British Prime Minister (1852, 1858-1859, 1866-1868)
14th Earl of Derby (1851-1869)
Edward Geoffrey Smith Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby (1799 1869), the 'Rupert of Debate', born at Knowsley in Lancashire on the 29th of March 1799, grandson of the 12th Earl and eldest son of Lord Stanley, subsequently (1834) 13th ear] of Derby (1775-1851). He was educated at Eton and at Christ Church, Oxford, where he distinguished himself as a classical scholar, though he took no degree. In 1819 he obtained the Chancellor's prize for Latin verse, the subject being Syracuse. He gave early promise of his future eminence as an orator, and in his youth he used to practise elocution under the instruction of Lady Derby, his grandfather's second wife, the actress, Elizabeth Farren. In 1820 he was returned for Stockbridge in Hampshire, one of the nomination boroughs whose electoral rights were swept away by the Reform Bill of 1832, Stanley being a warm advocate of their destruction.
His maiden speech was delivered early in the session of 1824 in the debate on a private bill for lighting Manchester with gas. On the 6th of May 1824 he delivered a vehement and eloquent speech against Joseph Hume's motion for a reduction of the Irish Church establishment, maintaining in its most conservative form the doctrine that church property is as sacred as private property. From this time his appearances became frequent; and he soon asserted his place as one of the most powerful speakers in the House.
Specially noticeable almost from the first was the skill he displayed in reply. Macaulay, in an essay published in 1834, remarked that "he seemed to possess intuitively the faculty which in most men is developed only by long and laborious practice". In the autumn of 1824 Stanley went on an extended tour through Canada and the United States in company with Mr Labouchere, afterwards Lord Taunton, and Mr Evelyn Denison, afterwards Lord Ossington. In May of the following year he married the second daughter of Edward Bootle-Wilbraham, created Baron Skelmersdale in 1828, by whom he had a family of two sons and one daughter who survived.
At the general election of 1826 Stanley renounced his connection with Stockbridge, and became the representative of the borough of Preston, where the Derby influence was paramount. The change of seats had this advantage, that it left him free to speak against the system of rotten boroughs, which he did with great force during the Reform Bill debates, without laying himself open to the charge of personal inconsistency as the representative of a place where, according to Gay, "cobblers used to feast three years upon one vote". In 1827 he and several other distinguished Whigs made a coalition with Canning on the defection of the more unyielding Tories, and he commenced his official life as undersecretary for the colonies, but the coalition was broken up by Canning's death in August. Lord Goderich succeeded to the premiership, but he never was really in power, and he resigned his place after the lapse of a few months. During the succeeding administration of the Duke of Wellington (1828-1830), Stanley and those with whom he acted were in opposition. His robust and assertive Liberalism about this period seemed curious afterwards to a younger generation who knew him only as the very embodiment of Conservatism.
By the advent of Lord Grey to power in November 1830, Stanley obtained his first opportunity of showing his capacity for a responsible office. He was appointed to the chief secretaryship of Ireland, a position in which he found ample scope for both administrative and debating skill. On accepting office he had to vacate his seat for Preston and seek re-election; and he had the mortification of being defeated by the Radical orator Hunt. The contest was a peculiarly keen one, and turned upon the question of the ballot, which Stanley refused to support. He re-entered the House as one of the members for Windsor, Sir Hussey Vivian having resigned in his favour. In 1832 he again changed his seat, being returned for North Lancashire.
Stanley was one of the most ardent supporters of Lord Grey's Reform Bill. Of this no other proof is needed than his frequent parliamentary utterances, which were fully in sympathy with the popular cry "The bill, the whole bill, and nothing but the bill". Reference may be made especially to the speech he delivered on the 4th of March 1831 on the adjourned debate on the second reading of the bill, which was marked by all the higher qualities of his oratory. Apart from his connection with the general policy of the government, Stanley had more than enough to have employed all his energies in the management of his own department.
The Secretary of Ireland has seldom an easy task; Stanley found it one of peculiar difficulty. The country was in a very unsettled state. The just concession that had been somewhat tardily yielded a short time before in Catholic emancipation had excited the people to make all sorts of demands, reasonable and unreasonable. Undaunted by the fierce denunciations of O'Connell, who styled him 'Scorpion Stanley', he discharged with determination the ungrateful task of carrying a coercion bill through the House. It was generally felt that O'Connell, powerful though he was, had fairly met his match in Stanley, who, with invective scarcely inferior to his own, evaded no challenge, ignored no argument, and left no taunt unanswered. The title Rupert of Debate is peculiarly applicable to him in connection with the fearless if also often reckless method of attack he showed in his parliamentary war with O'Connell. It was first applied to him, however, thirteen years later by Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton in The New Timon
One after one the lords of time advance;
Here Stanley meets, here Stanley scorns the glance
The brilliant chief, irregularly great,
Frank, haughty, rash, the Rupert of debate.
