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duel between these two unrivalled political swordsmen. has doubtless been magnificent, but whether it is statesmanship only the future can declare..
When Robert Lowe took his seat in the House of Commons it was to find himself ranged with the motley group of Whigs, Peelites, Radicals, and Irish who formed the Opposition to the Derby-Disraeli Government of 1852. Disraeli saw that the only chance of his party retaining office was to abandon Protection, and detach as many of the Peelites as possible from the Opposition. In this, as we know, in spite of all his skill and daring, he was doomed to failure.
Before the great debate on the Budget, that sealed the fate of the Ministry, took place, Lowe had already addressed the House, on two occasions, with marked ability. On November 29th, 1852, he made his maiden speech on the Courts of Common Law (Ireland) Bill, in which he began by frankly stating as one who had given a great deal of time and trouble to the subject of Law Reform, that the Bill was a highly creditable one. He spoke throughout in a very complimentary way of the eloquence and ability of the Irish Solicitor-General, Whiteside, whose measure, he said, was far in advance of that introduced in the previous session for the amendment of the law in England. Altogether the speech, though on a technical subject, was, for a first effort, very well received; and quite adequately reported in the press. It was recognised as a good beginning for a distinguished parliamentary career; and it impressed the leading lawyers and trained officials in the House with the knowledge and general ability of the new member.
In fairness, however, it should not be judged as a maiden effort. Though new to St. Stephen's, Lowe was by no means a novice with regard to the rules and conventions of parliamentary debate; and the fact that from the very first he was able to catch the ear of the House of Commons was mainly
due to his practice and experience in the Legislative Council of New South Wales.
On December 7th Mr. Lowe delivered himself on a question -that of Limited Liability on which he was afterwards able to leave his name in indelible letters on the Statute Book. It is quite clear from a perusal of this speech, that as early as 1852 he was fully alive to the beneficent revolution which might be effected in the trade and commerce of the country by legalising the principle of limited liability. The debate had arisen on a petition of the North American shipping trade against the granting of a charter to a competing company. Lowe spoke with his unfailing point and directness; and, in a manner clear enough for even a heterogeneous assembly like the House of Commons to follow and appreciate, he showed how the law, as it then stood-the law of unlimited liability— was a harmful restraint on competition, and a needless restriction on commercial enterprise.
As, when he assumed office at the Board of Trade, he made this subject so entirely his own, it is perhaps as well to show how clearly his views were defined on the question years before he was in a position to give them legislative validity.
It had been the law of England for sixty years that if any person entered into competition in any branch of trade he must do so under the very highest penalty, and that if he were unsuccessful he must lose his last shilling and his last acre. This was the law which encouraged the competition of capital, which told the capitalist that whatever he did with his capital he must do under the very highest penalty-under the penalty of præmunire-a total loss of his goods -and all this to deter him from embarking his capital in trade! . . The President of the Board of Trade was empowered by Act of Parliament, so often as he should see that a case was made out, to break down the present fettering law and give the capitalist power to compete with other capitalists, taking care that he should do so without the penalty which the law of unlimited liability attached to such a course. This power was now attacked. It was said it was opposed to Free Trade. But what had been its results? What was it that had covered our land with railroads and our seas with steamships and mercantile fleets, except the power of suspending
and annihilating the law of unlimited liability? It was said that such a state of things was injurious to credit. That was the concern of those who entered into it. If anyone should think upon consideration that the credit which unlimited liability gave was better worth having than the credit which limited liability offered, he was at liberty to make his election. But, on the other hand, if he preferred the credit which limited liability offered he had a right to do so. It was for the public to decide how much credit they would give in either case. It was no part of our laws to settle people's private
Mr. Lowe went on to say that he trusted the day was not far distant when Parliament would relieve the Board of Trade from the invidious and annoying duty which had been cast upon it, not by taking away the power which had been so beneficial, of permitting large associations with limited liability, but by leaving it to every set of persons who wished to associate their capital for a common enterprise to do so without having occasion to go to the Government at all, or spend one shilling in fees or stamps, merely (as in America) by making known to the public the amount of capital they put into the concern, so that the public might be aware with what they dealt.'
