Disraeli's Foreign Policy 1867
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
The Liberal Government had not succeeded in getting rid of the Fenian problem. The Derby administration found it necessary to maintain and to renew the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, and at firsts that policy seemed to be sufficiently effective.
Nevertheless, early in 1867 a series of sporadic insurrections took place in Ireland, apparently with the simple intention of keeping up a continual and ubiquitous disturbance; for the armed bands were always easily dispersed, nor was popular sympathy expressed by the usual method, the refusal of juries to convict. The Fenians, however, were not content with their efforts in Ireland.
The Manchester Martyrs
Early in the year a plot for capturing the castle and military stores at Chester was frustrated, and in September a desperate attempt was made at Manchester to release by force a couple of Fenians who had been arrested actually on a charge of burglary. A police officer was killed and consequently three of the men concerned were hanged, somewhat unfortunately, since it led to their glorification as the "Manchester Martyrs."
Then came a desperate attempt to blow up a part of Clerkenwell gaol resulting in the death of twelve persons and in injuries to some hundred more. Fenianism altogether failed to accomplish anything, and after the Clerkenwell affair it died out. But it was itself merely a symptom of the disaffection which had taken root not in Ireland itself but among the Irish in America, a disaffection which was still to play a serious part in the Irish problem.
Disraeli's First Ministry
At the beginning of 1868 Lord Derby, whose health was failing, retired. However uneasy the Conservatives might feel under the audacious guidance of Disraeli, there was no man in either House whose claims to the party leadership could for a moment be compared to his, and he now became Prime Minister. He had already achieved the passage of a democratic reform bill by a Conservative ministry, but only through repeated concessions to the Liberals.
The Government held office under a tenure too precarious to last.' It was perhaps the Fenian movement which established in the mind of Gladstone, the leader of the Opposition, the conviction that Irish unrest was to be removed by attacking its root causes, which in his view were the religious and agrarian difficulties.
If these were removed it was still his conviction that the political grievance would be found to have no independent life. Ireland, therefore, was selected as the point of attack. Always a fervent Churchman, Gladstone until recently had been a strong upholder of all ecclesiastical claims. Latterly, however, he had spoken ominously concerning the position of the Church in Ireland, and he now brought forward resolutions in favour of Irish Disestablishment.
The Government was defeated, but Disraeli's proposal, that the Scottish and Irish Acts consequent upon the English Reform Act should be passed in the summer and that there should be an autumn dissolution, was accepted. The appeal was made to the new constituencies in November, and the new constituencies returned the Liberals with a decisive majority of one hundred and twelve.
Since the death of Palmerston the policy of non-intervention in Europe had been followed on the same principles as before by both Governments, though with an avoidance of the indiscretions which had occasionally given it such an unfortunate colour. Austria and Prussia were left to fight out their struggle for supremacy in Germany in the brief but decisive Seven Weeks War of 1866; while the diplomacy of Lord Stanley at the Foreign Office was of material influence in averting the immediate danger of a war between France and Prussia.
Outside Europe the conduct of Theodore, the "Negus" of Abyssinia, in imprisoning sundry British officials and other residents, necessitated the despatch of an expedition to that country at the beginning of 1868. The command was given to Sir Robert Napier.
The campaign was conducted with entire success. It was inglorious because the resistance offered by the enemy was merely futile, but the highest praise was due to the commander because it was conducted in an extremely difficult country, while the utmost rapidity of movement was essential in order to ensure the withdrawal of the forces before the summer. Napier's army was drawn from India, but it is not easy to perceive how the British Government justified itself in charging India with the cost of the expedition.
The reorganisation in India, in the years following the Mutiny, under Canning, Elgin, and Lawrence, cannot be adequately described without entering upon technicalities more fully than is possible in these pages. Certain points however may be noted.
Dalhousie's policy of refusing to recognise adoptions was explicitly set aside. The Oudh talukdars found that the government was ready to make full allowance for the misapprehensions under which they had at the last revolted; their treatment was acknowledged by themselves as generous, and they became once more thoroughly loyal.
All the princes who had remained faithful found their services amply recognised; and beyond the border Lord Lawrence laid down those principles of non-intervention and "masterly inactivity" in Afghanistan which were presently to be challenged by the advocates of what is called the Forward Policy.
On the death of Dost Mohammed the various claimants to the succession were left to fight out their own quarrels, and it was not until all rivals had been crushed or expelled that the British Government definitely recognised the Amir Sher Ali as the friendly ruler of an independent state.
In the colonies the close of 1865 witnessed an unhappy episode in Jamaica. An insurrection of the black population was attributed largely to the inflammatory language used by a native proprietor and preacher, George William Gordon. The insurrection was sharply suppressed by Governor Eyre, whose previous record proved his natural inclination to deal sympathetically with native populations.
Martial law was proclaimed and Gordon was arrested, sentenced by a court-martial, and put to death. The severity however with which the insurrection was suppressed, the numerous executions, and the floggings to which women as well as men were subjected, created intense indignation in England; while, on the other hand, there was a powerful party which insisted that the principles of government applicable to white races are not applicable to black populations, with whom severities are necessary which would be wantonly brutal if employed in a European community.
On the whole, in spite of many great names in the list of those who headed the attack on the governor, public opinion condoned if. it did not entirely endorse his action. All parties, it may be said, agreed in principle that the rights of coloured races must be protected while the supremacy of the white race must be maintained; but there is an eternal antagonism over individual cases in which the two principles come into conflict.
British North America Act
One event of supreme importance in the history of the British Empire remains to be recorded here. By an Act in 1867, the British North America Act, the colonies were authorised to unite under a federal government.
All the North American colonies with the exception of Newfoundland came into the new arrangement and formed the great Dominion of Canada, the separate colonies or states having their own governments for the control of their own affairs, while those which are the common concern of all were in the hands of the single central government.
Thus began that system of associating the colonies into federated groups in which present-day Imperialism is finding the solution of the problem of combining self-government with imperial unity.
This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's views may be controversial by modern standards, particularly his attitudes towards other cultures and races, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.