The best answer, however, which he made to the attacks of the great agitator was not the retorts of debate, effective though these were, but the beneficial legislation he was instrumental in passing. He introduced and carried the first national education act for Ireland, one result of which was the remarkable and to many almost incredible phenomenon of a board composed of Catholics, Episcopalians and Presbyterians harmoniously administering an efficient education scheme. lie was also chiefly responsible for the Irish Church Temporalities Act, though the bill was not introduced into parliament until after he had quitted the Irish secretaryship for another office. By this measure two archbishoprics and eight bishoprics were abolished, and a remedy was provided for various abuses connected with the revenues of the church. As originally introduced, the bill contained a clause authorising the appropriation of surplus revenues to nonecclesiastical purposes. This had, however, been strongly opposed from the first by Stanley and several other members of the cabinet, and it was withdrawn by the government before the measure reached the Lords.
In 1833, just before the introduction of the Irish Church Temporalities Bill, Stanley had been promoted to be Secretary for the Colonies with a seat in. the cabinet. In this position it fell to his lot to carry the emancipation of the slaves to a successful practical issue. The speech which he delivered on introducing the bill for freeing the slaves in the West Indies, on the 14th of May 1833, was one of the finest specimens of his eloquence.
The Irish Church question determined more than one turning point in his political career. The most important occasion on which it did so was in 1834, when the proposal of the government to appropriate the surplus revenues of the church to educational purposes led to his secession from the cabinet, and, as it proved, his complete and final separation from the Whig party. In the former of these steps he had as his companions Sir James Graham, the Earl of Ripon and the Duke of Richmond. Soon after it occurred, O'Connell, amid the laughter of the House, described the secession in a couplet from Canning's Loves of the Triangles:
Still down thy steep, romantic Ashbourne, glides
The Derby dilly carrying six insides.
Stanley was not content with marking his disapproval by the simple act of withdrawing from the cabinet. He spoke against the bill to which he objected with a vehemence that showed the strength of his feeling in the matter, and against its authors with a bitterness that he himself is understood to have afterwards admitted to have been unseemly towards those who had so recently been his colleagues. The course followed by the government was marked with all that timidity, that want of dexterity, which led to the failure of the unpractised shoplifter. His late colleagues were compared to "thimble-riggers at a country fair", and their plan was "petty larceny, for it had not the redeeming qualities of bold and open robbery".
In the end of 1834, Lord Stanley, as he was now styled by courtesy, his father having succeeded to the earldom in October, was invited by Sir Robert Peel to join the short-lived Conservative ministry which he formed after the resignation of Lord Melbourne. Though he declined the offer for reasons stated in a letter published in the Peel memoirs, he acted from that date with the Conservative party, and on its next accession to power, in 1841, he accepted the office of colonial secretary, which he had held under Lord Grey. His position and his temperament alike, however, made him a thoroughly independent supporter of any party to which he attached himself.
When, therefore, the injury to health arising from the late hours in the Commons led him in 1844 to seek elevation to the Upper House in the right of his father's barony, Sir Robert Peel, in acceding to his request, had the satisfaction of at once freeing himself from the possible effects of his candid friendship in the House, and at the same time greatly strengthening the debating power on the Conservative side in the other. If the premier in taking this step had any presentiment of an approaching difference on a vital question, it was not long in being realised. When Sir Robert Peel accepted the policy of free trade in 1846, the breach between him and Lord Stanley was, as might have been anticipated from the antecedents of the latter, instant and irreparable. Lord Stanley at once asserted himself as the uncompromising opponent of that policy, and he became the recognised leader of the Protectionist party, having Lord George Bentinck and Disraeli for his lieutenants in the Commons. They did all that could be done in a case in which the logic of events was against them, though Protection was never to become more than their watchword.
It is one of the peculiarities of English politics, however, that a party may come into power because it is the only available one at the time, though it may have no chance of carrying the very principle to which it owes its organised existence. Such was the case when Lord Derby, who had succeeded to the earldom on the death of his father in June 1851, was called upon to form his first administration in February 1852. He was in a minority, but the circumstances were such that no other than a minority government was possible, and he resolved to take the only available means of strengthening his position by dissolving parliament and appealing to the country at the earliest opportunity. The appeal was made in autumn, but its result did not materially alter the position of parties. Parliament met in November, and by the middle of the following month the ministry had resigned in consequence of their defeat on Disraeli's budget. For the six following years, during Lord Aberdeen's ministry of all the talents and Lord Palmerston's premiership, Lord Derby remained at the head of the opposition, whose policy gradually became more generally Conservative and less distinctively Protectionist as the hopelessness of reversing the measures adopted in 1846 made itself apparent.