There is an admirable Spanish proverb to the effect that ' a stone which is good enough for the wall will not long be allowed to remain in the road;' and even the House of Commons, or at least its leaders, have never been slow to recognise what may be called marketable parliamentary ability. When towards the close of his speech Robert Lowe thought fit to crave pardon for having trespassed upon the time of the House, adding that he could not sit silent when he heard an attempt made to fetter the freedom of competition under the name of unrestricted competition itself,' loud and general applause greeted him as he resumed his seat.
He had distinctly made a hit as a Parliamentary debater, and chiefly because, in his first two speeches in the House, he had discussed important if technical questions which he had taken the trouble thoroughly to understand and master.
There is no doubt this speech materially conduced to his being made Vice-President of the Board of Trade, and so gave him the opportunity which he promptly seized of placing the law concerning limited liability on a firm legislative basis.
On December 3rd, Disraeli brought in his famous second Budget in a brilliant speech of many hours which enchained the attention of the House. So completely had the Chancellor of the Exchequer thrown over Protection that Cobden wrote to a friend on the day after the Budget speech, to say that the Anti-Corn Law League might be forthwith dissolved. Disraeli thought by this bold move that the Peelites, and even some of the Radicals, might be detached from the Whig party; but in this, as we know, he altogether miscalculated. He was not wholly unmindful of those who had supported Lord Derby and himself at the polls. To keep the agricultural interest in heart, he proposed a reduction of the malt tax; and to meet the consequent deficit the inhabited house duty was doubled.
Even in these days of printed records, there is very little agreement to be found in the pages of contemporary historians. Thus Mr. John Morley, in his Life of Cobden, declares that in a few hours after Mr. Disraeli had stated his plans, it seemed as if they were a success.' Mr. George Russell, on the other hand, in his biographical memoir of Mr. Gladstone, avers that the voices of criticism-" angry, loud, discordant voices "were heard simultaneously on every side.' However that may be, it is at least true that when Disraeli sat down after speaking for over five hours, Mr. Gladstone at once rose, though the hour was late, and vehemently attacked his rival's fiscal proposals, and afterwards-to use Mr. Russell's appropriate verb rebuked' his language and demeanour. Mr. Russell goes on to say that Mr. Gladstone tore Disraeli's 'financial scheme to ribbons;' but this must be taken as a figure of speech rather than as a statement of fact, as may be seen from the more careful language of Mr. Morley.
No one will venture to accuse the present Irish Chief Secretary of any bias against Mr. Gladstone or in favour of Mr. Disraeli, but it is clear from Mr. Morley's account of this memorable Budget debate, that it was not till a week after Disraeli's fiscal proposals were made that the various discordant elements which composed the House of Commons of 1852 absolutely ranged themselves in a compact Opposition to the Government. When the discussion on the Ministerial proposals opened a week later (writes Mr. Morley), it was at once seen that the first favourable impression had been a mistake and that they could not stand the heavy fire which was now opened upon them by all the ablest and most experienced men in the House.'
Mr. Lowe rose to deliver his views on Dec. 13, and his criticism of the Budget-his third speech in the House-was the longest and most elaborate which he had so far addressed to its members and to the country. It is couched in a more moderate tone than perhaps the speech of any other opponent of the Government during this heated and very personal debate.
Lowe contemplated Disraeli's airy and rapid conversion to Free Trade in a more tolerant spirit than did either the Peelites or the Whigs; the only fault he found was that, like most converts, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was too sanguine and enthusiastic. True, it is to all appearance a time of unexampled prosperity; but the lot of man is one of ceaseless mutation, and it behoves us not to act like unto the fool in the parable, who said "To-morrow shall be as to day, only much more abundant."
The earlier half of Mr. Lowe's speech was devoted to a consideration of the effect likely to be produced by the mighty exodus which the discovery of gold in Australia had occasioned.
This emigration was in no sense a wholesale flight from impending ruin and poverty in this country; but was rather the departure in shoals of able-bodied and more or less wellto-do persons in the prime of life, who would have remained