimously. If he had not, however, been a popular idol for his military exploits, he would have been detested by the people; for no one in England was more aristocratic in his sympathies than he, no one was fonder of honors and fashionable distinctions, no one had a more genuine contempt for whatever was plebeian and democratic.
In coming lectures,—on Sir Robert Peel, Gladstone, etc.,—we shall find occasion to trace the course of Victoria’s beneficent reign over Great Britain, beginning (as it did) after the abuses and distresses culminating under George IV. had been largely relieved during the memorable reform epoch under William IV.
Miss Martineau’s History of England; Molesworth’s History of England; Mackenzie’s History of the Nineteenth Century, Alison’s History of Europe; Annual Register; Lives of Lord Brougham, Wellington, Lord Melbourne, Lord John Russell, Lord Liverpool, and Sir Robert Peel. These are the most accessible authorities, but the list is very large.
SIR ROBERT PEEL.