In 1855 he was asked to form an administration after the resignation of Lord Aberdeen, but failing to obtain sufficient support, he declined the task. It was in somewhat more hopeful circumstances that, after the defeat of Lord Palmerston on the Conspiracy Bill in February 1858, he assumed for the second time the reins of government. Though he still could not count upon a working majority, there was a possibility of carrying on affairs without sustaining defeat, which was realised for a full session, owing chiefly to the dexterous management of Mr Disraeli in the Commons. The one rock ahead was the question of reform, on which the wishes of the country were being emphatically expressed, but it was not so pressing as to require to be immediately dealt with. During the session of 1858 the government contrived to pass two measures of very considerable importance, one a bill to remove Jewish disabilities, and the other a bill to transfer the government of India from the East India Company to the crown. Next year the question. of parliamentary reform had to be faced, and, recognizing the necessity, the government introduced a bill at the opening of the session, which, in spite of, or rather in consequence of, its fancy franchises, was rejected by the House, and, on a dissolution, rejected also by the country. A vote of no confidence having been passed in the new parliament on the 10th of June, Lord Derby at once resigned.
After resuming the leadership of the Opposition Lord Derby devoted much of the leisure the position afforded him to the classical studies that had always been congenial to him. It was his reputation for scholarship as well as his social position that had led in 1852 to his appointment to the chancellorship of the university of Oxford, in succession to the Duke of Wellington; and perhaps a desire to justify the possession of the honour on the former ground had something to do with his essays in the field of authorship. His first venture was a poetical version of the ninth ode of the third book of Horace, which appeared in Lord Ravensworth's collection of translations of the Odes. In 1862 he printed and circulated in influential quarters a volume entitled Translations of Poems Ancient and Modern, with a very modest dedicatory letter to Lord Stanhope, and the words 'Not published' on the title-page. It contained, besides versions of Latin, Italian, French and German poems, a translation of the first book of the Iliad. The reception of this volume was such as to encourage him to proceed with the task he had chosen as his magnum opus, the translation of the whole of the Iliad, which accordingly appeared in 1864.
During the seven years that elapsed between Lord Derby's second and third administrations an industrial crisis occurred in his native county, which brought out very conspicuously his public spirit and his philanthropy. The destitution in Lancashire caused by the stoppage of the cotton-supply in consequence of the American Civil War, was so great as to threaten to overtax the benevolence of the country. That it did not do so was probably due to Lord Derby more than to any other single man. From the first he was the very life and soul of the movement for relief. His personal subscription, munificent though it was, represented the least part of his service. His noble speech at the meeting in Manchester in December 1862, where the movement was initiated, and his advice at the subsequent meetings of the committee, which he attended very regularly, were of the very highest value in stimulating and directing public sympathy. His relations with Lancashire had always been of the most cordial description, notwithstanding his early rejection by Preston; but it is not surprising that after the cotton famine period the cordiality passed into a warmer and deeper feeling, and that the name of Lord Derby was long cherished in most grateful remembrance by the factory operatives.
On the rejection of Earl Russell's Reform Bill in 1866, Lord Derby was for the third time entrusted with the formation of a cabinet. Like those he had previously formed it was destined to be short-lived, but it lived long enough to settle on a permanent basis the question that had proved fatal to its predecessor. The education of the party that had so long opposed all reform to the point of granting household suffrage was the work, of another; but Lord Derby fully concurred in, if he was not the first to suggest, the statesmanlike policy by which the question was disposed of in such a way as to take it once for all out of the region of controversy and agitation. The passing of the Reform Bill was the main business of the session of 1867. The chief debates were, of course, in the Commons, and Lord Derby's failing powers prevented him from taking any large share in those which took place in the Lords. His description of the measure as "a leap in the dark" was eagerly caught up, because it exactly represented the common opinion at the time,the most experienced statesmen, while they admitted the granting of household suffrage to be a political necessity, being utterly unable to foresee what its effect might be on the constitution and government of the country.
Finding himself unable, from declining health, to encounter the fatigues of another session, Lord Derby resigned office early in 1868. The step he had taken was announced in both Houses on the evening of the 25th of February, and warm tributes of admiration and esteem were paid by the leaders of the two great parties. He yielded the entire leadership of the party as well as the premiership to Disraeli. His subsequent appearances in public were few and unimportant. It was noted as a consistent close to his political life that his last speech in the House of Lords should have been a denunciation of Gladstone's Irish Church Bill marked by much of his early fire and vehemence. A few months later, on the 23rd of October 1869, he died at Knowsley.
Sir Archibald Alison, writing of him when he was in the zenith of his powers, styles him by the admission of all parties the most perfect orator of his day. Even higher was the opinion of Lord Aberdeen, who is reported by The Times to have said that no one of the giants he had listened to in his youth, Pitt, Fox, Burke or Sheridan, as a speaker, is to be compared with our own Lord Derby, when. Lord Derby is at his best. (W.B.S.)